Betty Wright, a GRAMMY-winning icon of R&B and soul, died Sunday (May 10). She was 66.
Wright, who’s best known for her GRAMMY-winning song “Where Is The Love,” as well as her hit songs “No Pain, No Gain,” “Clean Up Woman” and “Tonight Is The Night,” died of cancer in her Miami home, Billboard reports.
Days prior to Wright’s death, on May 2, fellow R&B and soul icon Chaka Khan tweeted an alarming message addressing Wright. “Calling all my #PrayWarriors,” she wrote, “my beloved sister, Betty Wright, is now in need of all your prays.”
Harvey Mason jr., Chair and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy, shared a touching message about Wright’s passing on behalf of the organization.
“Betty Wright was a striking talent within the soul and R&B community,” Mason jr. said. “We send our deepest condolences to Betty’s family and friends during this difficult time. She will be dearly missed.”
Born Bessie Regina Norris in Miami, Fla., in 1953, Wright was a highly influential singer-songwriter as well as a celebrated background vocalist and accomplished producer. Her solo music influenced generations of cross-genre artists. Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Sublime and Chance The Rapper, among many others, have all sampled her music throughout the years.
Wright began her music career as a child when she and her family formed the gospel group Echoes Of Joy. As a teenager, she began recording as a backup singer for other artists.
Following performances and releases on a local level, she released her debut album, My First Time Around, in 1968 when she was 15, Billboard reports. The album produced her first Top 40 hit in “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do,” which peaked at No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 the year it was released. Dusty Springfield later covered the song on her 1972 album, See All Her Faces, while Beyoncé sampled the song on “Upgrade U,” featuring husband-rapper Jay-Z, a featured track off her 2006 album, B’Day.
Wright fully broke into the mainstream in the ’70s. She returned to the charts in 1972 with her classic “Clean Up Woman,” a single off her second album, I Love The Way You Love, which was released that same year. In addition to becoming her highest-charting Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 6, the song notched Wright her first-ever GRAMMY nomination, for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, at the 15th GRAMMY Awards, held in 1973. A gold-certified hit, “Clean Up Woman” has since been regularly sampled, with everyone from Chance The Rapper, Mary J. Blige featuring The Notorious B.I.G. and Sublime borrowing the song’s widely recognized, feel-good guitar riff.
She continued her winning streak in the ’70s, releasing hit songs, including classic like “Tonight Is the Night,” and multiple albums that placed on the all-genre and R&B charts throughout the decade. Her 1975 song, “Where Is The Love,” earned Wright her first and only career GRAMMY win, for Best Rhythm & Blues Song, at the 18th GRAMMY Awards, held in 1976.
Wright remained active in the ’80s. Her 1981 self-titled album featured “What Are You Going To Do With It,” a minor hit composed by Stevie Wonder. She launched her own label, Miss B Records, in 1985. The imprint released Wright’s 1988 album, Mother Wit, which went gold, Vanity Fair reports, and featured the hit “No Pain, No Gain”; the album became the first album by a black female artist released on her own label to garner gold certification, according to HITS Daily Double.
Wright would gain a new wave of younger followers and fans through her collaborations with next-gen artists and producers in the 2000s. Her co-production work on a couple of Joss Stone‘s albums earned her high accolades: 2003’s The Soul Sessions was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize in the U.K., according to Billboard, while 2004’s Mind Body & Soul garnered Wright a GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, The Guardian reports.
She joined the hit MTV show “Making The Band” in 2006 when Sean “Diddy” Combs, then the program’s executive producer, recruited her as a vocal coach.
In 2011, she released Betty Wright: The Movie, a collaborative album with The Roots, which featured collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and Joss Stone, among others. “Surrender,” a featured track off the album, garnered Wright her sixth and final artist GRAMMY nomination, for Best Traditional R&B Performance, at the 54th GRAMMY Awards, held in 2012.
Wright released her final album, Living Love Lies, in 2014.
In addition to her solo work, Wright sang background vocals for a wide and diverse cast of collaborators, including Stevie Wonder, David Byrne, Erykah Badu, Peter Tosh, Alice Cooper and several others, according to Pitchfork.
Outside of her music, Wright was an active member of the Recording Academy. As a Board member of the Florida chapter, she worked in the fields of education, advocacy and diversity. As an active participant in the Recording Academy’s Advocacy arm, she was instrumental in securing the organization’s support from local representatives such as Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.
As a champion for the inclusion of R&B and hip-hop, she launched the Florida Chapter Urban Task Force, which brought together top industry figures like Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled, Uncle Luke and Fat Joe.
Betty Wright is survived by her four children, Namphuyo Aisha McRae, Patrice Parker, Chaka Williams and Asher Williams; and her four siblings, Charles Wright, Milton Wright, Jeannette Wright and Phillip Wright, The New York Times reports.