Betty Wright: Soul Singer, Legacy Protector "I believe in making the radio sound better," says the R&B veteran. After years spent coaching younger singers, Wright is back with the new album Betty Wright: The Movie.

Betty Wright: Soul Singer, Legacy Protector

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Now, time for music and a fixture on the R & B charts in the 1970s comes back with a passion.


BETTY WRIGHT: (Singing) A clean up woman, is a woman who gets all the love we girls leave behind.

LYDEN: That's the 1971 hit "Clean Up Woman" by the soul singer Betty Wright. Betty Wright lives in Miami, and she's as much in demand as a vocalist, coach, writer, arranger, producer. She first came on the scene as a child. And on Tuesday, she'll release her first album out in 10 years. And this Betty Wright is edgier, wiser, sexier and takes no prisoners.


LYDEN: This is a track called "Real Woman" from the album "Betty Wright: The Movie." And the movie she's screening for us is above all honest.

WRIGHT: You know, I don't feel like I need to tell any lies. I feel like you get to an age where, you know, 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. Why I called it a movie is because you don't just hear these songs, but you can see the scenarios. This is a script of life. Every song could be a movie.

LYDEN: I like the way that you unabashedly tackle sex and love and relationships on this album. You've grown up yourself in the public sphere, and there's a YouTube of you singing one of your early hits. And I really have to ask you about this. You're singing "Tonight is the Night," which you say you wrote when you were 16. You haven't even turned 18, as you're saying, and it's - basically, it's about losing one's virginity.


LYDEN: Now, here it is 40 years later, and you sing about yourself. Let's listen to "Tonight Again."


LYDEN: Betty, I love this. You actually say, don't matter what Little Betty Wright said. That was then, this is now. So what have you learned about love in your life?

WRIGHT: I learned that it doesn't love nobody. Somebody smart said that one time, right?


WRIGHT: I learned that as much as you think when you're walking down that aisle that this forever, sometimes it's just not forever. You can have the best of intentions. And I often say when I said I do, I did. And it's just that simple, and it's just that complicated.

LYDEN: Yeah.

WRIGHT: A lot of people don't make it through. You know, they get married, and they think that the person isn't going to have any flaws. And then that's our fault, too, sometimes because we should know the brother has on a tuxedo when he's dating you, he's going to the best at courtship. But when you get married, sometimes, they relax and they take out that little T-shirt and that little undershirt. I don't call it a wife beater because I don't play that.



LYDEN: OK. Go ahead.

WRIGHT: Let me ask you why you ask me that, Jacki, because I want to know when you say dignity, what do you mean I have a lot of dignity?

LYDEN: I think dignity is really about parody, and you don't always see that in relationships. And I love this song "In the Middle of the Game" where you're saying to the guy, give her breakfast in bed sometimes. Tell her that she's been on your mind. And then you're saying to the woman, go some places where he wants to go. Make him think sometimes that he runs the show. Listen, I've only rather recently been married, and I thought, I'm just going to remember that.


WRIGHT: Oh, so another - is my check in the mail? We can fire all the therapists and psychologist and psychiatrists. I got a job, right, Jacki?


LYDEN: I'm speaking with singer Betty Wright. Her new album is called "Betty Wright: The Movie," and the backup band for it is The Roots from the Jimmy Fallon show, the house band there.

Betty Wright, your music has been sampled time and again by hip-hop artists, and you have a little fun with that in the first track on this album. Let's take a listen to "Old Songs."


LYDEN: So I'm curious. You've worked with a lot of rappers recently. And on this album, we hear Lil Wayne and Snoop Dog. And you've also worked with folks like Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley. How's the experience of making music changed from those days?

WRIGHT: Well, it's changed drastically because we were pretty - I want to say plush. When I started out, even though you had your rhythm section, they 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. And that means that you didn't have a chance to do anything wrong because they would take you out in the alley and beat your butt. If you were the one that messed up, they would see you.

Then you get into the another era, maybe 10 years later, then they have - go from four tracks now to eight tracks, then it's 16, then 24. Now, they tell me there are some songs with four and 500 tracks. So I think we were kind of minimalists in so far as the way we did it, but we were very plush. Now, they got 500 tracks, but they're looping. So it's kind of like heavy on one side and light on the other, but it balances.


LYDEN: I know this is your first album in a decade, but you have been really, really busy. You spent a lot of time coaching other young singers like the British artist Joss Stone and Jennifer Lopez. You were a vocal coach on the reality show "Making the Band." So how is it you can be generous enough to work with so many of these younger singers?

WRIGHT: Well, you know, I think that's a part of me that I hope does not change. I believe in legacy, and I believe in making the radio sound better. If I got to listen to it, I want it to sound good. So I'm tired of people disturbing the peace, getting on radio sounding like a hot mess. So when I go in and I help coach or do a vocal production, I just want it to sound better. If I can tell them what the note really is, why let them go to the note they think it is?

You know, so I'm kind of like that momma. I got that momma vibe. I don't look at it with an ego because a lot of people don't reach back to touch anybody because they have ego problem. They'd say, like, oh man. You're raising your competition. Well, I love competition because I've always run faster when somebody was running next to me.

LYDEN: You've given advice to a lot of people who are singing. And I'm just curious if your co-producer on this album, Questlove, if he had any advice for you?

WRIGHT: I'm sure at some times he would say things to me. I don't know if I took it as advice. I guess we vibed off of each other. I mean, we had some fun days. Like, I was - I would ask him, actually, what was the first rap song that he could remember. And he was all going back to Furious Five and all of that. I say: No, no. I'm talking about way before then. And he says, how far back? I'd say, oh no, buddy. I'm talking about when I was in elementary school. He says, get out. Get out.


WRIGHT: And I started telling him about Jimmy Dean, right?

(Rapping) Every morning at the mine you could see him arrive, stood 6-foot-6, weighed 245. Didn't say much kind of quiet and shy and if he spoke at all he just said hi. Big John.

LYDEN: Big John.

WRIGHT: And he went crazy. Oh, you mean to tell me country and western people started rapping? Oh, this is a revolution.


LYDEN: Hey, at the bottom of that mine lies a big, big man.

WRIGHT: Lies a big, big man. See, you know. Big John, right?

LYDEN: I do.


WRIGHT: Oh, goodness.

LYDEN: Oh. I hope you're going to tour this album.

WRIGHT: I hope so. I hope so. I think we will. I think that from the impact, so far, it's looking like they want to see us, they want to hear.

LYDEN: Betty Wright's new album is called "Betty Wright: The Movie." And if you'd like to hear a few tracks, they're on our website, Betty Wright, this has been a real treat. Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thank you.


LYDEN: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Check out our weekly podcast, The Best of Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You can find it at iTunes on We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

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