By now you’ve heard of Lorde, the 17-year old pop sensation who has taken over international airwaves with a slew of stripped-down, subtle hip-hop crossovers. It’s exciting when someone so young comes out of nowhere to score a huge hit, especially one with such an “authentic” image (in these days of Photoshop and costumery, anyone who wears their natural hairstyle gains street cred).
But the novelty factor is hyperbolic. There have been many young stars to come and go over the years. Few have had significant staying power, though some notable exceptions (Judy Garland, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder to name a few) have left their permanent mark on the cultural landscape.
Today I’d like to introduce you to an artist you likely haven’t heard of: Betty Wright.
Ms. Wright began her career at age 2, singing in a gospel group with her siblings in Miami. Her solo career kicked off in 1966 when, at age 12, Wright signed her first record deal. She scored some local radio/club hits in her early teens, before bursting onto the national stage with “Clean Up Woman,” released just after her 17th birthday. The song reached #2 on the R&B charts, and became a crossover hit, reaching #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (when it mattered) and staying on the chart for 14 weeks. The rest of Wright’s career has been wildly successful: international tours, production for mega-stars, Grammy nominations and wins, and a continual output of new music (including a feature on a Lil Wayne track and collabs with Snoop Dogg and Joss Stone). Her biggest hit, “Tonight is the Night,” has been a cultural standby, sampled in honey classics “Knockin Boots” and “I Wanna Sex You Up” (which did so illegally, netting Wright a fat settlement).
And she opened for Bob Marley on the Survivor tour. LEGEND.