Singer, songwriter and record producer.

Born: December 21, 1953;

Died: May 10, 2020.

BETTY Wright, the US soul and funk icon who inspired a generation of R&B singers and worked with major talents such as Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder and Beyonce, has died from cancer at the age of 66.

Possessed of a remarkable voice, she could reach what is classed as “whistle register”, a tone so high that few professional singers would even contemplate attempting it (other exponents include Minnie Ripperton, Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande.) Her expansive range was emblematic of her career, from having 20 Top 40 hit records to working in production and management.

Miami-born Bessie Regina Norris Wright was, it seems, born to be a dynamo. The youngest of seven children, she began singing with her siblings and parents in the family gospel group, Echoes of Joy, with her mother Rosa, a nurse, on guitar.

The group, which also included her father McArthur Norris, released records along the way. But it was the precocious talent of little Betty, still not yet three years old, which stood out. “She could not only sing on key but had a strong, loud voice,” recalled her older brother, Phillip.

In 1965, Wright broke with the family band and released her first album, My First Time Around. She was just 14, and her teacher would not allow her out of school to appear on the classic TV show, American Bandstand.

Her mother was not keen on her daughter’s transition to secular music. Indeed, she once told James Brown that he couldn’t hire her children because “they only sing gospel music.”

That turned out not to be the case. In 1971, aged just 17, Wright released a song which became an American soul standard. Clean Up Woman reached the Top 10 in the pop charts and reached number two in the R&B chart, selling a million copies.

This time she did appear on American Bandstand, and declared to host Dick Clark she was “absolutely” a church singer. But this “church” singer was to absorb and re-form a range of influences; African, Caribbean, Latin American and calypso. Melding with blues and gospel, the sound emerged as Miami funk.

And it was sexy. While Wright believed the Lord had given her a voice, she did not believe that the Lord denied her the chance to be as raunchy when she so chose. Clean Up Woman anticipated funk music’s transition into disco, and created a new pop template for sexy dance music music; her 1974 hit, Tonight Is The Night, was a “raucous bedroom drama of a song,” said one music critic. “A nervous but eager monologue of a girl about to lose her virginity in her parents’ house.” Wright’s music was dynamic. It was raw. It sounded as vibrant as the neon city itself.

Not surprisingly, success soared with a series of “proto-disco” songs such as the 1974 hit Shoorah! Shoorah! and a year later, the Grammy-winning R&B hit, Where Is the Love.

But she was more than a singer. Her growing success served to unleash the independent spirit she had revealed as a teenager when she helped local singers George and Gwen McRae sign to Alston Records. They went on to have Top 10 hits.

Signing to Epic Records in 1981, Wright quickly grew disillusioned with the major company’s restrictions and launched her own label, Ms. B Records.

She wrote and produced the comeback hit, No Pain (No Gain) and became in the process the first woman to have a gold album on her own label, while establishing herself as a role model for young Floridian female talent.

Wright was also certainly tough: she sued those who sampled her music. She also drove her own terms for agreements with the likes of Puff Daddy and Mary J.Blige.

She continued to mentor a series of young singers and rappers, whom she called “my babies.” She was more than happy for them to have the limelight. “I ain’t trying to be in their sandbox — I built the sandbox, but I watch ’em play in it,” she told the New Yorker magazine.

She recorded a duet with Alice Cooper. At one point she enrolled at Miami Dade College where she majored in percussion, which influenced her notably rhythmic singing. She also arranged the harmonies for Gloria Estefan’s chart-topping hit. Coming Out of the Dark.

In the early 2000s, she produced a range of albums for talents such as British singer Joss Stone.

What’s clear is that music was always an essential feature of Betty Wright’s very existence. “If you came to a BBQ at my house you would hear live music,” she once said. “At my house, there’s always a concert. And you would hear a multiplicity of genres. I love it all. I can sing opera.”

Wright, who had also worked with Michael Jackson and the Miami Sound Machine, lost her battle with cancer. On her death, John Legend wrote: “ I loved being around Ms Betty Wright. She was always so loving and giving to younger artists. Always engaged, always relevant. She will be missed.”

Wright once predicted that even death would not be powerful enough to separate her from performance. “Once, [her son] Asher told me, ‘Ma, when you die, they gonna have to pry that microphone out of your hand.’ I laughed and said ‘What makes you think they gonna get it then?’”

Betty Wright, who was married three times, is survived by Asher and his three siblings, Namphuyo Aisha McRae, Patrice Parker and Chaka Williams.