Betty Wright, a powerful singer who had a single at the age of 17, continued to be a key player in Miami funk sound of the 1970s and worked closely with music stars for the past four following decades, died at home on Sunday. In Miami. She was 66 years old.
Her death was confirmed by Steve Greenberg of S-Curve Records, who said that Ms. Wright had cancer in the fall. “She was an incredible writer, producer and mentor for young artists,” said Greenberg.
Mrs. Wright’s 1971 hit, “Clean Up Woman,” envisioned the transition from funk music to disco, and her syncopated and moving sound created a model that hit the charts for the rest of the decade. .
“Clean Up Woman” peaked at # 6 in the singles ranking. Although she has never equaled this mainstream success again, Ms. Wright has remained a pillar of the Billboard R&B charts, and as lead singer, duo partner or leading singer, has placed 20 different singles in the Top 40 R&B.
As recently as 2007, she was on the R&B and dance charts with “Baby,” a duet with new generation soul singer Angie Stone.
“She is a superbly rhythmic singer, she pushes against the rhythm and easily negotiates the delicate crossed rhythmic currents of music”, Robert Palmer wrote while reviewing a 1977 show for the New York Times. “His gospel melismatists are used conservatively and musically, not as mannerism or tics.”
“Betty can claim to be the voice of” every woman “more than, say, Chaka or Aretha,” wrote Nick Coleman, reviewing the album for the British newspaper The Independent, referring to Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin. James Reed, in the Boston Globe, called it “smart, probing R&B for adults” and an extension of “the ferocious, funky sound that made Wright so compelling in the 1970s.”
Ms. Wright has had a lasting career as a composer, arranger and producer. She has worked with Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills, David Byrne, Alice Cooper, Jennifer Lopez, Erykah Badu, Bob Marley, Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine, Keyshia Cole, P. Diddy, Kelly Clarkson and Nas.
She was known as an advisor to a new generation of soul artists, helping to produce albums by British singer Joss Stone, perpetuating a legacy of mentorship that began at the start of her career. As a teenager, she helped George and Gwen McCrae sign with Alston Records; in the late 1970s she boosted Peter Brown’s career and sang choirs on his hit “Dance with Me.”
Bessie Regina Norris was born on December 21, 1953 in Miami, the youngest of seven children. She started singing professionally when she was 2 years old, in the Echoes of Joy, a gospel group that her brothers and sisters had founded.
In 1978 Dick Clark interviewed Mrs. Wright on “American Bandstand”. When asked if she had been a “church singer,” she replied, “Absolutely. I’m always.”
A complete obituary will follow.
Ben Sisario contributed to the report.