Betty Wright‘s legacy of soul, funk and disco hits in the ’70s and ’80s is one that’s continued to echo throughout popular music — somewhat literally, in the case of the many, many artists who have sampled her crisp grooves and peerless vocals over the years.
With news of the beloved singer-songwriter’s death at age 66 this week, Billboard pays tribute to the way Betty Wright’s music has lived on through its repurposing by future generations here, with a list of our 10 favorite samples of her classic jams.
Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up” (1991) sample of “Tonight Is the Night (Pts. I & II)” (1978)
’90s vocal quartet Color Me Badd struck gold when producer Dr. Freeze sampled Wright’s “Tonight Is the Night” for their 1991 debut single “I Wanna Sex You Up.” The titillating jam worked in their favor, as they stormed up the Billboard Hot 100 to No. 2. Later that year, Wright sued the group for illegally sampling her live version of “Tonight Is the Night” without her clearance. As a result, she emerged victoriously and was awarded 35% of the song’s royalties.
DJ Quik’s “Tonite” (1991) sample of “Tonight Is the Night” (1975)
Betty Wright’s sweet ode to a lover about to spend the night for the first time has proven a recurring sample source over the years in its various incarnations. In the early ’90s, legendary West Coast rapper-producer DJ Quik borrowed the song’s titular hook for his decidedly less-innocent G-funk anthem “Tonite,” scoring his biggest Hot 100 hit (No. 49) as a lead artist in the process.
Mary J. Blige feat. The Notorious B.I.G’s “Real Love” (Hip-Hop Remix) (1992) sample of “Clean Up Woman” (1971)
After earning her first Hot 100 top ten hit with “Real Love” in 1992, Mary J. Blige went the remix route. Though she sampled Wright’s 1971 single “Clean Up Woman” — a song about losing out on love to a partner’s new lady in the relationship — Blige maintained her song’s optics and focused on the story of securing true romance. The remix also featured a budding MC in Biggie Smalls, who won listeners over with his gruff presence on the mic.
SWV’s “I’m So Into You” (1992) sample of “Clean Up Woman” (1971)
Mary J. Blige scored a hit remix taking the immediately recognizable guitar intro from “Clean Up Woman,” but that song had funky riffs to spare. In 1993, SWV hit the Hot 100’s top 10 with “I’m So Into You,” which borrows a lithe guitar lick from the “Clean Up Woman” post-chorus for its own irresistible groove, just showing how seamless a fit Wright’s sound still was on the radio decades later.
Nikka Costa’s “Like a Feather” (2001) interpolation of “Secretary” (1974)
Not a direct sample, certainly, but it’s hard to imagine the peerlessly thick bass-and-keys strut to Nikka Costa’s breakthrough hit without the similarly slapping up-the-stairs, down-the-stairs intro to Wright’s “Secretary.” Producer Mark Ronson, a lifetime acolyte of American soul music, was undoubtedly a fan.
Slim Thug feat. Bun B & T.I., “3 Kings” (2005) sample of “Secretary” (1974)
Another song swiping the mighty intro to “Secretary” — although rather than lifting it wholesale, this Mr. Lee- and Bun B-produced southern rap classic takes just one measure of the song’s thunderous horns and loops it, screwing it down for more dramatic effect. The end result is more regal than Wright even could’ve imagined.
Beyonce feat. Jay-Z’s “Upgrade U” (2006) sample of “Girls Can’t Do What Guys Do” (1968)
In a time when men savored the player lifestyle, Wright’s first hit, 1968’s “Girls Can’t Do What Guys Do,” sought to remedy women’s egos by preaching self-respect and dignity. In 2006, Beyonce reversed the agenda by reimagining Wright’s classic for her single “Upgrade U.” Dripping with swagger, Bey asserts her dominance in the relationship over the song’s signature horns, singing: “You need a real woman in your life, that’s a good look.”
Sheek Louch’s “Good Love” (2008) sample of “Tonight Is the Night (Pts. I & II)” (1978)
In 1978, Betty Wright transformed an original poem she wrote into a two-part live record titled “Tonight Is the Night.” Thirty years later, Sheek Louch of The LOX nimbly reinvented her song to fit his vision and created “Good Love.” Built to survive New York summers, the breezy single showcased Louch’s humor and softer side, as he was on a mission to find something deeper than your typical one-night stand.
Avicii and Sebastien Drums’ “My Feelings For You” (2010) sample of Gwen McCrae’s “All This Love That I’m Givin'” (1979)
While Betty Wright was certainly most renown as a singer-songwriter, she was also an accomplished producer — including for other artists like fellow ’70s hitmaker Gwen McCrae. One of their singles together, 1979’s “All This Love That I’m Givin’,” saw a snippet of its opening verse sped-up and repurposed in the 2010 Avicii and Sebastien Drums single “My Feelings For You” — introducing McCrae (and by extension, Wright) to the EDM era.
Chance The Rapper feat. Childish Gambino’s “Favorite Song” (2013) sample of “Clean Up Woman” (1971)
Unlike MJB’s “Real Love (Remix),” Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” was flipped into a lyrical exhibition between Chance the Rapper and Childish Gambino on 2013’s “Favorite Song.” The Acid Rap standout remains a gem in Chano’s catalog, as it marked one of the first collaborations between the two rap polymaths.