By: Kierra Gray
For those of you that don't know, Betty Wright, an amazing singer-songwriter, recently passed. She was a studio background vocalist for Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Jennifer Lopez, Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, Gloria Estafan, etc. She was grammy-nominated six times, and won a Grammy for her hit song, "Where Is The Love." She's also known for her other popular songs "Tonight Is The Night", "No Pain, (No Gain)", and "Clean Up Woman," which was later sampled on Mary J. Blige's monster hit "Real Love" the hip-hop remix.
I first met Betty at a seminar during National YoungArts Week. I was flown out to Florida for a week of masterclasses and performances after being name a YoungArts Finalist in the Voice: Singer/Songwriter discipline. I was nervous and excited, but more than anything I wanted to learn everything. I had never heard of Betty Wright until the day I met her, and I am so grateful to have had that experience. Betty was full of life and laughter from the jump! She was an animated storyteller and an amazing speaker. I felt like she truly understood where I was in my songwriting journey and shared part of hers with me. She talked about the business side of the music industry and urged us to learn it forwards and backward. She even went as far as to say, "If you don't know math, you really don't know music." From knowing your scale degrees, to knowing how to calculate royalties, to knowing how to convert currency when touring other countries, she showed how math is essential in music. She also talked about how reading is just as important. She explained how being able to read contracts and knowing how to conduct yourself in interviews was simply English language arts. It baffled me at first, but I slowly realized how right she was. These subjects that we so often brush off and take for granted in school were actually going to help us in music.
She talked about her experience in Africa with segregation and how she refused to perform to a segregated crowd. During that time, the white kids couldn't sit with the black kids, so she shared how she stood on the steps and told the people there how wrong segregation was. They started calling her "Baruti," which means teacher, and ended up giving Betty 500 tickets to give out to the community. She gave them all out and said that that night was one of the best shows she's ever had. From there, she talked about how we, as singer-songwriters and artists, "don't just sing to make money." Some people are singing their way out of poverty, depression, and even mental distress.
Betty Wright shared how inspirational and influential music can be. It's hard to see and believe sometimes that a song that you write can help someone else, but she reminded me how much bigger music can be. A song written today could be someone's healing 20 years from now, and a song written 20 years from now could spark a revolutionary generation. Betty Wright will forever be a songwriting legend and a music mastermind. For me though, she was an inspiring mentor.