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BETTY WRIGHT,
1953-2020

Betty Wright, the soul and funk singer whose influence extended far beyond her lone Top 10 hit “Clean Up Woman,” died on Sunday at her home in Miami. She was 66.

S-Curve RecordsSteve Greenberg confirmed her death to the New York Times, telling the paper, “She was an incredible writer, producer and mentor to young artists. It’s an incredible loss.” The cause was cancer.

“Clean Up Woman,” released on Alston Records in November 1971 when Wright was 17, reached#6 on the pop chart and #2 at R&B. It is often cited as a key marker in R&B’s transition from the ‘60s into funk and disco.

Unlike many R&B artists of the era, Wright had a hand in writing her material and her hit, “Where is the Love,” which she co-wrote with KC & The Sunshine Band’s Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch, earned her a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1976.

Her biggest seller among her albums, Betty Wright Live, came out in 1978 and featured “Tonight Is the Night.” In a spoken intro to the eight-minute song, Wright explains how she created the song and her mother’s reaction to the story of her having sex for the first time—it would become as important to her legacy as “Clean Up Woman.”

Born Bessie Regina Norris in Miami, she sang with her siblings in a gospel group called the Echoes of Joy. She started recording R&B singles at the age of 12, scoring local hits with “Thank You Baby” and “Paralyzed.”

In addition to her own records, Wright was an oft-used session singer, most famously backing Peter Brown on his Top 10 hit “Dance With Me”; she backed Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills, Peter Tosh, Gloria Estefan, David Byrne and many others.

Wright formed her own label, Miss B Records, in 1985, and three years later, her Mother Wit became the first album by a black female artist on her own label to go gold.

In the early 2000s, Wright started mentoring young singers, appearing on Sean Comb’s Making the Band, working as a vocal coach for Danity Kane; she also worked with Joss Stone, Jennifer Lopez and Diane Birch as a producer.

In 2011, Wright worked with Questlove Thompson and The Roots and released her first album in 10 years, Betty Wright: The Movie.

 

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