Syreeta Wright (August 3, 1946 – July 6, 2004), who recorded professionally under the single name Syreeta, was an American singer-songwriter, best known for her music during the early 1970s through the early 1980s. Wright's career heights were songs in collaboration with her ex-husband Stevie Wonder and musical artist Billy Preston.
Early life and career
Wright was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, in 1946, and started singing at the age of four. Her father served in the Korean War and Wright and her sister Kim were raised by their mother Essie and their grandmother. The Wrights moved back and forth from Detroit to South Carolina, before finally settling in Detroit just as Wright entered high school. Money problems kept Wright from pursuing a career in ballet, so she focused her attention on a music career joining several singing groups, before landing a job as a receptionist for Motown in 1965. Within a year, she became a secretary for Mickey Stevenson, just as Martha Reeves had done before her.
A year later, Edward Holland of the Holland–Dozier–Holland songwriting team noticed Wright's singing and decided to try her out for demos of Supremes' songs. Motown CEO Berry Gordy shortened her birth name to "Rita," and Wright released her first solo single, "I Can't Give Back the Love I Feel for You", in January 1968. The song was initially written for the Supremes (by then billed as "Diana Ross & the Supremes"). They later recorded the song in 1968 and Diana Ross re-recorded the song for her solo album, Surrender.
Wright also performed demo vocals for the Supremes hit "Love Child" and Ross's "Something's On My Mind", which Ross later recorded for her self-titled debut album. When Diana Ross left the Supremes in early 1970, Motown boss Berry Gordy considered replacing her with Wright, but offered the place in the group to Jean Terrell. According to several sources, Gordy then changed his mind and tried to replace Terrell with Wright, but this was vetoed by Supreme Mary Wilson since Terrell had already been formally announced as the new Supreme in the media and at the final performance of the Diana Ross led incarnation of the group.
Wright also sang background on records by the Supremes and by Martha and the Vandellas, notably singing the chorus to the group's modest hit single, "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playing". Wright met labelmate Stevie Wonder in 1968, and the two began dating the following year. On the advice of Wonder, Wright became a songwriter. Their first collaboration, "It's a Shame", was recorded by The Spinners, in 1969. Motown withheld its release until July 1970. The song reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Wright also began singing backing for Wonder, most notably on the hit "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)", which Wright co-wrote with Wonder. On 14 September 1970, after a year-long courtship, Wright, 24, and Wonder, 20, married in Detroit. The couple then wrote and arranged songs for Wonder's Where I'm Coming From, which was released much to Berry Gordy's chagrin in the spring of 1971. The Wonder–Wright composition "If You Really Love Me" (which also featured Wright prominently singing background vocals) reached number 8 in the US that year. In 1971, following Wonder's exit from Motown, the couple relocated to New York City where Wonder worked on two independent albums.
Wonder returned to Motown in 1972 after being promised creative control for his recordings, allowing Wonder to set up a company called Black Bull Productions. Wonder and Wright came with songs for Wonder's next album, Music of My Mind, released in March 1972. Following a tour opening for The Rolling Stones in the summer of 1972, Wonder issued his follow-up, Talking Book, which turned out to be his breakthrough album. In between the albums, Wright decided to return to her own singing career. Motown reassigned the singer from Motown's Gordy imprint, where "I Can't Give Back the Love I Feel for You" was released, to Motown's L.A.-based MoWest subsidiary. Wonder and Wright had marriage troubles and divorced in the summer of 1972, ending their 18-month marriage. Following their divorce, Wonder oversaw the production of Wright's first solo album, Syreeta (released on June 20, 1972), which included her take of Wonder's "I Love Every Little Thing About You" from Music of My Mind, the Smokey Robinson classic "What Love Has Joined Together", and The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home", which featured both Wonder and Wright applying background vocals via the talk box. MoWest issued "I Love Every Little Thing About You" in the late winter of 1972, but it failed to chart. Remaining best friends, Wright would continue to provide background vocals and compositions with Wonder for the next two decades.
In 1974, Wright was again reassigned, this time to the Motown label proper (in the U.S.), and issued her second release, the aptly titled Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta that June. Following the success of Minnie Riperton's Perfect Angel, which Wonder also produced, Wonder wanted to present Wright in the same light as Riperton as a sensual vocalist. The covers also were very similar to each other. Riperton added background vocals to the album, primarily at the end of the album track "Heavy Day". The album yielded the UK singles "I'm Goin' Left" (covered by Eric Clapton and Jerry Butler), "Spinnin' and Spinnin'" and the reggae-flavored "Your Kiss Is Sweet", which became a UK Top 40, reaching number 12 in 1975. The album also featured one duet with G. C. Cameron, formerly of the Spinners.
Production on Wright's third album, One to One mainly produced by Leon Ware, who also produced Marvin Gaye and Riperton, went on for two years. The album featured the sole Wonder production, "Harmour Love", which later would find some success after being featured on the 2005 movie Junebug. During this period Syreeta also made vocal contributions to two albums by American jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz - Juju Man (1976) and Music Is My Sanctuary (1977). In 1977, she teamed up again with G.C. Cameron on the duet album, Rich Love, Poor Love.
Wright's next effort came courtesy of a chance meeting with Billy Preston, who had signed with Motown in early 1979. Motown assigned the two to collaborate on a pop ballad for the movie Fast Break. Wright and Preston provided the soundtrack of the film and their first collaboration, "With You I'm Born Again", resulted in an international hit reaching number-four US and number-two UK in late 1979. The success of the song led Motown to renew Wright's contract, which was due to expire that year, with neither side looking to renegotiate. Wright and Preston continued their collaborations until the early 1980s including the 1981 duet album, Billy Preston & Syreeta.
Wright still worked with Wonder during this period singing the lead vocals for their composition "Come Back as a Flower" for Wonder's 1979 album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants and also sung alongside Wonder on his 1980 song "As If You Read My Mind" for his Hotter than July album. Wright continued to provide background vocals until Wonder's 1995 album Conversation Peace.
Wright continued to record for Motown into the 1980s, releasing her second self-titled album in 1980, and the funk/boogie-oriented Set My Love in Motion in late 1981. The album featured the minor R&B hit "Quick Slick", which peaked at number 41 R&B in early 1982. During that same time period, she added vocals to the theme song for the Canadian slasher-horror flick Happy Birthday to Me, known for starring Little House on the Prairie′s Melissa Sue Anderson. Wright then issued The Spell in 1983 produced by Jermaine Jackson, and left Motown two years later after collaborating with Smokey Robinson for the soundtrack to Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon in 1985. She briefly recorded for Motorcity Records before retiring from show business for good in the mid-1990s and settling in Los Angeles with her four children. In 1993, she joined the national touring cast of Jesus Christ Superstar in the role of Mary Magdalene, alongside original film stars Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson. She stayed in the cast until 1995. In 1997, she guested on British soul singer Omar's album, This Is Not A Love Song, singing the duet "Lullaby".
Personal life and death
Wright was married three times and had four children. Her first marriage, to longtime collaborator Stevie Wonder, lasted 18 months, from September 1970 until 1972. In 1975, Wright married bassist Curtis Robertson Jr., with whom she had two children, Jamal Robertson (b. 1976) and Hodari Robertson (b. 1979). Wright and Robertson divorced in 1982.
- Syreeta (1972) U.S. No. 185
- Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta (1974) U.S. No. 116, AUS No. 93
- One to One (1977)
- Rich Love, Poor Love with G.C. Cameron (1977)
- Fast Break with Billy Preston (1979)
- Syreeta (1980) U.S. No. 73
- Set My Love in Motion (1981) U.S. No. 189
- Billy Preston & Syreeta (1981) U.S. No. 127
- The Spell (1983)
- With You I'm Born Again (Japan only) (1990)
|1968||"I Can't Give Back the Love I Feel for You"|
|1972||"To Know You Is to Love You"|
|"I Love Every Little Thing About You"|
|1974||"Come and Get This Stuff"|
|"I'm Goin' Left"|
|"Spinnin' and Spinnin'"||49|
|1975||"Your Kiss Is Sweet"||12|
|1977||"Let's Make a Deal"
(with G.C. Cameron)
|1979||"With You I'm Born Again"
(with Billy Preston)
|"Go For It"
(with Billy Preston)
|1980||"One More Time For Love"
(with Billy Preston)
|"It Will Come in Time"
(with Billy Preston)
|1981||"You Set My Love in Motion"|
|"Can't Shake Your Love"|
With Gary Bartz
- (Catalyst Records, 1976)
With Donald Byrd
- Thank You...For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life) (Elektra, 1978)
- Laing, Dave (July 13, 2004). "Obituary: Syreeta". The Guardian. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- Perrone, Pierre (July 8, 2004). "Syreeta: Motown singer and sometime Mrs. Stevie Wonder". Independent UK. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- Luther, Claudia (July 10, 2004). "Syreeta Wright, 58; Singer Wrote Hits With Stevie Wonder". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- "Syreeta | Biography, Albums, Streaming Links". AllMusic. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Soul Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 258. ISBN 0-85112-733-9.
- "Syreeta Wright Obituary (2004) San Diego Union-Tribune". Legacy.com. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
- Wilson, Mary (2000). Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith, Updated Edition: My Life as a Supreme. Cooper Square Press. ISBN 978-0-8154-1000-3.
- "Syreeta". Official Charts Company. September 21, 1974. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
- Hunt, Dennis (July 5, 1994). "A 'Superstar' Start on a New Career : Theater: Syreeta Wright plays Mary Madgalene in 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' It's her first stage role ever and first singing job since the '80s". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
- Willis, John (March 1, 2000). Theatre World 1994–1995. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9781557832504.
- "Omar - This Is Not A Love Song". Omarmusic. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
- "Uptight!". Google Books. JET Magazine/Johnson Publishing Company. October 1, 1970. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- "Albums by Syreeta". Rate Your Music. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
- "People Are Talking About..." Google Books. JET Magazine/Johnson Publishing Company. July 3, 1980. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- Craig Werner, Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul (NY: Crown/Penguin, 2007), 168. ISBN 0307420876
- Rob Ten-Tronck, Ten-Tronck's Celebrity Locator (Los Angeles: Axiom Information Resources, 2005), 280. ISBN 0943213797
- Syreeta Page Soulwalking.co.uk
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 303. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 545. ISBN 978-1-904994-10-7.