For every successful sound, there always has to be a pioneer. For Motown and Detroit, I guess it was Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; for Philly, it would really have to be the O'Jays But in both cases, there is cause for argument. The Miami boom cannot prompt such discussions because the very beautiful but equally adept Ms Betty Wright was easily the pacemaker for the string of successful acts that have since blossomed in the Florida heat. But it is not out of sentiment that Henry Stone — the tower of power behind the TK operation — recently announced that his company had worked out a special arrangement with Ms Wright to expand her interests within the company.
"Basically, my role will be to expand new talent within the company," the delectable lady explained from her Hollywood hotel, having just arrived to make a prestigious appearance on the successful American TV show, "Soul Train". "Now that the TK operation has grown to such an international success — via K. C. & the Sunshine Band, Gwen and George McCrae, Latimore and the rest of the artists at the company — Henry is able to branch out and allow those of us who can to bring in and develop new talent for the company. My basic belief is that I should try to develop all — round entertainers and not just recording acts. I have been given my own label — to be called Ms B. — and I have already made the first signing. He is a young man named Jeremiah Burden, who is just twenty one and is a school teacher. And that's a funny thing because I am looking at my new role as being similar to a school teacher. But Jeremiah is different — firstly he can write and do his own arrangements and that's why I have allowed him to cut all of the basic tracks on his own. I figure that since he wrote the songs, he would be the one to know how they should sound and I will accept his suggestions for special instrumentation when the time comes to finish his first recordings. So, he'll be the first name on Ms B. Records because I'll be staying on Alston myself. This way I don't clash with my own efforts — and the funny thing is that though I think I'm good at directing other people's careers, I can't direct myself. Let's face it, if you direct yourself, the odds are that all the answers would be yes!"
Since we last spoke to Betty — during her British tour when she developed very serious bronchitis — Ms B. has spent eight weeks in the Republic of South Africa. And thereby hangs a tale! "Well, it was different and I found it bewildering at times," she began somewhat hesitantly. "But enough happened for me to write a book on it. It would deal with the encounters of a black American in white South Africa and of all the various encounters. I was impressed with the response to the shows because they did prove to be more responsive than I ever expected. And I was always treated well myself — but I was shocked as soon as I landed in the country and they dubbed me an honourary white! Now I don't want to be anything other than just Betty Wright and I didn't see why I should need a title to ensure proper treatment. And I was shocked that we couldn't eat with whoever we like or sit with whoever we like in movie houses and the such like. In some ways it reminded me of what slavery must have been like — but was slavery ever really that bad and cold? But I don't want to go into the political thing because I'm not really averse with the situation to the point that I can discuss it. I'm politically ignorant but I did experience certain things. The only ray of hope is that the real people did get together to enjoy the music and that was despite their policy of apartheid. I kept thinking that maybe it was just the government that was creating this situation — then I remembered that blacks could not own property and they could not vote and a whole heap of other restrictions. No, there were too many facts to ignore or misunderstand. Before I went there, I knew really very little about the country other than the propaganda that we all know about. So, I knew it would be rough in places — but I admit that some things were rougher than I dared to expect. But despite everything, I still defend my going there and I disagree with the people who say we should boycott the country and not go there to entertain. I feel it best to show them, to set an example rather than pretend the situation doesn't exist. I feel that in a small way, I achieved a great deal just by being there but I am aware that it's going to take a vast amount of change to resolve the situation within the country. It really is a powder keg and they are well aware of that now and that's probably why the South African government is taking such an active interest in Angola which is only just to the north of the republic. The people themselves are such simple, easy people — they really know how to enjoy themselves and I would hate to see that all go to waste. But, yes — I would like to go back. Not to try to change anything because any political machine cannot change overnight without violence — whether it be communism, democracy or apartheid. I'm hoping that it will evolve in the right direction. In my case, I took love with me and I received it while I was there. My belief is that the people should be killed with kindness and that should be the only type of killing taking place.
'The tour lasted eight weeks and that's the longest I've ever been away from home before and I must confess that at first — when we were getting all kinds of threats, including bombs! — I didn't think I'd last it all the way through."
On returning back to Miami, Betty went straight in to finish off her upcoming LP. "But we don't know when it will be released," she laughs, getting on to a more relaxing subject. "You see, we have finished sixteen sides and we simply do not know which ones to cut out. And we keep making little changes to them so that it is becoming harder by the day. Everything else is done — the sleeve, for example, is right ready to run."
All of which suggests that Ms B. will be just as busy in '76 as she was in '75. Let's just hope that she finds time to come back to Britain again and share her happiness with us.