Betty Wright is an award-winning soul singer and songwriter who was highly popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s. She was the first black woman to earn a gold album on her own record label. She released her first album at 14, My First Time Around, her first hit pop song at 17, “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.” She earned her first gold record at 18, and a Grammy at 23. Despite her young age when her stardom began, Wright was known for giving relationship advice through her songs and has earned the moniker the “Queen of the cautionary tale” and “heartbreak soul.” In the 2010s Wright made a comeback after releasing new music and since her heyday has remained a relevant figure in pop culture as numerous famed musicians have used her music in their work and she has worked with multiple stars of the current era.
Born Bessie Regina Norris on December 21, 1953 in Miami, Florida, the youngest of seven children to Rosa Akins Braddy-Wright and her second husband, McArthur Norris. Wright began performing with her family’s gospel singing group the Echoes of Joy just before the age of two, and continued to perform with the group until 1965 when Wright was 11, by which time she had already begun going by the name Betty Wright. A year later, at the age of 12, Wright was approached by the Deep City Records label after being spotted singing in local talent shows in the Miami area. By 13 she began backup singing on other artist’s songs. Two years later, at 14, Wright released My First Time Around from Atco Records, leading to her first hit single “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.”
Wright’s signature song, which is still popular today and has been often sampled in other artists’ work, “Clean Up Woman,” was released in 1971 when she was just 18 and rose to and stayed at number six on the pop charts and number two on the R&B charts for eight weeks. In 1976 Wright won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for “Where Is The Love.”
In 1985 Wright created her own record label, Ms. B Records, because of the gender pay gap in the music industry. In 1987 Wright released the album, Mother Wit, under her label and made history in the process by becoming the first black woman artist to earn a gold album on her own record label. Beyond singing and songwriting, Wright has worked as a mentor and vocal coach for numerous young artists in addition to doing background vocals, vocal production and engineering work on albums for other renowned artists. Wright also leads a songwriting workshop called MOST (Mountain of Songs Today).