The Church of Betty Wright

Bessie Regina Norris, utterly known as Betty Wright, is a minister of soul music, and you must take heed to her negro spirituals.

It’s almost blasphemous to call Deaconess Betty Wright a girl. However, that’s literally what she was when she started her career – a girl. One of her first records was “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.” Guess how old Ms. Betty was. FOURTEEN. With her bra strap still in training, here was a Queen that hasn’t yet claimed her thrown, preaching about the double standard of the sexes. And her tone was very matter of fact: “the least little wrong he does, always seems like dirt.” This was the beginning of the Church of Betty Wright.

From there, Betty “Street Disciple” Wright started preaching again at the “wise” age of eighteen about the “Clean Up Woman” – you know, that woman that’s always waiting in the wing. As Evangelist Betty prophesized off a buoying guitar strum, “The clean up woman, she’ll sweep him off his feet. She’s the one who’ll take him in when you dump him in the street.”

Oh, and let’s not forget about the family-function swingout staple, “Tonight is the Night.” Pastor Wright was singing about the trepidation of getting her cheeks smacked for the first time – “I’m nervous, and I’m trembling.” Yet, this song has become synonymous with breaking bread at familial gatherings. That’s the power that Evangelist Betty Wright has. She even ministers the word on “No Pain, No gain,” rebuking the devil one minute then singing about the glory of victory another minute on “After the Pain.” Then there’s the street parable “U-R-A-Ho.” “Honey you’re a ho and you don’t know, ‘cause the whole town says so.” Now, that’s my kind of churchy slut-shaming.

With straight-to-the-point lyrics like that, it makes you wonder could Betty Wright exist in our think-piece America? I’m not sure. But these are Black hymns that cement the legacy of everyone’s favorite prophetic auntie with borderline problematic ideology – an almost religious ideology. I’m not even sure how I stumbled on Betty Wright. A church kid raised in the 90s, probably wouldn’t and shouldn’t know about the soulful 70s songbird from Miami (beyond the plethora of modern records she’s been sampled on). Maybe, it was her appearance on Making The Band where she used her whistle register to out sing Diddy’s vanity project, Danity Kane. Or maybe it was her striking resemblance to my great aunt, the pastoral matriarch of the family. But if my auntie wasn’t saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost, Betty Wright’s holy psalms would still be used as street worship in this tabernacle called life.