Charles Wright headed one of the great funk groups of the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright, who was born in Clarksdale, MS, was a singer, pianist, guitarist, and leader of the eight-member band.
Wright was raised in Los Angeles, California, and from the age of 12 began playing music in high school where he was attracted strongly to the blues, having previously heard gospel music in church. Early influences included soul and blues artists such as Jesse Belvin, James Brown, Little Walter, Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson as well as, contrastingly, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Playing guitar, piano and bass, and occasionally drums too, he made his first recordings in 1956 for Cholly Records, which were released through Dot Records. He was with a number of vocal groups, including the Twilighters, the Shields, and the Galahads.
As a studio musician he worked on Silverthroat, which was Bill Cosby’s first singing album. Wright led bands, such as the commercially successful funk band Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, for club dates at places like Guys And Dolls and 2½ at the Haunted House. His band was on several recordings by Dyke And The Blazers and he also worked with Bobby Womack.
Among Wright’s compositions are “Express Yourself,” “High As Apple Pie” and “I Got Love,” which have been sampled on several rap and pop records by artists including Zapp, N.W.A., Puff Daddy and Naughty By Nature. “Express Yourself” is also known from commercials for Nike, Burger King, Gatorade, and many other products as well as being used by the NBA. It was also used as part of the musical setting for the 2004 Summer Olympics. Wright’s song “Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers)” is regarded by its composer as motivation for discrimination he believes he has suffered in the music industry. Records by his band have been used on the soundtracks of several movies, including Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970), Addams Family Values (1993), The People vs. Larry Flint (1996), Boogie Nights (1997) and Never Die Alone (2004).