Many years ago, when Atlantic Records was starting up in a New York apartment with the help of a loan from a dentist, Ruth Brown was signed to sing for the new label. Ruth Brown could sing the feathers off a bird, and she cut a number of excellent tracks, usually for a fee of about $50. No royalties. No stock options. And certainly no health benefits. She ended up in the hospital. Her career fizzled. She wound up working as a maid.
It's difficult to not think of musicians such as Brown, one of hundreds who suffered from the business end of music, when listening to Betty Wright's signature hit, "Clean Up Woman." All of that is history -- musicians hire lawyers now, and Wright, an ordained minister and Miami native, has made great records in every decade since she first hit in the early Seventies. Then again, when one of her songs was stolen by a popular group, she had to go to court and fight for a third of the royalties. Things change, but only in the details.
That's why documenting history is important. That countless others have found everything from samples to salvation in the music of people like Betty Wright is why history should also be celebrated. Rappers from Tupac to Snoop have used her work (and, unlike Color Me Badd, avoided acrimonious litigation by giving the credit due). When Gloria Estefan was injured in a bus accident, it was Betty Wright she called on for help, as both a vocal coach and a collaborator. Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and Michael Jackson are just a few of the performers who've enlisted the assistance of Wright to make songs better.
But it's Betty Wright's solo work that anchors this celebration of Black Music Month. During the Betty Wright Revue, the Grammy winner should deliver delightful and powerful renditions of the R&B-jazz-soul-gospel-pop music she's recorded since that first big hit back in the Seventies. She's still writing, producing, touring, and performing. Helping her help Miami celebrate will be Timmy Thomas, Little Beaver, Jeanette Wright, Ellison Kendrick, Philip Wright, and Bomb Shell. That's some celebrating, and it fits nicely with the words of Ms. Wright: "All things work together for the good of them who love the Lord." Or them who love great music.
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