Betty Wright, the soul and R&B icon, has died at the age of 66.
Wright passed away on the morning of May 10, the singer’s niece confirmed to Heavy. Wright’s cause of death has not been made public. On her official profile on Universal Music’s website, it’s written that Wright “influenced a generation of female singer-songwriters and continues to influence the world of hip hop.” Wright operated her own record label, Mrs. B Records, and her own publishing company, Miami Spice.
Wright was born Bessie Regina Norris in Miami, Florida, in December 1953. After beginning her career singing Gospel music with her family, Wright became a star in her own right in 1971 with the release of the song, “Clean Up Woman.”
Here’s what you need to know about the life of this true legend who was referred to as “Miami’s queen of soul:”
1. Chaka Khan Asked Fans to Pray for Wright on May 2
Wright’s death comes a week after singer Chaka Khan had asked fans to pray for the Florida legend’s health. Khan tweeted, “Calling all my #PrayWarriors | My beloved sister, Betty Wright @MsBettyWright, is now in need of all your prays. “Que Sera, Sera | Whatever Will Be, Will Be.” In Jesus Name We Pray for Sister Betty. All My Love Chaka.”
A March 2020 feature on Wright’s music in People Magazine saw Chaka Khan being referred to as a “dear friend” of Wright’s.
2. One of Wright’s Most Famous Songs, ‘Tonight Is the Night,’ Was Lauded by DJ Khaled & Lil Wayne in a March 2020 Episode of ‘Unsung’
At the time of the release of “Clean Up Woman,” Wright was 18 years old. Other hits from Wright’s back catalog include the songs, “Shoorah, Shoorah,” “Tonight Is the Night” and “Where Is the Love,” which won Wright a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. In the 2000s, Wright would score further Grammy nominations after co-producing Joss Stone’s first two albums. Wright performed with Stone on the song, “The Art of Love and War.”
In March 2020, DJ Khaled and Lil Wayne reminisced on the importance of the song, “Tonight Is the Tonight,” for an episode of the TV One show, Unsung. During the episode, Lil Wayne says of the song, via People Magazine:
There’s eras of the song in my life, the first is being in the backseat of a car. Your mom’s singing it and you’re singing right along with her.
The second is you’re riding in that car alone and now you find those words meaning something totally different than what they meant when you were sitting in that backseat.
Singer Angie Stone was also featured in the episode saying of the song, “Clean Up Woman,” “You believed her. I can see the woman with the broom and the whole nine.”
3. Wright’s Songs Have Been Sampled by Some of the Biggest Recording Artists in the World
“Clean Up Woman” would later be sampled by Mary J. Blige on her hit “Real Love.” The song was also sampled by Afrika Bambaataa and Sublime. On her Universal Music biography, the artists who have sampled or been influenced by Wright included Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. In a March 2011 interview with NPR, Wright said of working with younger artists:
I believe in legacy. 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.
Wright mentored young singers and songwriters at her camp, MOST, an acronym for Mountain Of Songs Today.
4. Wright’s Son, Patrick, Was Tragically Shot Dead on Christmas Day in 2005
During her life, Wright gave birth to five children, Aisha, Patrice, Patrick, Chaka, and Asher. On Christmas Day 2005, Wright’s family was struck by tragedy when her son Patrick Parker was shot dead at a holiday party in the Opa-Laka community in South Florida. He was 21 years old. No arrests were ever made in the killing.
Wright recorded the song, “Dry Well,” as a tribute to her son. In 2012, Wright performed the song at a rally in support of the arrest of George Zimmerman. Wright said at the time, via Reuters, “And if I can lend a celebrity voice to it, because when my son died, the way I got through it was through the power of family and the power of prayer. And I began to write it out, as I have always done the pain in my life.”
Wright told the Sun-Sentinel in a 1986 interview that she once refused a $1 million offer to perform in South Africa. Wright refused as a means of protesting the country’s apartheid regime.
5. Wright Was Married for Many Years to the Man Who Co-Wrote the Song, ‘Buffalo Soldier,’ King Sporty
For many years, Wright was married to reggae singer/songwriter, Noel “King Sporty” Williams. During her life, Wright was married three times. Williams was perhaps most famous to co-writing Bob Marley’s hit, “Buffalo Soldier.” Williams passed away in January 2015 at the age of 71. At the time of his death, Williams’ friend, DJ Tom Laroc told WLRN, “Sporty gave [Wright] the muscle to fight for her rights and her publishing. He helped make her a very empowered woman in the music business.”
Wright told the Sun-Sentinel about her marriage and divorces in 1986 saying, “I only intended to be married one time. But marriages are made, they don’t just happen. It takes two. Compassion, not passion, keeps a marriage together. You can’t stay in bed all day.”
In 2010, Williams was awarded the International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) Lifetime Achievement Award.
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