The ‘Prince of the Blues’ was a gospel Blues shouter from Atlanta whose elaborate costumes, effeminate make-up and extravagant stage show was a model for his protege, Little Richard. After a stellar recording debut this ‘Prince’, a.k.a. Billy Wright, had a busy five year recording career that stopped abruptly around the time Little Richard hit the big time.
Born in Atlanta GA in 1932, Billy learned his singing in Church, and his vocal style was drenched in Gospel phrasing. By his early teens Billy was working as a vaudeville dancer, sometimes in travelling shows, and then started getting gigs singing R&B at the 81 Theatre in Atlanta. He recognised the value of a spectacular image in making an impact so he put on the frills and paint and cranked up his pompadour, then opened shows for Wynonie Harris
, Charles Brown
and Paul ‘Hucklebuck’ Williams
. Paul recommended Billy to Savoy Records and his first release, ‘Blues for My Baby’ made the Billboard R&B Top Five. Three more of Billy’s songs made the Top Ten in the next couple of years and he played big shows at The Apollo in Harlem and other prestigious gigs in the South and on the East Coast.
‘Billy rocks out on ‘Live the Life’;
Comprehensive collection of Billy’s best years, including his first hit ‘Blues for My Baby’.
HAVE MERCY BABY
In 1951, Billy introduced the young Richard Penneman to his friend, the DJ ‘Daddy’ Sears who helped Little Richard get his first recording contract with RCA, and his first records were closely modelled on Billy’s style. Billy himself continued to record successfully for Savoy, usually with rocking sax man Fred Jackson on board, until 1955 when he signed with Don Robey
‘s Peacock Records in Houston. This was not a good partnership and the new set-up was out of tune with the wave of Rock’n’Roll records that swept the country. Billy cut a few more tracks for the Fire and Carollton labels in the late 50s, but he found himself all washed up before he was 30. Billy made a living as an MC on the Atlanta club scene until he had a stroke in 1971, and he passed away in his hometown in 1991.