Betty Wright

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Betty Wright
Wright at the Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Alabama, 2009
Wright at the Garrett Coliseum
in Montgomery, Alabama, 2009
Background information
Birth nameBessie Regina Norris
Born(1953-12-21)December 21, 1953
Miami, Florida, U.S.
DiedMay 10, 2020(2020-05-10) (aged 66)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
Years active1956–2020

Bessie Regina Norris (December 21, 1953 – May 10, 2020),[1][2] better known by her stage name Betty Wright,[3] was an American soul and R&B singer, songwriter and background vocalist. Beginning her professional career in the late 1960s as a teenager, Wright rose to fame in the 1970s with hits such as "Clean Up Woman" and "Tonight Is the Night". Wright was also prominent in her use of whistle register.


Early life and career[edit]

Born in Miami, Florida, as Bessie Regina Norris on December 21, 1953, Wright was the youngest of seven children of Rosa Akins Braddy-Wright and her second husband, McArthur Norris. Wright began her professional career at the age of two when her siblings formed the Echoes of Joy, a gospel group.[4] Wright contributed to vocals on the group's first album, released in 1956. Wright and her siblings performed together until 1965, when she was 11 years old.[5]

Following the group's break-up, 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 she was spotted by a Miami record label owner, who signed her to her first label (Deep City Records) in 1966, when she was 12. She released the singles "Thank You Baby" and "Paralyzed", which found Wright local fame in Miami.[6] In 1967, the teen was responsible for discovering other local talents such as George and Gwen McCrae, helping them sign with the Alston Records label TK Records, part of Henry Stone's recording and distribution company. Her first album, My First Time Around, was released when she was age 14. Her first hit single was "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do".[4] In 1970, while still in high school, she released "Pure Love" at the age of 16.[7]


Wright, 1973

About a year later, Wright released her signature song "Clean Up Woman", written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke and recorded when she was 17. The record reached number two on the R&B charts, where it stayed for eight weeks. It crossed over to the pop charts, peaking at number six and staying on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks.[1][2] It eventually sold over 1 million copies and was certified gold on December 30, 1971,[1][2] 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 number six on the R&B charts. Another hit that emerged during this early period was 1973's "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker", which peaked at number 55 on the Hot 100 and number 10 on the R&B chart, it was the first instance (after "Baby Sitter") where Wright showed off her powerful whistle register vocals.[8][9][10] Another successful composition was the proto-disco number "Where Is the Love" (co-written by Wright, with producers Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch, from KC & The Sunshine Band). This peaked at number 15 on the R&B chart, number-two on the dance charts and crossed over to the UK, peaking at #25, leading Wright to perform overseas. Wright later won the Best R&B Song Grammy Award for composing "Where Is the Love".[4]

A second prominent overseas hit was another proto-disco number "Shoorah! Shoorah!", issued on Alston and written by Allen Toussaint.[11] Both songs appeared on one of Wright's most popular albums, Danger! High Voltage!, released in late 1974.[12] It was on this album that Wright had 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 number 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 number 11 on the R&B chart in 1978.[13]

In 1977, Wright discovered musician Peter Brown and sang background on Brown's hits "You Should Do It" and "Dance with Me" (where her vocals were prominently featured alongside Brown's) from the successful LP A Fantasy Love Affair. 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.[14]

1980s and 1990s[edit]

Wright's other albums at the end of the 1970s were less successful, and by 1981, as TK began to struggle, she moved to a bigger label, signing with Epic, where her self-titled album was released.[15] The album was notable for the minor Stevie Wonder-composed hit, "What Are You Gonna Do with It". The same year, she contributed vocals on Richard "Dimples" Fields' Dimples album, especially on the hit "She's Got Papers on Me". In 1983, she released the album Wright Back at You, which featured compositions by Marlon Jackson of the Jacksons. In 1985, Wright formed her own label, Miss B Records, issuing the album Sevens the following year.[16][17] In 1988, Wright made history as the first black female artist to score a gold album on her own label, when her 1987 album, Mother Wit achieved that certification.[18][19] The album was notable for the come-back hits "No Pain, No Gain," which returned her to the top 20 on the R&B chart for the first time in a decade, and "After the Pain".[20]

In 1990, she had a hit duet with Grayson Hugh on the remake of Champaign's 1981 hit "How 'Bout Us",[21] and later arranged the harmonies for Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out of the Dark", which hit number 1 in 1991.[22] Continuing to release solo material into the 1990s, her 1994 album B-Attitudes featured a remixed duet of Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover".[23] She then self-released several more recordings while still performing successfully as a live act.[24][25]

2000s and 2010s[edit]

Wright, 2009

In 2001, the compilation album The Very Best of Betty Wright was released, along with Fit for a King, her first studio album for several years. In 2008, Wright was featured on a Lil Wayne track titled "Playing with Fire". However, due to a lawsuit, the song was removed from the album online.[4] In 2006, Wright appeared on the TV show Making the Band, appointed by Sean Combs as a vocal coach for new female group Danity Kane. She mentored several young singers and did vocal production for such artists as Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez and Joss Stone. 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 album Mind Body & Soul.[26]

Wright, Greenberg and Mangini also produced two tracks on Tom Jones's 2008 album 24 Hours: a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "The Hitter" and "More Than Memories", written by Stax legend Carla Thomas. The trio also produced the debut album by Diane Birch in 2009. In December 2010, Wright was given another Grammy Award nomination for the song "Go" on the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. The album Betty Wright: The Movie, credited to Betty Wright and the Roots, produced by Wright and Ahmir Questlove Thompson was released November 15, 2011 on Ms. B Records/S-Curve Records.[27] Betty Wright: The Movie also included collaborations with Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and Lenny Williams.[28] "Surrender", a track from the album, was nominated for a 2011 Grammy in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category.[29] On New Year's Eve 2011, Wright appeared on the UK's BBC Two television channel, on the Jools's Annual Hootenanny show, backed by the Jools Holland Rhythm & Blue Orchestra. She performed her singles "Clean Up Woman" and "Shoorah! Shoorah!" alongside "In the Middle of the Game (Don't Change the Play)" from Betty Wright: The Movie.[26][30] In 2017, Wright was honored with the National R&B Music Society Unsung Heroine Award at their Black Tie Gala & Awards Ceremony in Philadelphia, Pa.[31] Paul Anthony and Bowlegged Lou of Full Force presented the award to her. Her last appearance was on the TV show Unsung on April 5, 2020, which was a month before her death.[32]

Personal life and death[edit]

Wright was married three times and had five children. In 1976, Wright married Jerome McCray and together they had a daughter.[33] Wright and McCray divorced in 1981. Wright was married to Patrick Parker from 1982 until 1983 and together they had two children. Wright was married to Jamaican musician Noel Williams, better known as King Sporty, from 1985 until his death in 2015.[34] Together Wright and Williams had two children.[35] Her son Patrick Parker Jr. was killed on Christmas Day in 2005 in a shooting incident.[36]

Wright died from cancer, on May 10, 2020, at her home in Miami, aged 66.[37] The news of her death was first announced by her niece.[38] Just two days earlier, fellow singer Chaka Khan had made a plea on Twitter saying "Calling all my #PrayWarriors. My beloved sister, Betty Wright @MsBettyWright, is now in need of all your prayers."[39][40][16]


Several of Wright's works have been sampled over the years by hip hop, rock and R&B musicians. In 1992, Wright sued the producers behind Color Me Badd's breakthrough hit "I Wanna Sex You Up" after claiming they used the sample of her live version without clearance and without permission, and sued for royalties. Wright won her case, winning 35% of royalties for writing the song.[41]

Wright won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song award for composing "Where Is the Love" at the 18th Annual Grammy Awards in 1976.[4] She received one award from six nominations.[42]




  • My First Time Around (1968) Atco SD-33-260
  • I Love The Way You Love (1972)
  • Hard To Stop (1973)
  • Danger High Voltage (1974)
  • Explosion! (1976)
  • This Time For Real (1977)
  • Live (1978) (#63 Can.)
  • Travelin' In The Wright Circle (1979)
  • Betty Wright (1981)
  • Wright Back At You (1983)
  • Sevens (1986)
  • Mother Wit (1988)
  • 4u2njoy (1989)
  • Passion & ComPassion (1990)
  • All The Way Live (1992)
  • B-Attitudes (1994)
  • The Very Best Of Betty Wright (2000) Rhino Records: 8122-79861-2[44]
  • Fit for A King (2001)
  • Betty Wright: The Movie – with the Roots (2011) (US:#197); (US R&B:#27)
  • Living...Love...Lies (2014) [45]



As lead artist[edit]

  • 1966: "Mr Lucky"
  • 1966: "Good Lovin'"
  • 1968: "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do" (#33 U.S., #15 R&B, #46 Can.)
  • 1968: "He's Bad Bad Bad"
  • 1968: "The Best Girls Don't Always Win"
  • 1969: "After the Smoke is Gone" (with Steve Alaimo)
  • 1969: "The Joy of Becoming A Woman"
  • 1969: "Soldier Boy"
  • 1970: "Pure Love" (#40 R&B)
  • 1970: "I Found That Guy"
  • 1971: "Clean Up Woman" (#6 U.S., #2 R&B, gold US, #39 Can.)
  • 1972: "I Love the Way You Love"
  • 1972: "Baby Sitter" (#46 U.S., #6 R&B)
  • 1972: "Is It You, Girl?" (#18 R&B)
  • 1972: "I'm Gettin' Tired Baby" (#42 R&B)
  • 1973: "It's Hard to Stop (Doing Something When It's Good to You)" (#72 U.S., #11 R&B)
  • 1973: "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker" (#55 U.S., #10 R&B)
  • 1973: "It's Bad for Me to See You" (#66 R&B)
  • 1974: "Secretary" (#62 U.S., #12 R&B)
  • 1974: "Shoorah! Shoorah!" (#28 R&B, #27 UK)[47] Alston
  • 1975: "Where Is the Love?" (#96 U.S., #15 R&B, #2 Disco, #2 Club Play, #25 UK,[48] #81 Can.)
  • 1975: "Tonight Is the Night" (#28 R&B)
  • 1976: "Slip and Do It" (#21 R&B)
  • 1976: "If I Ever Do Wrong" (#23 R&B)
  • 1977: "Life" (#64 R&B)
  • 1977: "You Can't See for Lookin'" (#73 R&B)
  • 1978: "Dance with Me" (with Peter Brown) (#4 Disco, #5 R&B, #8 pop)
  • 1978: "Tonight Is the Night, Pts. 1 & 2 (live)" (#11 R&B)
  • 1979: "Lovin' is Really My Game" (#68 R&B)
  • 1979: "My Love Is" (#48 R&B)
  • 1981: "What Are You Gonna Do With It?" (#42 R&B, #61 Dance)
  • 1981: "Goodbye You Hello Him" (#65 R&B)
  • 1983: "She's Older Now" (#22 R&B)
  • 1986: "Pain" (#42 UK)
  • 1988: "No Pain, No Gain" (#14 R&B)
  • 1988: "After the Pain" (#57 R&B)
  • 1989: "From Pain to Joy" (#39 R&B)
  • 1989: "Quiet Storm" (#88 R&B)
  • 1989: "Keep Love New" (#71 R&B; #71 UK)[47]
  • 1990: "How 'Bout Us" (with Grayson Hugh) (#30 R&B, #67 pop, #15 adult contemporary)
  • 1994: "For Love Alone" (#98 R&B)
  • 2007: "Baby" (with Angie Stone) (#22 R&B, #3 Dance)
  • 2011: "Grapes on the vine" (with Lil Wayne and the Roots)
  • 2013: "Mama" (with Ace Hood)
  • 2014: "Save Us" with Ace Hood

As featured artist[edit]

Title Year Peak chart positions Album
"Holy Key"
(DJ Khaled featuring Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Betty Wright)
2016 84
29 Major Key

As a studio background vocalist[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 306. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  2. ^ a b c Fuster, Jeremy (May 10, 2020). "Betty Wright, Grammy-Winning R&B Singer, Dies at 66". The Wrap. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
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  20. ^ "Betty Wright". Retrieved May 10, 2020.
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  22. ^ "Soul singer Betty Wright dies at 66".
  23. ^ "BETTY WRIGHT". the Funky Soul story. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
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  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 7, 2020. Retrieved May 22, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  33. ^ Glasgow, Kathy (January 13, 1993). "Wright Reborn". Miami New Times.
  34. ^ Warnock, Caroline (May 10, 2020). "Noel 'King Sporty' Williams, Betty Wright's Husband: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know".
  35. ^ Tannenbaum, Rob (May 10, 2020). "Betty Wright, Soul Singer Who Mentored a New Generation, Dies at 66". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 24, 2020.
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  37. ^ Peters, Mitchell (May 10, 2020). "Betty Wright, Iconic Soul and R&B Singer, Dies at 66". Billboard. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
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  40. ^ "R&B Singer Betty Wright Dead at 66". TMZ.
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  45. ^ iTunes, "Living...Love...Lies", February 10, 2014
  46. ^ "Betty Wright Discography – USA – 45cat".
  47. ^ a b "Official Charts Company". September 2, 1989. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  48. ^ "Official Charts Company". January 29, 1975. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
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External links[edit]