Prodigious Soul Singer, Betty Wright, Dead at 66
Prodigious Soul Singer, Betty Wright, Dead at 66
(Photo by Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty Images)

Prodigious Soul Singer, Betty Wright, Dead at 66

Wright's career spanned five decades, writing her first hit at just 16-years-old.

Prodigious soul singer, Betty Wright, has died. She was 66-years old.

According to Essence, Wright's family confirmed her death early this morning. A cause has yet to be revealed.

Born Bessie Regina Norris in Miami, Florida, Wright began her music career as a toddler. The youngest of seven children, she anchored a family gospel group called the Echoes of Joy. They recorded an album in 1956 and continued to perform together well into the following decade. When the group split in 1965, Wright pivoted to a focus on her solo career, performing in local talent shows. At 12, she was spotted by a local label owner and signed to her first deal. In 1966, Wright recorded and released two songs, "Paralyzed" and "Thank You Baby," both of which garnered regional radio play and established the singer as one of soul's brightest upcoming talents. Her debut album, My First Time Around, arrived the following year, bolstered by the success of the hit single "Girls Can Do What Guys Can Do."

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Entering the next decade as a still teenaged singer, Wright teamed up with Clarence Reid in 1971 to record the ubiquitous soul standard, "Clean Up Woman." The hit peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's r&b chart but would live another life entirely as the backbone of Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Real Love" remix in 1992.

While her output slowed down towards the end of the 70s, Wright recorded a live album to close the decade. She released six more studio albums, including the collaborative project, Betty Wright: The Movie, with The Roots in 2011. She'll be remembered for her impossible range, soaring squalls, and a career that not-so-quietly spanned a half-century of trailblazing.