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Bessie Regina Norris, better known by her stage name, Betty Wright (born December 21, 1953), is a Miami-based soul and R&B singer-songwriter, who won fame in the 1970s with hits such as "Clean Up Woman" and "Tonight Is the Night". A pioneering singer-songwriter and entrepreneur, she remains one of the few black female musicians to produce a gold record on her own vanity label. She is adept at using the whistle register.
Early life and career
Born Bessie Regina Norris on December 21, 1953, Wright was the youngest of seven children to 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 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 signed her to her first label in 1966 at twelve. She released the singles, "Thank You Baby" and "Paralyzed", which found Wright local fame in Miami.
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, part of Henry Stone's TK recording and distribution company. My First Time Around, her first album, was released when she was still 14. Her first hit single was 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 sixteen.
About a year later, Wright released her signature song, "Clean Up Woman", written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke 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. It eventually sold over a 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 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 also the first instance (after "Baby Sitter") where Wright showed off her powerful whistle register vocals. 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".
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 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.
That same year, Wright also discovered the talents of 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). 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.
1980s and 1990s
Wright's other albums at the end of the 1970s were less successful and by 1981, as 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 on Richard "Dimples" Fields' Dimples album, especially on the hit, "She's Got Papers on Me", where she catches Fields singing out about another woman, verbally attacking him in the ending monologue. 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 1994 album B-Attitudes 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 hit, "How 'Bout Us", and later arranged the harmonies for Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out of the Dark", which hit number-one 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 for several years, Fit for a King. 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.
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 now mentors several young singers and has done 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 Mind, Body & Soul LP.
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. In January 2011, it was announced that Wright would release her first album in ten years. 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. Betty Wright: The Movie also included collaborations with Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg, Lil' Wayne and Lenny Williams. "Surrender", a track from the album, was nominated for a 2011 Grammy in the "Best Traditional R&B Performance" category. "Grapes on a Vine", another track from the album, was sung by Lola at first at her official site.
On New Year's Eve 2011, she appeared on UK's BBC Two television, 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.
Several of Wright's works have been sampled over the years by hip hop, rock and R&B musicians. The riff from "Clean Up Woman" has been sampled constantly by acts such as Afrika Bambaattaa, SWV, Mary J. Blige and Sublime. Wright's first hit, "Girls Can't Do What Guys Do", was sampled for Beyoncé's "Upgrade U". Another hugely sampled song has been "Tonight Is the Night". The song was first sampled (in both the original studio and live versions) in 1990 by rapper Candyman, on his one-hit wonder, "Knockin' Boots". 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 percent of royalties for writing the song. Other artists who sampled "Tonight is the Night" include DJ Quik, who sampled the song on his first released single, "Tonite", and Sheek Louch who also sampled the song for the lead single "Good Love" off of his 2008 album Silverback Gorilla. Her cover of the song, "Shoorah! Shoorah!", which she recorded in 1974, was used in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The song, which was written by Allen Toussaint and first recorded by Frankie Miller, also appears on the soundtrack to the second series of the UK Channel 4 comedy drama, No Angels. In 2002, RJD2 used a sample from Wright's 1974 hit "Secretary" in his most commercially successful track, "Ghostwriter". "Ghostwriter" has since gone on to be used in multiple advertisements and commercials.
On December 24, 2005, her 21-year-old son Patrick Parker was shot and killed after a dispute at a Christmas party in Opa-locka, a Miami suburb. Wright's mother Rosa passed away in September 2010 at the age of 85.
Wright currently resides in Miami.