There are a few legendary female artists who detained
the throne of R&B. The late Bessie Smith (Queen of The Blues)… Dinah
Washington (The Queen) …who also inaugurated the legendary Queens
Booking Agency in New York…. Aretha Franklin (Queen of Soul)…Carla
Thomas (Queen of Memphis)… Irma Thomas (Queen Of New Orleans) and
Queen Latifah (Queen of Hip-Hop)
This particular queen began a long and successful run of R&B classics
at the age of 15 and help put on the musical map the sound of Miami.
Ms. Betty Wright.
Born in Miami Florida on Dec 21, 1953 Betty began her music career at
the tender age of 3, singing with her mother who played guitar and
sister Jeanette Holloway and brothers Phillip ‘ Leno Phillips’ and
Milton Wright as The Echoes Of Joy,’ in 1956. They toured with gospel
artists such as The Staple Singers and Johnnie Taylor who at the time
performed with the Highway QC’’s.
After the Echoes Of Joy split, Betty began to venture into secular
music and won a singing contest on a local radio show. Her prize was a
phonograph record. A local producer / songwriter Willie Clarke and
singer Clarence Reid discovered the young talented 13 year old one day
singing in a store and wanted to record her.
Getting permission from her mother wasn’t an easy task. She didn’t
want her 13 year old involved in the
music business. Afterwards, she reluctantly changed her mind and Betty
made her early recordings for two local independent labels in 1966.
‘Thank You Baby b/w ‘Mr. Lucky’ were featured on Solid Soul and
‘ Paralyzed’ b/w ‘Good Lovin’ on Deep City.
It wasn’t until after Willie Clarke took Betty to legendary music
impresario Henry Stone where her musical destiny soon took place.
Henry owned a majority of labels that were uniformed under T.K
Productions, named after engineer Terry Kane who constructed all of
the studios, T.K, Alston, Cat, Marlin, Drive, and Stone Dog. Henry
also owned Tone Distributors, the major supplier of R&B records in
After a distribution deal was made with Atlantic Records,
Henry Stone formed the Alston label where he released Betty’s first
single, ‘ Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do’ b/w ‘Sweet Lovin’ Daddy’ in
1968. After a version by Judy White (daughter of legendary blues
singer the late Josh White and South African entertainer the great Ms.
Miriam Makeba) was released on Buddah Records,
Atlantic began to push the song. ‘Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do’ b/w
Sweet Lovin Daddy’ entered the R&B singles charts on August 3 and No
15 the week ending Sept 21, 1968. Her second follow up ' He's Bad Bad
Bad' b/w Watch Out Love' from
her first LP ' The First Time Around' released in late 68' sank
without a trace.
Throughout Betty’s attendance in high school, Alston released ‘ Pure
Love’ in 1970 (No 40 R&B) produced by Brad Shapiro who later wrote and
produced with Dave Crawford the million seller dance classic for
Wilson Pickett in 1971, ‘Don’t Knock My Love’ and several hits for
Millie Jackson. ‘ I Love The Way You Love’ was her 3rd charted release
(No 44 R&B Aug 28, 1971) and then came the song that would transform
Betty into international stardom. ‘Clean Up Woman’ b/w I’ll Love You
instant million selling hit, No 2 R&B the week ending Dec 25, 1971 and
No 6 Pop. With its masterpiece
guitar riff by Willie ‘Little Beaver’ Hale who 3 years later in 1974
recorded a smash entitled ‘ Party Down’, ‘Clean Up Woman’ had a catchy
rhythm and title that the record purchasers enjoyed Betty quoted in an
1972 interview in England’s No 1 magazine Blues & Soul. She admitted
that she didn’t like the song too much but as time went by she learned
to adapt to it.
‘I’ll Love You Forever’ is a classic B-side and one
of my favorites by Betty. The background singers were a discovery of
Clarence Reid called the Reid Singers. In early 1972, singer/ dancer
and label mate Jimmy Bo’ Horne recorded an answer song to ‘ Clean Up
Woman’ called ‘Clean Up Man’ which gained regional airplay. Matching
up to ‘Clean Up Woman’s standard wasn’t an easy thing. Her next two
releases ‘ If You Love Me Like You Say' b/w 'I'm Getting Tired Baby'
(No 21 R&B) and 'Is It You Girl' (No 18 R&B) did fairly well but her
next single 'Baby Sitter' (No 6 R&B) was the hit that returned her
into the the top ten position.
An LP entitled ‘ I Love The Way You Love' was released in early
spring of 1972 hitting No 32 on the Soul LP charts. Willie Clarke and
Clarence Reid composed most of Betty’s recordings. Clarence recorded a
masterpiece classic in the summer of 1969 called, ‘ Nobody But You
Babe’ b/w ‘Send Me Back My Money’ on Alston (No 7 R&B the week ending
Sept 6, 1969) and also recorded as X-rated rapper Blowfly in the late
70’s on T.K. Records
From 1973 thru 1976 Betty racked up a total of 10 hits
with ‘It’s Hard To Stop (Doing Something When It’s Good To You) (No 11
R&B)… ‘ Let Me Be Your Lovemaker’ (my personal favorite) (No 10
'It’s Bad For Me To See You' (No 66 R&B)...‘Secretary’ (No 12 R&B)… 'Shoorah!
Shoorah' written by legendary singer/ songwriter /producer Allen
Toussaint with a classic B-side 'Tonight Is The Night' (No28
R&B)...the dance classic 'Where Is The Love' (No 15 R&B)...'Ooola La'
(No 28 R&B)... 'Slip And Do It' (No 21 R&B) and 'If I Ever Do It' (No
Where Is The Love’ written and produced by Harry ‘KC’
Casey of the group K.C & The Sunshine Band and Harry Finch, won a
Grammy for Best R&B Song of 1975. Shoorah Shoorah’ was Betty’s first
hit in the U.K. and began touring across the Atlantic. With 3 LP
releases ‘ Hard To Stop’ (1973) ‘Danger
High Voltage (1974) and ‘This Time For Real’ (1977) it was becoming
clear that Betty reign as the Queen of the Miami soul.
In June 1978, Betty achieved success with her one gold LP entitled,
‘Betty Wright Live’. Her live version of ‘Tonight Is The Night
Pt. 1 (Rap)’ revived her recording career and brought her back into
the limelight hitting (No 11 R&B) becoming a staple in all of the
major black clubs across the country.
‘Tonight Is The Night’ is a story about her anticipation of losing her
virginity. In the live version, Betty added a spoken into which she
said originally intended to be a poem. The album was recorded live at
Miami’s Marco Polo Hotel.
While Betty wasn’t recording or touring she lend her voice for
background session work for such artists
as Stephen Stills, The Rolling Stones. She was the guest voice for
label mate Peter Brown on 3 of his
major hits, the hypnotic ‘Do You Want To Get Funky With Me’, ‘ Dance
With Me’ and ‘You Should Do It’. Her most memorable session work was
with the late Richard ‘ Dimples’ Fields on his 1981 summer hit ‘She
Got Papers On Me’ where Betty reminds him who’s the real domestic of
Her last two recordings for Alston, ‘ Loving Is Really
My Game’ (No 68 R&B) and ‘ My Love Is’ (No 48 R&B) fail to show any
progress so she left Alston in late 1979 and signed with Epic Records
in 1980, where she released 3 singles, ' What Are You Going To Do With
It' (No 42 R&B)... 'Goodbye You Hello Him' (No 65 R&B)...and 'She's
Older Now (No 22 R&B). Epic released two LP's 'Betty Wright' and '
Back At You' . Betty departed from Epic in 1983.
She signed with an independent label Jamaica 3 in 1984
waxed one single, ‘One Step Up, Two Steps Back’ (No 75 R&B). Betty
once again restored back into the R&B top 15 in the spring of 1988
with 'No Pain, No Gain' (No 14) on the Vision label.
Proudly I might add that Betty Wright was inducted into the R&B
Foundation on Wednesday, Sept 6, 2000 an
event I attended that evening with my close friend, Northern Soul
legend singer, Tony Drake. She brought the house down with her
signature hit 'Clean Up Woman' and injected a rap on artists of today
who sampled her music without creativity or permission. It was indeed
a night to remember. The Chi-lites were also inducted and Tony and I
hung out with lead singer / songwriter of the Chi-Lites, the late
Eugene Record (also a dear friend of Tony's) where we met and was
embrace by Motown
great Smokey Robinson who was the show's host. We then afterwards had
breakfast with such legends as The Dells, singer/ songwriter George
Kerr, Johnny Keys of the Magnificents (who also worked at Fame Studios
and compose the hit 'Too Weak Too Fight' for Clarence Carter in 1968)
Sam Gooden and Fred Cash of The Impressions and Marshall Thompson of
Betty Wright continues to retain her throne performing for
her adoring fans around the globe. She helped shaped and formed the
sound of Miami and contributed to the R&B world, down to earth
southern styles of feel good music.
Hail To The Queen of The Miami Scene! Ms. Betty Wright.
Materials should not be used
or altered without expressed permission of the author, Mike Boone
(Chancellor of Soul).