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Betty Wright Biography

Home > Music > W > Wright, Betty > Biography

Born: 1953/12/21
Birth Place: Miami, Florida, United States
Years Active: 1966-present
Genres: R&B, Soul

Betty Wright (born Bessie Regina Norris, December 21, 1953) is a Grammy winning Miami-based soul and R&B singer-songwriter. A pioneering musician and entrepreneur, she remains one of the few black female musicians to have a gold record on her own vanity label. She possesses a four-octave vocal range and is adept at using the whistle register.

Wright began her professional career at the age of two when her siblings formed the gospel group, the Echoes of Joy. Wright contributed to vocals on the group's first album, released in 1956. Wright and her siblings performed together until the mid-1960s.

In 1965, following the group's break-up, 11-year-old Wright, who was already using the name Betty Wright, decided to switch musical styles from gospel to rhythm and blues, singing in local talent shows until being spotted by a local Miami record label owner, who in 1966 signed her at the age of 12, to her first label. She released the singles, “Thank You Baby” and “Paralyzed,” which found Wright local fame in Miami.

In 1968 Wright released her debut album, “My First Time Around,” when she was 14 and scored her first hit single with Judy White's “Girls Can't Do What Guys Do.” While still in high school in 1970, Wright released the sensual “Pure Love” at the age of 16.

About one year later, Wright released her signature song, “Clean Up Woman,” written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke when she was 17. The record reached #2 on the R&B charts, where it stayed for eight weeks. It crossed over to the Pop charts, peaking at #6 and staying on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. It eventually sold over one million copies and was certified gold on December 30, 1971, nine days after the singer turned 18.

Wright struggled with a successful follow-up until 1972 when the single “Baby Sitter” (one of Wright's first compositions) reached the Top 50 of the Hot 100 and peaked at #6 on the R&B charts. Another hit that emerged during this early period was 1973's “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker,” which peaked at #55 on the Hot 100 and #10 on the R&B chart, it was also the first instance where Wright showed off her powerful whistle register vocals. Another successful composition was the proto-disco number, “Where Is the Love,” which peaked at #15 on the R&B chart, #2 on the Dance charts and crossed over to the U.K., peaking at #25 and leading Wright to perform overseas. Wright later won the Best R&B Song Grammy Award for composing “Where Is the Love.”

A second prominent overseas hit was another proto-disco number, “Shoorah! Shoorah!” Both songs appeared on one of Wright's most popular albums, “Danger! High Voltage!,” released in late 1974. It would be on this album that Wright would have her most successful composition, with the smooth soul ballad, “Tonight Is the Night,” which Wright attributed to her first sexual experiences. The original version peaked at #28 on the R&B chart. Four years later, Wright released a live version of the song. The remodeled version, which included a now-famous monologue and portions of Wright's 1970 hit, “Pure Love,” peaked at #11 on the R&B chart in 1978.

In 1978, she performed a duet with shock rocker Alice Cooper on the song “No Tricks” and a year later, opened for Bob Marley on the reggae star's Survival Tour. Wright's other albums at the end of the 1970s were less successful and by 1981, as her longtime label TK began to struggle, she moved on to a bigger label, signing with Epic where her self-titled album was released.

The album was notable for the minor Stevie Wonder-composed hit, “What Are You Gonna Do With It.” That same year she contributed vocals for Richard “Dimples” Fields' “Dimples” album, appearing on the hit, “She's Got Papers on Me.” In 1983, the album, “Wright Back at You,” featured compositions by Marlon Jackson, of the Jackson Five. Four years later, Wright issued the album, “Sevens.”

In 1985, Wright formed her own label, Miss B Records. In 1988, Wright made history as the first black female artist to score a gold album on her label when the album, “Mother Wit,” was released. The album was notable for the hits, “No Pain, No Gain” and “After the Pain.”

Her 1989 follow-up, “4u2njoy,” featured a remixed duet of Marvin Gaye's “Distant Lover.” Since then she has self-released several more recordings while still performing successfully as a live act. She had a hit duet with Grayson Hugh on the remake of Champaign's 1981 song, “How 'Bout Us,” and later arranged the harmonies for Gloria Estefan's “Coming Out of the Dark,” which hit #1 in 1991.

Wright took a break from recording following the releases of 1990's “Passion & Compassion” and 1994's “B-Attitudes.” In 2001, a compilation album, “The Very Best of Betty Wright,” was released, along with her first studio album in several years, “Fit for a King.”

Along with co-producers Steve Greenberg and Michael Mangini, Wright was nominated for a 2005 Grammy Award in the Best Pop Album category for producing Joss Stone's “Mind, Body & Soul” LP.

In January 2011, it was announced that Wright would release her first album in ten years. The album “Betty Wright: The Movie,” was released in November 2011. The album featured The Roots, who co-produced the record along with Wright. “Betty Wright: The Movie” also included collaborations with Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg and Lil' Wayne.