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Betty Wright at YoungArts.
Betty Wright at YoungArts.
Photo by Katherine Bollens

Miami Soul Legend Betty Wright Kicks Off National YoungArts Week

When 20 National YoungArts voice finalists in pop, jazz, classical, and singer/songwriter categories take the stage at New World Center January 7, they’ll surely wow the audience — which will include YoungArts Week voice master teacher Betty Wright.

The soul singer with deep gospel roots and an impressive seven-octave range will likely be sharing space with many of those performers as she teaches two classes during YoungArts Week.

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Wright, who began singing gospel with her family group the Echoes of Joy at age 11, released her first album in 1968. She had several hit songs, including the top-five pop and number-two R&B winner "Clean Up Woman." That song would later be sampled on Mary J. Blige’s monster hit "Real Love." Wright also won a Grammy for best R&B song in 1974 with "Where is the Love?"

Add her work co-producing two albums for Joss Stone, as a vocal coach on Making the Band 3, and being credited as a major influence on the careers of Beyoncé, Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Lil’ Wayne, Flo Rida, DJ Khaled, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Alice Cooper, and Bill Wyman.

That stellar career makes Wright an asset to one of the biggest weeks on the YoungArts calendar and brings her back as vocal coach for the third year in a row.

“What I teach will vary," Wright said. "For example, sometimes I teach vocals or the actual vocals to a specific song that fits another singer.”

One of the aspects she loves most is the surprise of teaching a diverse group in a class: "It’s really enlightening, and every year I try to have some time available because I also learn every time I teach. I feel a real coach should always know the game that he’s coaching. I also understand the turnover and that you’re working with new students every year.”

Betty Wright poses with YoungArts voice students in 2017.EXPAND
Betty Wright poses with YoungArts voice students in 2017.
Photo by Katherine Bollens

Working with YoungArts as a master teacher has shown Wright how varied her interest in the arts is. She enjoys the dancers, singers, and spoken word performers. It has also opened her up to the world of classical music, making her realize how much she loves it.

“The musicians are just amazing; I was glued to my seat watching them. And the fact that a lot of these directors were girls and they were conducting this music made that much more special,” Wright said.

Wright is always impressed with how serious the young people in YoungArts are about their participation. Their focus and concentration in whatever discipline they’re learning “is why I see the results,” she said.

As for Wright's own career, she’s coproducing an album with the O’Jays and also working on a new album of her own.

But for this week in Miami, she’s focusing on one thing: devoting herself to those classes where “the students come in with a blank sheet of paper, ready to take whatever I give them.”

Wright, whose daughter Asher Williams was a 2005 YoungArts winner in theater, loves what YoungArts does.  “The program really works," she said. "The kids get to enjoy time with professionals on a one-to-one basis, something they don’t get in a regular school. The community and network are invaluable.”

YoungArts Week 2019: Classical, Jazz & Pop Voice Performance. 8 p.m. Monday, January 7, at New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach; nws.edu. Tickets cost $15.

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