Bernard Wright, Jazz/R&B Star Frequently Sampled on Hip-Hop Hits, Dies at 58


Bernard Wright, the legendary New York musician who enjoyed chart success with hits such as 1985s "Who Do You Love" has died. Wright's family posted to his Facebook page that he passed away on May 19. Bernard Wright was a force in jazz and funk music. The godson of R&B titan Roberta Flack, Wright belonged to a fraternity of Queens, NY musicians who dubbed themselves The Jamaica Kats, who were mentored by jazz giants Weldon Irvine and Lenny White. The Kats consisted of Irvine, White,Wright, Don Blackmon, Tom Browne, Marcus Miller and Omar Hakim. Most of these artists had record deals through Arista records and would collaborate on each other's songs.

When Wright was 14 years old he played on Tom Browne's 1979 Brown Sugar album; but it was Browne's 1980 smash hit "Funkin' For Jamaica," with the teenager's synthesizer bassline, that caught the world's attention. 1981 brought Wright's debut album 'Nard, which contained the hits "Just Chillin Out" and "Haboglabotribin."

"Bernard was a child prodigy," legendary jazz pianist Lonnie Liston Smith told Hip-Hop historian JayQuan. "Marcus Miller brought him to my house to rehearse, and he was so young at the time, that when he sat on the piano bench, his feet didn't touch the floor. And he could play!"

Wright had a direct connection to Hip-Hop early in his career. His 1983 sophomore album contained B- Boys breakdancing on the album cover. Wright maintained a close working and personal relationship with Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew. "Bernard played on a lotta songs with us. On 'Play This Only At Night' he played all of the guitar parts in one take!" Get Fresh Crew member Chill Will shared. "He also played on 'Spirit' from the Ghostbusters II soundtrack. Bernard was family to us, in fact we just talked a few months ago about recording together, and I sent him some beats."

Super producer Larry Smith, who produced Whodini and Run-D.M.C., lived in close proximity to the Jamaica Kats and he played with them regularly. Bernard was a friend and admirer of Smith. "Larry was in a group called The Firebolts, and I was in The Junior Firebolts," Wright once said in an online chat. "I was in the crib in South Ozone when Run & D.M.C. knocked on the door and met Larry. The rest is history. Thanks to Denzil Miller."

Bernard Wright's music has been sampled by some of Hip Hop's biggest stars. "Who Do You Love" from 1985's Mr. Wright was sampled for LL COOL J's "Loungin'"; and "Haboglabotribin" was sampled for "G'z and Hustlaz" by Snoop Doggy Dogg and "Lie To Kick It" by 2Pac. Skee-lo's smash "I Wish" contains a sample of "Spinnin'" and there are more than one hundred other Hip-Hop samples that use music from Wright's catalog. Wright said recently on Facebook that he was in the studio recording with his mentor Lenny White, and ready to release music again.