Ed Wright, a trailblazing entertainment industry executive whose multi-faceted career encompassed radio programming, music promotion, artist management and private consulting for film and TV, died of natural causes in Cincinnati on Monday (Sept. 11). Wright, who also played a pivotal role in initiating June as Black Music Month, was 82 years old.
Calling Wright a “mentor, friend, colleague and client,” Grammy-winning producer Don Mizell tells Billboard, “Ed was a smooth, congenial visionary and efficacious navigator at the cutting edge of the momentous advances first instigated by the Black music industry during the ‘70s. His warm and gracious personality, diplomatic style and versatility served the emergent needs of Black music’s growth at a crucial time.” Mizell also noted that Wright engineered his being hired as the first Black executive at Elektra Records when he was appointed GM of the label’s jazz fusion/urban division before later ascending to its VP.
Wright was just 13 years old when he became a part-time announcer at WCIN in Cincinnati, where he was born in 1940. After going full-time at the station in 1958, he later became its news director and production manager. Wright also majored in communications at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.
Between 1962-66, Wright served as program director of Cleveland radio station WABQ, where he helped foster today’s modern urban radio format. Also during that period, he became the youngest president of the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), an organization representing Black broadcasters. In the latter half of the decade, Wright segued into the music industry as the head of Liberty Records’ Minit division, whose roster included the O’Jays and Bobby Womack. In addition to managing artist development, production, promotion and sales in coordination with the Liberty branch distribution system, Wright supervised marketing for the Blue Note jazz label.
Wright hung up his own shingle as president of the Edward Windsor Wright Corporation (EWW), focusing on promotion and public relations, from 1969-1976. In addition to Blue Note, the company’s clients included major and independent labels such as CBS Records, A&M, Warner Bros., Capitol, MCA, Stax, United Artists and Philadelphia International as well as ABC Circle Films (Barry Diller) and New World Pictures (Roger Corman). At one time, EWW’s management division boasted a roster ranging from Womack, the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass and Herbie Hancock to Natalie Cole, Billy Paul and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Kenneth Gamble of legendary production duo Gamble & Huff, and co-founder of Philadelphia International, first met Wright at a NATRA convention. The pair would later co-found the Black Music Association, out of which arose the declaration of June as Black Music Month.
“Ed was a forward thinker,” Gamble tells Billboard. “There was lack of knowledge and comprehension about the economics of our industry. Ed, along with Clarence Avant, Jules Malamud, Glenda Gracia, Dyana Williams and artists like Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder among others, helped advance our culture. Ed was one of the primary leaders who created economic opportunities for Black professionals as well as the establishment of Black Music Month, now in its 44th year.”
Wright’s career resumé includes his establishment of GEI Communications, specializing in market research, consultation and public relations, and the artist management firm Global Entertainment, which launched in 1977. He was also co-owner/president of the Long Beach, Calif., FM station KNAC in the ‘80s and later managed artist Chico DeBarge and the reconstructed group DeBarge featuring Bobby DeBarge.
Former Mercury Records president Ed Eckstein was 19 years old in 1973 and “a green-behind-the-ears music journalist” for Soul magazine when his assigned beat put him in contact with Wright’s firm, EWW.
“Ed and his trusty lieutenant Bob Brock were head and shoulders above all PR firms specializing in representing contemporary R&B artists,” recalls Eckstein in an email to Billboard. “I reflect fondly on that period when I would get a call querying my interest in talking with a young, pre-Teddy Theodore Pendergrass Jr. of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes or in spending a day with the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert. And in spending the better part of an evening in the studio while Epic Records artist Minnie Riperton was finishing her career-defining Perfect Angel album with Stevie Wonder. Ed was a businessman of dignity, class and professionalism who ran a first-class operation and whose mentorship and tutelage fueled my career from its nascent stages through the ensuing decades. Rest well, Ed. You touched many lives with your gentle hand.”
Wright’s survivors include his sister, Bedria Sanders.