Music News: Soul star Betty Wright dies at 66

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The Current Music News for May 11, 2020 (MPR Video)

Soul star Betty Wright has died at age 66, after being diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Although she only had one big mainstream hit, her legacy in funk, disco, and R&B is vast.

That big hit was "Clean Up Woman," which landed in the Top Ten in 1971 when Wright was just 17. It's now recognized as a pivotal track in funk's evolution to disco.

After that, Wright found less visible but extraordinarily persistent success as a lead vocalist, backing vocalist, songwriter, arranger, and producer — working with everyone from Bob Marley to David Byrne to Jennifer Lopez. She was one of the first pop singers to work in the high-pitched "whistle register," now famously associated with Mariah Carey.

Wright was proud of her role as a mentor to younger artists. She said, "I built the sandbox, but I watch 'em play in it." (New York Times)

Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell dies at 59

Music executive Andre Harrell has died at 59 due to longstanding heart problems. In 1986, Harrell founded Uptown Records, a label that would become a crucible for the merger of hip-hop and R&B. Artists nurtured by Harrell include Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Al B. Sure!, Guy, and most famously Sean Combs, a.k.a. P. Diddy.

Harrell was a rapper himself, but when he went to work for Russell Simmons, he learned that his greatest gifts were in management and marketing. He appreciated the size and diversity of the market for hip-hop and R&B and had a knack for helping artists perfect brands like the seductive rapper Father MC or the fun-loving Heavy D & the Boyz.

It was Heavy D who introduced Harrell to Sean Combs, who started as Harrell's intern and rose to become one of the signature artists and music moguls of his generation. Harrell later led Motown Records and worked in film production, including in collaboration with Combs, who applied for that first internship by saying he'd "wash cars, quit school — anything [for] a priceless chance to be in your presence." (New York Times)

A rare tribute from Bob Dylan

In the wake of Little Richard's death, it's no surprise that artists have been sharing tributes to the influence of one of rock and roll's originators. Even so, fans were surprised when Bob Dylan took to Twitter to share a heartfelt statement. It's testament to the depth and breadth of Little Richard's impact — and a reminder that Dylan didn't start out as a folkie, but as a piano-pounding aspiring rocker.

L.A. entrepreneurs see opportunity in mobile recording studio

As we're learning from all these livestreams, some artists are much better set up for home recording than others are — and spending long hours together in an enclosed space is not a good idea when a deadly virus is floating around, so it's probably going to be a long time before conventional recording studios are safe again. In these circumstances, L.A. entrepreneurs Christine Hufenbecher and Kenny Moran are seeing rising demand for the service their company provides: a roll-up recording studio.

Their company, called Mobile Session, has an RV recording studio artists can rent — complete with a control room and a lounge. You can do just about anything except record live drums, but you can snake cables into your basement for that. Rolling Stone reports the RV has already hosted sessions on beaches and in the mountains, and at $2,000 a day, it's less expensive than a lot of studios.

Moran says, "By and large, the bulk of musicians aren't going to make a platinum-selling record or sell a million downloads. They're gonna do an album, they're gonna put it out, and they're gonna get in a van and try and push it. We recognize that. We want to help, so we're gonna be as flexible as we can with a truly independent artist."

Jill Scott faces Erykah Badu in an Instagram catalog battle

Amidst all the tragedy of this pandemic, some amazing things are happening that music fans might never have even dreamed of before. This week's example: neo-soul stars Erykah Badu and Jill Scott going head-to-head in what amounted to a livestreamed DJ battle pitting their catalogs against each other. Over half a million people tuned in on Saturday night on Instagram as the stars chatted, spun tracks, and sang along for the better part of three hours. (Billboard)


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