Syreeta Wright, born August 3, 1946, recorded six albums for Motown. With You I’m Born Again, her 1980 duet with Billy Preston was her biggest hit. Yet it’s her first two LPs,
written and produced by Stevie Wonder, that define her. They are romantic and imaginative – softly funky odes to love and life.
Motown initially creating the stage name, Rita Wright for her, she recorded a few songs which came and went without impact. Eventually she went back to her original name.
My parents just liked the sound of it, she says. A friend of mine met someone from India who said ‘Syreeta’ meant ‘sweet singer’ in his native dialect.
Stevie Wonder, fast developing into a popular musical force entered the picture. They collaborated on Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours,
Wonder’s first self-produced album which became a big hit in the summer of 1970. Their partnership led to marriage, in September 1970, during his adventurous coming of age album,
Where I’m Coming From.
Syreeta co-wrote with Stevie, each of the nine songs, including If You Really Love Me, a top ten hit in 1971 that featured her pure yet soulful co-lead vocal.
They recorded Syreeta’s self titled solo debut album in Los Angeles (1972), writing seven of the albums nine tracks between them and including two covers, one from Smokey Robinson and the other a Beatles track.
That album is my all-time favourite, Syreeta told SoulMusic.com in 2001, it has a lot of different flavours and the musicianship was incredible.
When we were doing the record we were having some problems in our relationship. We got married at a very young age, and no one gave us a manual. For me, the album was about my
hope that maybe we could salvage our marriage. A lot of the vocals are coming from that space.
As they started work on Syreeta’s second album, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (1974), their marriage had failed. That whole album was a healing and a
balance for both of us, Syreeta says. We were going through a divorce at the same time we were making that record so every song had something to do with what
we were going through. The album spawned the hits Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Your Kiss is Sweet.
Syreeta’s next album was not for another three years One to One, and contained only the one Stevie collaboration, the hit single Harmour Love.
Syreeta’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.
Syreeta 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-two US
and number-four 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 1982. Syreeta still worked with Stevie during this period singing the lead vocals for their composition, Come Back as a Flower
for Stevie's 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. Syreeta continued to provide background vocals until Wonder's 1995 album, Conversation Peace.
Syreeta continued to record for Motown into the eighties releasing her second self-titled album in 1980, and releasing the funk-oriented Set My Love in Motion,
in late 1981. The album featured the R&B hit, Quick Slick in early 1982. Syreeta then released the Jermaine Jackson produced album, The Spell
in 1983 and left Motown two years later after collaborating with Smokey Robinson for the soundtrack to Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon in 1985. She also provided background vocals for two tracks
on George Harrison’s 1982 album Gone Troppo. Syreeta briefly recorded for Motorcity Records before retiring from show business for good in the mid-1990s, settling
in Los Angeles with her four children.
Syreeta died on July 6, 2004 of congestive heart failure, a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments she was receiving for breast and bone cancers. She was 57 years old.