In Memoriam: Betty Wright (1953 – 2020)

Bessie Regina Norris (December 21, 1953 ā€“ May 10, 2020), better known by her stage name Betty Wright, was an American soul and R&B singer, songwriter and background vocalist, who rose to fame in the 1970s with hits such as “Clean Up Woman” and “Tonight Is the Night”. She was also prominent in regard to the use of whistle register.

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. 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.

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 being spotted by a local Miami record label owner, who signed her to her first label (Deep City Records) in 1966 at 12. 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 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”. In 1970, while still in high school, she released “Pure Love” at the age of 16.

Wright died on May 10, 2020, from cancer at her home in Miami. She was 66, and news of her death was first announced by her niece. 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.

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