By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D.,
The music world is mourning the loss of legendary funk and jazz musician Bernard “Nard” Wright who died May 19 after being hit by a car while crossing the street in Dallas where he lived. The Queens, N.Y. native was the music director and Godson of music legend Roberta Flack and son of Jazz bassist Steve Novosel. A music prodigy, Wright was touring with major musicians like Tom Browne and by the age of 13 and Lenny White at age 17. Wright also worked as a studio musician, eventually stepping out on his own.
Wright is best known for his popular 1985 hit song, “Who Do You Love,” from his third album, Mr. Wright, released that same year. “Who Do You Love” peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and was heavily sampled by Hip-Hop and R&B artists L.L. Cool J, Dr. Dre, Big Pun, The Luniz, Tichina Arnold and Ty Dolla Sign. Hip-Hop artists Skee-lo and Snoop Dog sampled “Spinnin,” another song by Wright.
Wright had many musical influences including Miles Davis, Dave Grusin, Marcus Miller and Lenny Wright, and was known for blending funk, jazz and hip-hop to create a distinct sound. Wright often collaborated with his influencers. In 1991, Grusin signed Wright and produced his debut album Nard. R&B Legend Luther Vandross and Patti Austin sang backup vocals on the song, “Music is Key” on the album. Wright also worked with Bobby Brown, Doug E. Fresh, Miles Davis, and Cameo.
Wright’s collaborations resulted in the formation of jazz fusion supergroup The RH Factor. In 2003, Wright formed the group with the late legendary jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. The group included Wright, The Roots/Soulquarians’ James Poyser, bassist Dino Palladino and Hargrove, who passed away in 2018. They released three albums between 2003 and 2006, working with iconic artists D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common among others. Wright also released three gospel albums following the success of the RH Factor. Check out Wright’s thoughts on music in 1983 and his song “Won’t You Let Me Love You,” below:
Wright was a fixture and mentor in the Dallas Music scene. He played in the “Bad Ass Jazz Series” at the now shuttered Amsterdam Bar in Dallas’ Exposition Park neighborhood.
Wright most recently served as a guest performer for young hip-hop and jazz fusion bands like RC & The Gritz, CoLab, and Ghost-Note at venues Deep Ellum Art Company, Prophet Bar and Three Links. Wright’s longtime collaborator William S. Patterson released a statement about Wright’s passing.
Wright is survived by his daughters Zoe and Tallulah Wright. He was 58. Rest in power.
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