A little later, while still a teenager, you join Alston records in Miami. How did that happen?
They were actually looking for writers and producers and I think Clarence Reid got called to go over along with Little Beaver, and all of those that had been at Deep City (Betty’s first label) were looking for a home and Clarence just kind of brought everybody with him. They turned me down the first time. I looked a hot mess: I had clay on my body because I had been playing sports that day and I had played on the home plate. My hair was stuck all on my head and I had two braids. I looked like a little tomboy. And then they made a statement that I sang all monotone or something but the next time, which was two weeks later, I came dressed up all in a dress and my hair all combed and they loved me.
What was Alston’s boss, the music entrepreneur, Henry Stone, like to work with?
I always looked at Henry like a Godfather or a grandfather but I learned later on that that could be a peril when you consider people family and then you don’t get paid for what you do. I’ve had a very illustrious career but not had a lot of money to show for that era. And I’m still trying to get paid for songs like ‘Clean Up Woman’ (her 1971 Grammy-nominated US crossover hit).
Really? And that’s considered your signature song, isn’t it?
Henry’s ninety-two or ninety-three years old and is still living. He’s gone blind and a couple of months ago he had a heart attack. I was speaking to his son and explaining to him that both of those things considered he should still – before either one of us leaves the face of this earth – tell the truth and say that I produced (the 1978 album) ‘Betty Wright Live.’ None of the names of the people listed on that record were at that concert. I said: “Tell the truth. Just tell the truth.” I don’t even want money for it. At least people will know the truth. How can someone produce a live album on me when I chose the songs and wrote most of them and put the band together? Just tell the truth and say that the other people mixed it but don’t just leave my name off and keep saying we’ll put your name on the next one and then never do it and go through my whole life not being credited for something that I did. That’s not cool.
Is that what made you want to form your own record company, Ms B, in the 1980s?
Yes, definitely, because after a while you get a little perturbed at the madness. I was a kid star so I didn’t expect that adults would take that kind of advantage. I’m still trying to get my rights back but eventually – I just have a feeling – that all of those records I’ll be able to put out myself and draw first blood. It’ll be just like starting over. I’ll do re-releases and they will be accessible. Right now I have a site up where any kind of Betty Wright record that is after a certain year you can purchase it by just going to the IODA website (www.iodalliance.com).
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Lasting (laughs). The highlight of my career is that I’m still able to wake up and feel brand-new and doing what I love without becoming driven and crazy. I do a lot of things but I do them with a leisurely mentality. I don’t get fussed and crazy and want to beat up people or want to jump out of the window – well, not for longer than five minutes! (Laughs) I love what I do so just being able to have that longevity and still be able to kick high on stage and do what I love to do and people still come and see me is a highlight.
Your sound is described or defined as Miami soul, which is very distinct from Memphis or Detroit soul – how would you define it?
Ours is a lot more Latino but definitely soul music. It’s R&B dipped with a little Salsa. It’s just got a little hot sauce on it.
You won a Grammy for ‘Where Is The Love’ way back in 1974. You were very young so how did that feel?
Well, you know I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. I was nominated for ‘Clean Up Woman’ in ’72 and I went to the Grammys. I wasn’t even there when I won with ‘Where Is the Love.’
So don’t you set much store by awards?
They mean something to me but I’m just not very driven. I think you have to have more ego than I have. I’m not the diva type. I’m more the mamma-sister-auntie-cousin type of woman.