Sounds Visual Radio
Sounds Visual Radio
Episode 188: Milton Wright

Milton Wright is a singer and composer who released some great LP’s and singles within the disco-centric catalog of the Miami-based TK label, particularly under its Alston subsidiary. His biggest hit, “Keep It Up,” emerged as a phenomenon, a classic single that resonated deeply among avid funk and disco collectors. The track not only showcased Wright’s distinctive style but also solidified its place in the annals of crate digging culture. Infusing velvety, soulful vocals with a groove steeped in disco-tinged funk, often embellished by the bold, melodious hum of Moog synthesizers, Wright unveiled his inaugural opus, Friends & Buddies, in 1975, and followed up with Spaced in 1977.

Wright’s story unfolds with the the group echoes of Joy, tracing its roots to the gospel-rich tapestry of his Miami hometown. (At the tender age of 2, Milton’s sister Betty, a destined songstress, joined their ranks, and years later she had a smash hit with the song “Clean Up Woman.”) The musical baton passed on to brothers Phillip and Charles, who eventually birthed the group the Afro Beats, and played Miami Beach hotel circuit before making waves in the rhythm-rich enclave of Boston. Meanwhile, Milton embarked on an academic odyssey, studying at Morehouse and Princeton before finding his way to the hallowed halls of the University of Michigan Law School.

Amidst the academic pursuits, a poignant chapter unfolded. A revelation, born of heartache, transformed into a lyrical narrative encapsulated in the soulful strains of “I Belong To You.” Recorded for Ollie McLaughlin, the illustrious Detroit producer, fate played a curious hand; McLaughlin released it solely as an instrumental, leaving the vocal rendition languishing in the shadows. A decade later, against Wright’s initial intent, the vocal rendition emerged, itself becoming a classic in the UK’s northern soul scene.

Encountering an unwelcoming racial atmosphere at the Michigan law school, Wright sought refuge in Boston, reuniting with his brothers. Together, they launched a new musical endeavor, the Fourth Unit, with a particularly memorable performance at the MCI-Norfolk jail. Despite returning to law school, this time at Boston University, and successfully passing the bar in 1972, Wright found himself disenchanted with the legal profession, prompting a return to Miami. In 1975, he unveiled his inaugural album, Friends and Buddies. The album, characterized by its socially conscious lyrics and infectious funk vibe, resonated with fans of contemporaneous artists like Stevie Wonder and Gil Scott-Heron. Notably, “Po Man” narrated an epic tale of a tyrannical ruler brought to justice, drawing inspiration from Richard Nixon’s foray into Cambodia.

While the single “Keep It Up” began gaining traction, Wright’s affiliation with a subsidiary of TK Records presented challenges. In the same year, the label diverted its attention to chart-toppers by Wright’s close family friend, Harry Wayne Casey, leader of KC and the Sunshine Band, overshadowing Wright’s progress. The subsequent 1977 release, Spaced, received even less recognition, though it too has now become yet another cult classic.

Returning to Boston, Wright discovered his entertainment background proved invaluable in the legal arena. Rising to lead the Roxbury Defenders, a group of public defenders, he played a pivotal role in a landmark racial discrimination lawsuit against Boston Ironworkers 7. Transitioning to the bench, Wright encountered numerous criminal defendants, championing the cause of those wrongfully charged or overburdened. Advocating for affordable bail, he reflected on the tangible impact of his efforts, ensuring individuals had a chance at redemption instead of facing protracted prison sentences.

Wright’s musical journey persisted unabated, even during his tenure on the bench. A steadfast member of Black Nativity, he showcased his artistic prowess by orchestrating performances of “Jobe” in 2014 and 2016. This musical production, inspired by the Book of Job—a theme he had initially delved into on a track from “Spaced”—underscored his enduring commitment to the craft.

In addition to his involvement with the New England Spiritual Ensemble, Wright has also recently performed in Spain and Germany. He has also Judge Wright played Frederick Douglass in the Revels production of the musical, “There’s A Meeting Here Tonight” at various venues in New England.

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