Luminous is a fine word to best describe singer, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, music activist born Bessie Regina Norris. But millions would come to know her as Betty Wright. She had an irrepressible presence whether in person, through her music, on the phone, anywhere really. I was proud to call her a friend.
I first met her as a teen sensation in the early 1970’s when I was a radio personality at 96.3 WHUR-FM in Washington D.C. With a radiant smile and an Angela Davis afro like mine, Betty was soaring from her big hit, “Clean Up Woman.” I would go on to play her music (“Tonight is the Night,” “Secretary”, “Where Is the Love?”) for years as I climbed the ranks of radio. However, there was another connection: we were both the same age and maintaining a family. Our bond would remain warm and full of sisterly affection. But there was also the admiration of her ability to be a boss while working in our male-dominated music industry.
She was a trailblazer who was revered by her contemporaries in all genres, from Peter Tosh to Diddy among others. As an independent artist with her own label, Ms. B Records (long before it was popular), Betty garnered a gold disc and six Grammy nominations. Her songs inspired and empowered a cadre of male and female artists, who sampled her infectious, straight-no-chaser music. Wright’s “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do” was tastefully interpreted by Queen Beyoncé on “Upgrade U”… “Clean Up Woman” was sampled on Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” remix, Chance the Rapper’s “Favorite Song” and SWV’s “I’m So Into You” and many more.
Betty, a Grammy award winner, and I served on a committee at The Recording Academy. A few months ago, on a conference call with Labelle’s Sarah Dash and some seasoned music industry folks, Betty had to school a few people who didn’t know Frankie Beverly and Maze. Some were rather dismissive in their ignorance. Well, Betty eloquently informed the oblivious individuals about Maze and their significance to Black folks—as well as millions of other human beings. She was a proud Black woman and never hid it.
In a recent episode of TV One’s Unsung on Betty, everyone from Lil Wayne (she contributed her vocal stylings to his Tha Carter III album) to fellow Miami native DJ Khaled, lauded her down-home persona and talents. With a five-octave plus vocal range, Betty defined her success path, used her platform to advocate for artist’s rights and worked tirelessly to ensure respect for Black culture. She was a fearless warrior woman and the documentary captured her fiery spirit.
Bodacious, regal, hard-working, Betty Wright’s legacy should never be forgotten.
Dyana Williams (@DyanaWilliams) is a veteran broadcaster frequently featured on TV One’s Unsung, currently an on-camera entertainment contributor for Chasing News on Fox5 New York and My9 in New Jersey. Williams is the CEO of Influence Entertainment, where she orchestrates media strategies for her celebrity clientele.