Betty Wright: Soul Singer, Legacy Protector | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Betty Wright: Soul Singer, Legacy Protector

Play associated audio

"I don't feel like I need to tell any lies," Betty Wright says. "You get to an age where you get tired of hiding behind whatever people think is correct. You just say what you have to say, and if they don't like it, it's OK."

Wright found fame in the 1970s as the voice behind the R&B hits "Clean Up Woman" and "Dance With Me." Today, Wright is much in demand as a vocalist, coach, writer, arranger and producer. Her first album out in 10 years is out this week; it's called Betty Wright: The Movie.

"You don't just hear these songs — you can see the scenarios," Wright tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "I'm sure there's somebody out there that needs their next script for their next movie, and this is it. This is a script of life. Every song could be a movie."

Wright has worked with an impressive roster of collaborators in her career, including Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley. On the new album, Wright trades verses with rappers Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg, and is backed up by the ultimate house band, The Roots. She says the recording studio experience has changed dramatically since her early days, in part because the older technology left very little room for mistakes.

"There were big horn sections, strings, live people laying on every part of the floor in the studio, waiting for their chance to get on that one little track," Wright says. "And that means you didn't have a chance to do anything wrong. They would take you out in the alley and beat your butt! Because it was everybody singing, playing at the same time. If there were 25 people and you were the one that messed up, they would see you."

Recently, Wright has devoted much of her time to coaching younger singers, Joss Stone and Jennifer Lopez among them. She says her work with rising stars is her own way of safeguarding the future of popular music — and that it's much more productive than viewing them as her competition.

"I believe in legacy," Wright says. "And I believe in making the radio sound better. If I gotta listen to it, I want it to sound good. So I'm tired of people disturbing the peace, getting on the radio and sounding a hot mess. If I can tell what the note really is, why let them go to the note they think it is? I've got that mama vibe. I don't look at it with an ego."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

If Robots 'Speak,' Will We Listen? Novel Imagines A Future Changed By AI

As artificial intelligence alters human connection, Louisa Hall's characters wrestle with whether machines can truly feel. Some "feel they have to stand up for a robot's right to exist," Hall says.
NPR

Aphrodisiacs Can Spark Sexual Imagination, But Probably Not Libido

Going on a picnic with someone special? Make sure to pack watermelon, a food that lore says is an aphrodisiac. No food is actually scientifically linked to desire, but here's how some got that rep.
NPR

A Reopened Embassy In Havana Could Be A Boon For U.S. Businesses

When the U.S. reopens its embassy in Havana, it will increase its staff. That should mean more help for American businesses hoping to gain a foothold on the Communist island.
NPR

In A Twist, Tech Companies Are Outsourcing Computer Work To ... Humans

A new trend is sweeping the tech world: hiring real people. NPR's Arun Rath talks to Wired reporter Julia Greenberg about why tech giants are learning to trust human instinct instead of algorithms.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.