Known as the Soul Man, Early Wright became Mississippi’s first black disc jockey when he started work at Clarksdale’s WROX in 1947.
Early Lee Wright was born in Jefferson, Mississippi, on 10 February 1915 and moved to Clarksdale in 1937. His pre-radio jobs included farming, operating a train, running a mechanic shop, and managing a gospel group, the Four Star Quartet.
Wright hosted many well-known musicians on his radio program, including Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Nighthawk, and Elvis Presley. In the early 1950s Wright helped introduce a young Ike Turner to radio audiences; Turner went on to host a weekly show on WROX and played live broadcasts with his band, the Kings of Rhythm, and with his wife, Tina Turner. Assuming that listeners knew the music he played, Wright rarely gave the name of the song or artist. He had a very personal delivery, creating a down-home feel to his radio broadcasts. Much of his banter was related to community events, church announcements, and even minor local occurrences: “I want to let you know that some snakes has been seen in the Roundyard neighborhood. The grass has grown up around the sidewalks and snakes has been seen, looking for water. And a man told me the other day, he saw a snake in the street.” All of his announcements were unscripted, and he put his personal stamp on advertisements: “At the M&F Grocery and Market, the aisles are so big that two shopping carts can pass each other and never bump into each other.” Members of Wright’s large audience, which included both black and white listeners, would call into WROX and request blues, soul, gospel, and R&B songs.
Wright’s long, distinguished career resulted in the creation of an annual lecture at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture in the 1980s and 1990s. Every year, the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale gives the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award to nonmusicians who have helped “preserve, promote, perpetuate, and document blues in the Mississippi Delta.”
Wright retired from broadcasting in 1998 and died of a heart attack on 10 December 1999.
- Kenneth Bays, Blues Revue (March 2000)
- Douglas Martin, New York Times (17 December 1999)
- Panny Mayfield, Living Blues (May–June 2000)
- Andy McWilliams, Living Blues (September–October 1988)