Stars Betty Wright, Shaquille O’Neal, Wyclef Jean lead Barry University anniversary gala

Wyclef Jean, left, and Shaquille O'Neal onstage at Barry University's 75th Anniversary Birthday Bash at Soho Studios on Oct. 3, 2015.
Wyclef Jean, left, and Shaquille O'Neal onstage at Barry University's 75th Anniversary Birthday Bash at Soho Studios on Oct. 3, 2015. Getty Images for Barry University

When Betty Wright was only 8 years old, teacher Jean Morley at Holmes Elementary School in Miami planted a seed of love for Barry University in her heart. The seed grew, and so did Wright, who became an internationally known rhythm-and-blues singer.

“I always refer to Mrs. Morley as my ‘mentor teacher,’” Wright said. “I wasn’t in her classroom, but she saw that I had talent. When she learned that Barry — it was a college at that time — was doing auditions for summer stock, she insisted that I audition, too. I remember her giving me a poem to learn. The poem was, ‘I Met God in the Morning.’ I won the audition and received a scholarship for the entire summer. The next year, my siblings were involved in the summer stock program at Barry. We thought we were something special, taking the bus to Barry every day.”

“When you plant a seed, you never know how it will grow,” Wright said.

Over the years, Wright’s relationships with Morley and Barry University have stayed strong. “I know what Barry stands for and what it continues to do for our community, as far as education and scholarships. During my travels as an entertainer, I have met people all over the world who have attended Barry.”

Wright, a Grammy-winning artist, said she didn’t think twice when asked to work on a celebration for the university’s 75th birthday. She said she wanted to make sure people understood just what 75 years as an educational icon in the community really means. She decided to put on a show that would reflect the seven-and-a-half decades the university has been in the community. The event would also showcase the music and fashions over 75 years.

The event was held Saturday at Soho Studios in Wynwood, where the room was transformed into Club Barry, a supper club evoking the days of the university’s founding in 1940. “It was amazing,” an elated Wright said after the show. “Everybody got into the act. Shaquille O’Neal, a Barry alumnus and NBA legend, played the cowbells and the Grammy award-wining Wyclef Jean simply rocked the place,” Wright said of the event she produced and directed. Also appearing Saturday: Amy Deutch, Tiffany Dumant, Sarah Herald and Coco Simone.

“The place was packed. We did music from the 40s up to today. Alex Harris portrayed Nat ‘King’ Cole and Al Green, singing songs of the ‘50s , ‘60s and ‘70s, while my daughter Bombshell portrayed Chaka Khan,” she said.

Asher Williams (also Wright’s daughter), Ashley McIntosh and Jalisa Graham, portrayed The Supremes, The Dixie Cups and The Shirelles. Elvis was also in the house, portrayed by Chris MacDonald. Jimmie Bo Horne, also did music from the late 1950s and ‘60s.

But a highlight of the evening was when the Barry University students performed.

“Oh my goodness,” Wright said. “The students from Barry were amazing. Stephen Brunetti and The Barry Boys, made up of Evan Swika-Post, Alekzander Sayer and Travis Hogue did The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Herman’s Hermits.”

Another highlight was when Jazlyn Ortiz a middle-school student from the Palmetto Bay area, and two girls from Barry — Kirrin Tubo and Yanessa Morrillo-Delerme — sang The Andrew Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from the ‘40s.

“There was so much great talent; so many wonderful acts,” Wright said. “Kory Burns portrayed Phil Collins and OSG (old school gang) — Paul Lewis, Derrick Gay, Craig Edwards and Moses Talbot — took us to Motown. And Lisa Abreu, who sang with my children when they were in school, led a Conga line. We had every kind of dance — from African dancing to tap dancing and free-style,” she said.

Wright said she hopes the celebration brought back a lot of fond memories to those who attended. “And I hope it made some new memories, too,” she said.