Black music trailblazer Bessie Regina Norris started singing at the age of two, and she was signed to a record company when she was just 12 years. At the time some of her peers were just finding their voices, she released her first album, “My First Time Around” in 1968 at age 15.
She was a luminary R&B singer and a vocal prodigy who became the first woman to have a record on her own label achieve gold status.
Known as Betty Wright, she was referred to as one of Miami’s best singer whose music influenced African Americans for six decades. She had her breakthrough at just 17 with her song “Clean Up Woman”, a combination of funk, soul and R&B.
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The song became a top-five hit on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts, and its grooves were used and reused in the sampling era years later. The song was written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke and sampled by Afrika Bambaataa and Mary J. Blige.
Born in 1953 in Miami, Norris was the youngest of seven children, she started singing with the family gospel group, Echoes of Joy. She did and wrote her first hit song “Baby Sitter” in 1973.
According to reports, the hit showed off her so-called “whistle register” vocals, an ultra-high singing style later employed by Mariah Carey and others. She co-wrote her 1975 proto-disco hit, “Where is the Love,” with members of K.C. and the Sunshine Band and it won her a Grammy for best R&B song.
She had six Grammy nominations. By the time she was 21, she had become a prolific songwriter in her own right with hundreds of credits on her own songs as well as those for others, the most recent coming earlier this year on “Safe In Your Arms,” the lead track on R&B artist Judy Cheeks’s Love Dancin’ LP.
By the 80s’ she had her own record label, ‘Ms. B Records’ and released the album “Mother Wit.” She produced more than 15 albums and is remembered for creating hits for artists including Gloria Estefan, Bob Marley and Joss Stone.
She appeared as a mentor on the US reality TV talent show Making the Band in 2006. Two years later, she produced two songs on Tom Jones’ album 24 Hours. Her 2011 album, Betty Wright: The Movie, featuring Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne was hailed by reviewers as her best effort in 30 years.
In 2015, she lost her husband Noel “King Sporty” Williams whom she married in 1985. Noel was a Jamaican musician who had co-written the song Buffalo Soldier with Bob Marley. Betty Wright sold out the Barbican Centre in London in July 2019.
She spent her later years as a producer and mentor to younger artists. she told NPR in 2011 that her reasons for coaching younger singers
“I believe in legacy,” Wright said. “And I believe in making the radio sound better. If I gotta listen to it, I want it to sound good. So I’m tired of people disturbing the peace, getting on the radio and sounding a hot mess. If I can tell what the note really is, why let them go to the note they think it is? I’ve got that mama vibe. I don’t look at it with an ego.”
It’s hard to imagine a more versatile talent than Betty Wright: An industry veteran by the time she was out of her teens, she could belt like Aretha Franklin, hit the whistle register like Minnie Riperton and spin melodramas like Millie Jackson. https://t.co/iTCwckCVjq— NPR Music (@nprmusic) May 12, 2020
The 66-year-old trailblazing singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, producer, music activist and celebrated Grammy-winning soul singer, died 10 May 2020 from cancer at her home in Miami. Dawn Richard of the group Danity Kane said Wright was “the funniest,
“She was one of our vocal trainers during the beginnings of DK. I loved that she was unafraid to add grit to any lyric. She helped us emote and find our voices as women in the industry. Thank you