Betty Wright, the Soulful Singer Who Helped Define R&B, Dies at 66

Betty Wright, the soul singer who helped define the R&B music genre, has died at 66. The news was confirmed by Steve Greenberg of S-Curve Records in the New York Times today. The cause of death is said to have been cancer. “She was an incredible writer, producer and mentor to young artists,” Greenberg said.

Born Bessie Regina Norris in Miami, Florida, Wright adopted her stage name when she began singing in her family’s gospel group, the Echos of Joy. They released a family album in 1956, when she was just three. (Later, she also sang backup on songs for many top artists including Gloria Estefan, Alice Cooper, and more.)

In 1968, when she was 14-years-old, Wright released her debut album, “My First Time Around,” which spawned her first top-40 single, “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.” In the 1970s, Wright then rose to fame with her hit song, “Clean Up Woman,” one of her most well-known hits today; on the track, she ultimately predicted funk music’s movement towards disco, setting the sound for the years to come. In 1976, she also scored a Grammy award for her popular song, “Where Is the Love.”

Wright’s influential music has been sampled by many R&B singers following her, from Mary J. Blige to Chance the Rapper. At one point, she even served as Beyoncé’s vocal coach (Bey sampled her song, “Girls Can’t Do What Guys Do,” on her 2006 song “Upgrade U.”) More recently, Wright released her 2011 album, “Betty Wright: The Movie,” with the help of Questlove of the Roots. It was her first album in 10 years, and a song from the album, titled “Surrender,” earned her a Grammy nod for best traditional R&B performance.

Originally Appeared on Vogue