Born 21 May 1932, Atlanta, Georgia
A prime influence on Little Richard during his formative years, "Prince of the Blues" Billy Wright's hearty shouting delivery was an Atlanta staple during the postwar years. Wright was a regular at Atlanta's 81 Theatre as a youth, soaking up the vaudevillians before graduating to singing and dancing status there himself. Saxist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams caught Wright's act when they shared a bill with Charles Brown and Wynonie Harris at Atlanta's Auditorium, recommending the teenaged singer to Savoy Records boss Herman Lubinsky.
Wright's 1949 Savoy debut, "Blues for My Baby," shot up to number three on Billboard's R&B charts, and its flip, "You Satisfy," did almost as well. Two more of Wright's Savoy 78s, "Stacked Deck" and "Hey Little Girl," were also Top Ten R&B entries in 1951. The flamboyant Wright, who wore makeup and mascara and sported a huge pompadour, set his pal Little Richard up with powerful WGST DJ Zenas Sears, who scored the newcomer his first contract with RCA in 1951. It's no knock on Richard to note that his early sides sound very much like Wright. Billy covered "Every Hour" from Richard's first session as "Every Evening". Both versions went nowhere.
Wright recorded steadily for Savoy through 1954, the great majority of his sessions held in his hometown with hot local players (saxist Fred Jackson and guitarist Wesley Jackson were often recruited). After he left Savoy, Wright's recording fortunes plummeted - a 1955 date for Don Robey's Peacock discery in Houston and sessions for Fire (unissued) and Carrollton in 1959 ended his discography. Wright later MCed shows in Atlanta, remaining active until a stroke in the mid-'70s slowed him down.
(Adapted from All Music Guide.)
Recommended listening: The Chronological Billy Wright, 1949-1951 (Classics 5046). 22 Savoy tracks.
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