Born Bessie Regina Norris in Miami, Betty Wright started singing with her siblings as a toddler with the gospel group Echoes of Joy. She moved to secular music, and at the age of 13, in 1967, released her first two singles, "Good Lovin'" and "Mr. Lucky," written respectively by Johnny Pearsall and the team of Clarence Reid (later known as Blowfly) and Willie Clarke. Wright then settled in with the Alston label, where one of her brothers, Milton, would also record. She scored her first big single in 1968 with the wisdom-dispensing "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do," another Reid/Clarke composition, which peaked on the Billboard R&B chart at number 15. Atco distributed the concurrent LP, My First Time Around. After another couple charting A-sides, Wright, Reid, and Clarke achieved their greatest success together in 1971 with "Clean Up Woman," a number two R&B hit that also reached number six on the pop chart. The song was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, and earned a gold disc from the RIAA.
Wright's run with Alston lasted through the '70s. The seven albums the singer released during the decade were highlighted by 1973's Hard to Stop, 1975's Danger High Voltage, and 1978's Betty Wright Live. The last of this sequence was Wright's most successful commercial LP, peaking at number six on the R&B chart. On-stage, Wright took her storytelling to another level and drew from a catalog that at that point included almost 20 charting singles, including "Where Is the Love" -- written by Wright, Willie Clarke, Harry Wayne KC Casey, and Richard Finch -- which had won a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song. The set's version of the intimate "Tonight Is the Night," written by Wright and Clarke, became her tenth single to dent the Top 20 of the R&B chart. By the end of the '70s, Wright's collaborative work took off with a featured role on Peter Brown's "Dance with Me," and she co-wrote and produced "All This Love That I'm Givin'" for Gwen McCrae, who she had discovered (along with George McCrae) the previous decade.
Although she wasn't as prominent as a lead artist in the '80s and '90s, Wright placed another dozen singles on the R&B chart during this time. Among these were the 1981 Stevie Wonder collaboration "What Are You Going to Do with It" and the 1988 hit "No Pain, No Gain," her last Top 20 R&B entry. Her first two albums during this period were released through Epic, after which she set up her own label, Ms. B, her solo outlet on an almost exclusive basis into the early 2000s, and initiated a long-term creative partnership with songwriter, bassist, and musical director Angelo Morris. Just as notably, Wright's classics and deep cuts alike were sampled many times over, most prominently for Candyman's "Knockin' Boots" and Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up." Wright also filled a number of supporting roles on dozens of albums spanning R&B, jazz, rock, Latin and French pop, and reggae.
Steady activity for Wright continued in the 2000s with the solo LP Fit for a King and connections made with Erykah Badu, Joss Stone, and Trick Daddy, among many others. Her profile increased again in the latter half of the decade as the Diddy-appointed vocal coach for Danity Kane, as documented on the reality series Making the Band, and featured appearances on Angie Stone's "Baby" and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, both Grammy-nominated recordings. These were followed by Grammy nominations for "Go!" (a frank ballad about domestic abuse) and "Surrender," two songs Wright included on her last studio statement, 2011's Betty Wright: The Movie, on which she was assisted by the Roots. Before she died from cancer in 2020, she clocked studio time with fellow veterans and hopeful newcomers alike, from the O'Jays to Elise LeGrow, and appeared on number one albums by Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, and Lil Wayne. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi
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