Influencial soul and R&B singer Betty Wright, born Bessie Regina Norris, died today at the age of 66. According to the New York Times, president of S-Curve Records Steve Greenberg confirmed Wright’s death on Sunday; the singer had reportedly been diagnosed with endometrial cancer in the fall of 2019. Said Greenberg, “She was an incredible writer, producer and mentor to young artists.”
Recording her first album My First Time Around at 14, Miami-born Wright had her first Top 40 hit single, “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do” in 1968. In 1971, the singer released “Clean Up Woman,” a crossover pop hit that reached number two on the Billboard R&B chart and landed at number six on the Billboard 100, staying on the chart for fourteen weeks. In 1975, Wright won a Best R&B Song Grammy for “Where Is the Love,” her one win out of six nominations.
After a string of albums throughout the ‘70s, which produced hits like “Tonight Is the Night,” Wright became the first female artist to achieve a gold album on her own label, Ms. B Records, with 1987’s Mother Wit, which featured the hit “No Pain, No Gain.” In 2011, the singer and The Roots released Betty Wright: The Movie, a collaborative album with performances from Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Joss Stone and others. Wright is also known as one of the first vocalists to popularize the “whistle register,” now associated with singers like Mariah Carey.