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Betty Wright's Biggest Billboard Hits: 'Clean Up Woman,' 'Tonight Is the Night' & More

Betty Wright
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Betty Wright

In her nearly 50-year chart career, R&B legend Betty Wright stretched across generations with a soul, funk and disco catalog that made her one of the genre's most consistent hitmakers in the 1970s and early 1980s, and, in later years, as a frequently sampled presence in hits by Beyoncé, DJ Khaled and others.

The singer-songwriter, born Bessie Norris, died at age 66 of cancer in Miami.

Wright's Billboard chart career began on Aug. 3, 1968, as "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do" debuted on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles (today's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart). The single became Wright's first top 40 hit on both rankings, reaching No. 33 on the former and No. 15 on the latter. Younger listeners may know the tune more than they realize: Its opening drum and horn section was sampled in Beyoncé's "Upgrade U" (featuring Jay-Z), a No. 11 hit on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 2007.

The R&B realm yielded Wright's biggest successes, with 39 of her tracks reaching the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1968-2016. Her most prolific period was the '70s, when she earned all four of her top 10s on the tally: "Clean Up Woman" (No. 2), "Dance With Me" (No. 5), Baby Sitter" (No. 6) and "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker" (No. 10).

Here is a recap of Wright's 10 biggest hits on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs:

Song Title, Peak Position, Peak Date
1. "Clean Up Woman," No. 2, Dec. 25, 1971
2. "Dance With Me," with Peter Brown, No. 5, April 8, 1978
3. "Baby Sitter," No. 6, Nov. 18, 1972
4. "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker," No. 10, Nov. 3, 1973
5. "No Pain, No Gain," No. 14, June 4, 1988
6. "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do," No. 15, Sept. 21, 1968
7. "Secretary," No. 12, Aug. 17, 1974
8. "It's Hard to Stop (Doing Something When It's Good to You)," No. 11, May 26, 1973
9. "Where Is the Love," No. 15, May 24, 1975
10. "Tonight Is the Night (Pts. 1 & 2), No. 11, Nov. 11, 1978

Betty Wright's Biggest Billboard Hits are based on actual performance on the weekly Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, through May 9, 2020. Songs are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at lower ranks earning lesser values. Due to changes in chart methodology over the years, certain eras are weighted to account for different chart turnover rates over various periods.

Although Wright's best Hot 100 rank as an artist is a No. 6 high for "Clean Up Woman," she played a noteworthy role in a No. 2 hit: Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up." The 1991 single sampled the bass section and looping background vocal, "I know you not gonna sing that song!," from a live version of "Tonight Is the Night, Pts. 1 & 2." It gave Wright no artist billing nor writing credit, however, and she successfully sued the group for its illegal sample and walked away with 35% of the track's royalties. (Wright tells the saga's full story at the start of the above clip.)

Beyond "Sex" and the aforementioned "Upgrade U," Wright's catalog influenced several other chart hits. In 1990, "Tonight" was also sampled in Candyman's "Knockin' Boots," which climbed to No. 9 on the Hot 100.

Meanwhile, R&B trio SWV borrowed parts of "Clean Up Woman" for its 1993 hit "I'm So Into You." Curiously enough, the original and makeover share the same chart fates: No. 2 highs on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 6 bests on the Hot 100.

Wright's last major chart appearance to date remains a featured turn on 2016's "Holy Key" by DJ Khaled, whom she described as "like my son" to The New Yorker in 2014. The track, also with Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar as guest acts, reached No. 29 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 84 on the Hot 100.

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