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Originally published Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Longtime music lover, chronicler Richard Wright

Like all good critics, the late Richard Wright had wide and eclectic tastes, his boundless musical knowledge matched only by his enthusiasm for sharing it.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Richard "Rickey" Wright's love affair with music began very early.

As a toddler, he never tired of dancing to "She Loves You" by the Beatles, gleefully echoing "yeah, yeah, yeah" as he swung in his teenage aunt's arms. He treasured his first album, a Rolling Stones record purchased for him by his grandmother when he was 12.

By then, Mr. Wright's future appeared all but preordained: clerking in record stores; studying music and journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University; reviewing music for the Virginian-Pilot, Seattle Weekly and other newspapers; serving as one of the earliest music editors at Amazon.com; and becoming a one-man compendium on music of all genres.

"Music just grew into a passion for him, and it never dissipated," said Deborah Ebel, who, as a besotted Beatles fan, spent hours by the turntable as she baby-sat her nephew.

Mr. Wright, 45, died Thursday at Swedish Medical Center of a stroke.

On Feb. 11, he had walked to his doctor's office on Capitol Hill with headaches and other symptoms and was admitted to Swedish Cherry Hill, where doctors diagnosed a stroke and warned that another was likely.

He underwent stent surgery two days later, but he went into a coma shortly after and did not regain consciousness.

Like all good critics, Mr. Wright had wide and eclectic tastes, his boundless musical knowledge matched only by his enthusiasm for sharing it.

"If he met you, he might ask, 'What are you listening to?' " said Jill Passmore, Mr. Wright's former longtime girlfriend, who remained a close friend. "Then he'll say, 'Oh, I know that (song).' And you can have a conversation.

"He liked everything. But he was discriminating," she added.

Anne Hurley, a former DVD editor at Amazon.com, worked there with Mr. Wright in the late 1990s, when the company relied much more heavily on in-house critics than on customer reviews. She admired Mr. Wright's ability to appreciate tastes that differed from his own.

"He would say, 'You gotta tell me why you love Natalie Merchant so much,' " Hurley said. "And when I explained, he would say, 'I get that.' "

Michaelangelo Matos, the former music editor at Seattle Weekly, said Mr. Wright had a gift for connecting with people.

"He could talk to anybody about anything. He seemed to enjoy himself in any number of situations," Matos said. "He was just a sweet, sweet person."

Another friend, Peter Hilgendorf, of Seattle, said Mr. Wright dispensed impeccable recommendations. One of those led Hilgendorf to discover a power pop band from Chapel Hill, N.C., called the Mayflies, whose music he enjoyed so much that Hilgendorf once let band members stay in his home after a show.

In Mr. Wright's final posting on his Facebook page — on the day of his visit to the doctor — he listed his 12 favorite Beatles cover songs. Topping the list were two versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" — one by Al Green and one by Lakeside.

"The fact that he chose 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' two times in the list makes me break down," Hilgendorf said. "It's a song you're supposed to outgrow and forget."

In addition to his aunt and Passmore, Mr. Wright is survived by his mother, Charlotte Wright; his brother, Ronald W. Wright; and his niece, Elisabeth M. Wright, all of Norfork, Va.; as well as his friend Kate Clark, of Seattle.

Services will be held this week at Rosewood-Kellum Funeral Home in Virginia Beach, Va. Condolences may be sent to the family at 2719 Overbrook Ave., Norfolk, VA 23513.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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