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Reddy in 1975
Helen Maxine Reddy
25 October 1941
|Died||29 September 2020 (aged 78)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Singer, actress, activist|
(m. 1961; div. 1966)
(m. 1968; div. 1981)
(m. 1984; div. 1995)
|Relatives||Toni Lamond (half-sister)|
Tony Sheldon (nephew)
Patsy Reddy (cousin)
|Genres||Pop, easy listening|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
Helen Maxine Reddy (25 October 1941 – 29 September 2020) was an Australian-American singer, songwriter, author, actress, and activist. Born in Melbourne, Victoria, to a show-business family, Reddy started her career as an entertainer at age four. She sang on radio and television and won a talent contest on the television program Bandstand[a] in 1966; her prize was a ticket to New York City and a record audition, which was unsuccessful. She pursued her international singing career by moving to Chicago, and subsequently, Los Angeles, where she made her debut singles "One Way Ticket" and "I Believe in Music" in 1968 and 1970, respectively. The B-side of the latter single, "I Don't Know How to Love Him", reached number eight on the pop chart of the Canadian magazine RPM. She was signed to Capitol Records a year later.
During the 1970s, Reddy enjoyed international success, especially in the United States, where she placed 15 singles on the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Six made the top 10 and three reached number one, including her signature hit "I Am Woman". She placed 25 songs on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart; 15 made the top 10 and eight reached number one, six consecutively. In 1974, at the inaugural American Music Awards, she won the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist. On television, she was the first Australian to host a one-hour weekly primetime variety show on an American network, along with specials that were seen in more than 40 countries.
Between the 1980s and 1990s, as her single "I Can't Say Goodbye to You" became her last to chart in the US, Reddy acted in musicals and recorded albums such as Center Stage before retiring from live performance in 2002. She returned to university in Australia, earned a degree, and practised as a clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. In 2011, after singing "Breezin' Along with the Breeze" with her half-sister, Toni Lamond, for Lamond's birthday, Reddy decided to return to live performing.
Reddy's song "I Am Woman" played a significant role in popular culture, becoming an anthem for second-wave feminism. She came to be known as a "feminist poster girl" or a "feminist icon". In 2011, Billboard named her the number-28 adult contemporary artist of all time (the number-9 woman). In 2013, the Chicago Tribune dubbed her the "Queen of '70s Pop".
Helen Maxine Reddy was born into a well-known Australian show-business family in Melbourne to actress, singer, and dancer Stella Campbell (née Lamond) and Maxwell David "Max" Reddy (born 1914 in Melbourne, Victoria), a writer, producer, and actor. Her mother performed at the Majestic Theatre in Sydney and was best known as a regular cast member on the television programs Homicide (1964), Country Town (1971), and Bellbird (1967). During Reddy's childhood, she was educated at Tintern Grammar. Her half-sister Toni Lamond and her nephew Tony Sheldon are actor-singers.
Reddy had Irish, Scottish, and English ancestry. Her great-great-grandfather Edward Reddy was born 1855, in Dublin, Ireland. Her Scottish great-grandfather, Thomas Lamond, was a one-time mayor of Waterloo, New South Wales, whose patron was Hercules Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead. Patsy Reddy, New Zealand's governor-general, is a distant cousin.
Reddy was born during World War II. Her father was a sergeant in the Australian Army with a unit of entertainers; he served alongside one of his actor friends, Peter Finch. They were serving together in New Guinea at the time of Reddy's birth. Her father returned to service during the Korean War.
At age four, Reddy joined her parents on the Australian vaudeville circuit, singing and dancing; she recalled: "It was instilled in me: 'You will be a star'. So between the ages of 12 and 17, I got rebellious and decided this was not for me. I was going to be a housewife and mother." At age 12, due to her parents' constant touring nationwide and their arguing, Reddy went to live with her paternal aunt, Helen "Nell" Reddy, "... who was her role model," and as her aunt, "she gave her niece stability, a sense of morality, and strength" for her future career as a singer who motivated women. The younger Helen's teenaged rebellion in favour of domesticity manifested as marriage to Kenneth Claude Weate, a considerably older musician and family friend; divorce ensued, and to support herself as a single mother to daughter Traci, she resumed her performing career, concentrating on singing, since health problems precluded dancing (she had a kidney removed at 17). She sang on radio and television, eventually winning a talent contest on the Australian pop music TV show Bandstand, the prize ostensibly being a trip to New York City to cut a single for Mercury Records. After arriving in New York in 1966, she was informed by Mercury that her prize was only the chance to "audition" for the label and that Mercury considered the Bandstand footage to constitute her audition, which was deemed unsuccessful. Despite having only US$200 (equivalent to $1,576 in 2019) and a return ticket to Australia, she decided to remain in the United States with 3-year-old Traci and pursue a singing career.
Reddy recalled her 1966 appearance at the Three Rivers Inn in Syracuse, New York – "there were like twelve people in the audience" – as typical of her early U.S. performing career. Her lack of a work permit made it difficult to obtain singing jobs, and she was forced to make trips to Canada, which did not require work permits for citizens of Commonwealth countries. In 1968, Martin St James, an Australian stage hypnotist she had met in New York City, threw Reddy a party with an admission price of US$5 (equivalent to $36.76 in 2019) to enable Reddy – then down to her last US$12 (equivalent to $88.23 in 2019) – to pay her rent. On this occasion, Reddy met her future manager and husband, Jeff Wald, a 22-year-old secretary at the William Morris Agency, who crashed the party. Reddy told People in 1975, "[Wald] didn't pay the five dollars, but it was love at first sight."
Wald recalled that Reddy and he married three days after meeting, and along with daughter Traci, the couple took up residence at the Hotel Albert in Greenwich Village. Reddy later stated that she married Wald "out of desperation over her right to work and live in the United States." According to New York Magazine, Wald was fired from William Morris soon after having met Reddy, and "Helen supported them for six months doing $35-a-night hospital and charity benefits. They were so broke that they snuck out of a hotel room carrying their clothes in paper bags." Reddy recalled: "When we did eat, it was spaghetti, and we spent what little money we had on cockroach spray." They left New York City for Chicago and Wald landed a job as talent coordinator at Mister Kelly's. While in Chicago, Reddy gained a reputation singing in local lounges, including Mister Kelly's, and in 1968, she landed a deal with Fontana Records, a division of major label Chicago-based Mercury Records. Her first single, "One Way Ticket", on Fontana was not an American hit, but it did give Reddy her first appearance on any chart, as it peaked at number 83 in her native Australia.
"I Am Woman" era and stardom
Within a year, Wald moved Reddy and Traci to Los Angeles, where he was hired at Capitol Records, the label under which Reddy was to attain stardom; however, Wald was hired and fired the same day. At the same time, in 1969, Reddy enrolled at the University of California Los Angeles to study parapsychology and philosophy part-time.
Reddy became frustrated as Wald found success managing acts such as Deep Purple and Tiny Tim without making any evident effort to promote her; after 18 months of career inactivity, Reddy gave Wald an ultimatum: "he [must] either revitalise her career or get out... Jeff threw himself into his new career as Mr. Helen Reddy. Five months of phone calls to Capitol Records executive Artie Mogull finally paid off; Mogull agreed to let Helen cut one single if Jeff promised not to call for a month. She did "I Believe in Music" penned by Mac Davis backed with "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. The A-side fell flat, but then some Canadian DJs flipped the record over and it became a hit – number 13 in June 1971 – and Helen Reddy was on her way."
Reddy's stardom was solidified when her single "I Am Woman" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1972. The song was co-written by Reddy with Ray Burton; Reddy attributed the impetus for writing "I Am Woman" and her early awareness of the women's movement to expatriate Australian rock critic and pioneer feminist Lillian Roxon. Reddy is quoted in Fred Bronson's The Billboard Book of Number One Hits as having said that she was looking for songs to record which reflected the positive self-image she had gained from joining the women's movement but could not find any, so "I realised that the song I was looking for didn't exist, and I was going to have to write it myself." "I Am Woman" was recorded and released in May 1972 but barely dented the charts. Female listeners soon adopted the song as an anthem and began requesting it from their local radio stations in droves, resulting in its September chart re-entry and eventual number-one peak. "I Am Woman" earned Reddy a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. At the awards ceremony, Reddy concluded her acceptance speech by famously thanking God "because She makes everything possible". The success of "I Am Woman" made Reddy the first Australian singer to top the U.S. charts.
Three decades after her Grammy, Reddy discussed the song's iconic status: "I think it came along at the right time. I'd gotten involved in the women's movement, and there were a lot of songs on the radio about being weak and being dainty and all those sort of things. All the women in my family, they were strong women. They worked. They lived through the Depression and a world war, and they were just strong women. I certainly didn't see myself as being dainty," she said.
Over the next five years following her first success, Reddy had more than a dozen U.S. top-40 hits, including two more number-one hits. These tracks included Kenny Rankin's "Peaceful" (number 12), the Alex Harvey country ballad "Delta Dawn" (number one), Linda Laurie's "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" (number three), Austin Roberts' "Keep on Singing" (number 15), Paul Williams' "You and Me Against the World" (featuring daughter Traci reciting the spoken bookends) (number 9), Alan O'Day's "Angie Baby" (number one), Véronique Sanson and Patti Dahlstrom's "Emotion" (number 22), Harriet Schock's "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady" (number eight), and the Richard Kerr/Will Jennings-penned "Somewhere in the Night" (number 19; three years later, a bigger hit for Barry Manilow).
At the height of her fame in the mid-1970s, Reddy was a headliner, with a full chorus of backup singers and dancers to standing-room-only crowds on the Las Vegas Strip. Among Reddy's opening acts were Joan Rivers, David Letterman, Bill Cosby, and Barry Manilow. In 1976, Reddy recorded the Beatles' song "The Fool on the Hill" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
Reddy was also instrumental in supporting the career of friend Olivia Newton-John, encouraging her to emigrate from England to the United States in the early 1970s, giving her professional opportunities that did not exist in the United Kingdom. At a party at Reddy's house after a chance meeting with Allan Carr, a film producer, Newton-John won the starring role in the hit film version of the musical Grease.
Reddy was most successful on the Easy Listening chart, scoring eight number-one hits there over a three-year span, from "Delta Dawn" in 1973 to "I Can't Hear You No More" in 1976. However, the latter track evidenced a sharp drop in popularity for Reddy, with a number-29 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. Reddy's 1977 remake of Cilla Black's 1964 hit "You're My World" indicated comeback potential, with a number-18 peak, but this track – co-produced by Kim Fowley – would prove to be Reddy's last top-40 hit. Its source album, Ear Candy, Reddy's 10th album, became her first album to not attain at least gold status since her second full-length release, 1972's Helen Reddy.
In 1978, Reddy sang as a backup singer on Gene Simmons's solo album on the song "True Confessions". That year also saw the release of Reddy's only live album, Live in London, recorded at the London Palladium.
Of Reddy's eight subsequent single releases on Capitol, five reached the Easy Listening top 50 – including "Candle on the Water", from the 1977 Disney film Pete's Dragon (which starred Reddy). Only three ranked on the Billboard Hot 100: "The Happy Girls" (number 57) – the follow-up to "You're My World", and besides "I Am Woman", Reddy's only chart item that she co-wrote – and the disco tracks "Ready or Not" (number 73) and "Make Love to Me" (number 60), the latter a cover of an Australian hit by Kelly Marie, which gave Reddy a lone R&B chart ranking at number 59. Reddy also made it to number 98 on the Country chart with "Laissez les bon Temps Rouler", the B-side to "The Happy Girls".
Without the impetus of any major hits, Reddy's four Capitol album releases subsequent to Ear Candy failed to chart. In 1981, Reddy said: "I signed [with Capitol] ten years ago...And when you are with a company so long you tend to be taken for granted. For the last three years, I didn't feel I was getting the support from them."
May 1981 had the release of Play Me Out, Reddy's debut album for MCA Records, which Reddy said had "made me a deal we [Reddy and Wald] couldn't refuse"; "we shopped around and felt the most enthusiasm at MCA." Reddy's new label affiliation, though, would result in only one minor success; her remake of Becky Hobbs's 1979 country hit "I Can't Say Goodbye to You" returned her for the last time to the Billboard Hot 100 at number 88; it also returned Reddy to the charts in the UK and Ireland (her sole previous hit in both was "Angie Baby"). Reddy's 14 November 1981 Top of the Pops performance brought "I Can't Say Goodbye to You" into the UK top 50; the track would rise there no higher than number 43, but in Ireland reached number 16, giving Reddy her final high placing on a major national chart. MCA released one further Reddy album: Imagination, in 1983; it would prove to be Reddy's final release as a career recording artist.
The unsuccessful Imagination was released just after the finalisation of Reddy's divorce from Wald, whose alleged subsequent interference in her career Reddy blamed for the decline of her career profile in the mid-1980s: "Several of my performing contracts were cancelled, and one promoter told me he couldn't book me in case a certain someone 'came after him with a shotgun'." Reddy states that she was effectively being blacklisted from her established performance areas, which led to her pursuing a career in theatre, where Wald had no significant influence.
In 1990, Reddy issued Feel So Young on her own label – an album that includes remakes of Reddy's repertoire favourites. Meanwhile, her one recording in the interim had been the 1987 dance maxisingle "Mysterious Kind", on which Reddy had vocally supported Jessica Williams. The 1997 release of Center Stage was an album of show tunes that Reddy recorded for Varèse Sarabande; the track "Surrender" – originating in Sunset Boulevard – was remixed for release as a dance maxisingle. Reddy's final album was the 2000 seasonal release The Best Christmas Ever. In April 2015, Reddy released a cover of The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" for the album Keep Calm and Salute The Beatles on the Purple Pyramid label.
Film, theatre and television
A frequent guest on talk shows and variety programs of the 1970s and early 1980s – with credits including The Bobby Darin Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Muppet Show – Reddy helmed the 1973 summer replacement series for The Flip Wilson Show (Reddy had become friends with Flip Wilson when she worked the Chicago club circuit early in her career); the series, The Helen Reddy Show, provided early national exposure for Albert Brooks and the Pointer Sisters. Reddy also served as the semiregular host of the late-night variety show The Midnight Special in 1975 and 1976.
Reddy's film career included a starring role in Walt Disney's Pete's Dragon, introducing the Oscar-nominated song "Candle on the Water" and the role of a nun in Airport 1975, singing her own composition "Best Friend". For her part in Airport 1975, Reddy was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – Female. Reddy was one of many musical stars featured in the all-star chorale in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), and she later played cameo roles in the films Disorderlies (1987) and The Perfect Host (2010).
Despite her late 1970s decline on the music charts, Reddy still had sufficient star power in 1979 to host The Helen Reddy Special, broadcast that May on ABC-TV, of which Jeff Wald was the producer. In September 1981, Reddy announced she would be shooting the pilot for her own TV sitcom, in which she would play a single mother working as a lounge singer in Lake Tahoe, but this project was abandoned. Reddy was an occasional television guest star as an actress, appearing on the television programs The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Jeffersons (as herself), Diagnosis: Murder, and BeastMaster.
In the mid-1980s, Reddy embarked on a new career in the theatre. She mostly worked in musicals, including Anything Goes, Call Me Madam, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and – both on Broadway and the West End – Blood Brothers. She also appeared in four productions of the one-woman show Shirley Valentine.
Reddy's notable stage roles included;
- Shirley Valentine – as Shirley, which she performed in numerous venues across the US in 1997.
- Blood Brothers – as Mrs Johnstone – Broadway (1995), West End and Liverpool.
- Love, Julie – as Gail Sinclair.
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood – as Edwin Drood/Miss Alice Nutting – Sacramento Music Circus.
- Call Me Madam – as Mrs Sally Adams – Sacramento Music Circus (August 1986).
- Anything Goes – as Reno Sweeney
- – as Helen – (2020)
In 2007, Reddy had a voice cameo as herself in the Family Guy television show's Star Wars parody, "Blue Harvest". In 2010, she guest-starred on Family Guy again singing the opening theme song for the show's fictional Channel 5 News telecast.
Reddy announced her retirement from performing in 2002, giving her farewell performance with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The same year, she moved from her longtime residence in Santa Monica, California, back to her native Australia to spend time with her family, living first on Norfolk Island before taking up residence in Sydney.
She also earned a degree in clinical hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming. She was a practicing clinical hypnotherapist and patron of the Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists.
At a ceremony in August 2006, Reddy was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame by actress singer, Toni Collette, who described her song, "I Am Woman", as "timeless." The song was performed by fellow Australian, Vanessa Amorosi.
In April 2008, Reddy was reported to be living "simply and frugally off song royalties, pension funds, and social security...[renting] a 13th-floor apartment with a 180° view of Sydney Harbour." Her apartment had been recently appraised, causing Reddy concern over its future affordability; however, the New York-based landlord learned his tenant's identity and wrote her: "I had no idea it was the Helen Reddy who was living in my unit. Because of what you have done for millions of women all over the world, I will not sell or raise your rent. I hope you'll be very happy living there for years to come."
For several years, Reddy maintained that she would not return to the stage. In 2008, she stated, "It's not going to happen. I've moved on," and explained that her voice had deepened to a lower key and she wasn't sure if she would be able to sing some of her hits. She also said she had simply lost interest in performing. "I have very wide-ranging interests," she said. "So, singing 'Leave Me Alone' 43 times per song lost its charm a long time ago."
In 2011, she was interviewed by Australian television, and said she was very happy to be retired from show business.
Brief comeback to concerts
In 2012, Reddy decided to return to performing after being buoyed by the warm reception she received when she sang at her sister's 80th birthday party. "I hadn't heard my voice in 10 years, and when I heard it coming over the speaker, it was like: 'Oh, that’s not bad. Maybe I should do that again,'" Reddy explained in 2013.
Being more in control of her performances also appealed to Reddy, who said, "I have more leeway in the songs that I choose to sing. I'm not locked into what the record company wants." She explained, "One of the reasons that I'm coming back to singing is because I'm not doing the greatest hits. I'm doing the songs that I always loved. So many are album cuts that never got any airplay, and they're gorgeous songs." She also performed many of her best-known songs, including, "Angie Baby," "You and Me Against the World", a medley of "Delta Dawn"/"Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady," and "I Am Woman," reasoning on the latter that the audience "comes to hear" it.
She said she refused to sing "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" because she disliked the monotony of the repeated chorus. "They used to have a contest on the radio that you could get two free tickets to Helen Reddy's show if you could tell us how many times she sang "leave me alone". I think it was like 42 times," she said.
Reddy appeared in downtown Los Angeles at the 2017 Women's March on 21 January. The march for women's rights and unity following the inauguration of Donald Trump brought out 750,000 people. Reddy was introduced by actress Jamie Lee Curtis and sang an a cappella version of "I Am Woman".
In August 2015, unnamed sources revealed that Reddy was diagnosed with dementia and had moved into the Motion Picture and Television Fund's Samuel Goldwyn Center, where she was cared for by family and friends.
Political service, citizenship
Reddy became a naturalized American citizen in 1974, saying after the ceremony, "I feel like I'd like to have a cup of tea and a good cry." She resumed her Australian citizenship subsequently, when the opportunity to maintain dual American–Australian citizenship became available.
Reddy was active in community affairs:
- In the 1970s, she helped raise millions of dollars for Democratic political candidates.
- In July 1977, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Reddy to the nine-member commission overseeing the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Her nomination was unanimously approved. She served on the commission until 1980.
Three of Reddy's forebears left Ireland and went to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. A distant cousin, New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy, is descended from their mutual New Zealand forebear.
Reddy was an enthusiastic genealogist; she researched her family's history extensively and founded the Tasmanian Genealogical Society. "Genealogy is addictive; it begins as an interest, becomes a hobby, then a passion, and finally an obsession. Not only with each generation uncovered does the number of people to investigate double, but so too does the desire to understand the forces that shaped them," she wrote in her autobiography. Reddy was once asked in an interview whether her name had any connection to the Reddy caste from India. Her response was: "I have done some research on my father's side; most of my research has been done on my mother's side. His father was born in Ireland, but his great-grandfather served with an Irish regiment stationed in India, so it is possible that I have Indian ancestry. But it has not yet been established."
At age 20, Helen married Kenneth Claude Weate, an older musician and family friend whom she says she wed to defy her parents, who wished her to follow them into show business. The couple separated not long after the birth of their daughter, Traci.
In a 1975 People interview, Reddy admitted that her relationship with then-husband and manager Wald was volatile, with the couple having "huge, healthy fights", but that she owed her success (she was then the world's biggest-selling female vocalist for two consecutive years) to Wald: "He runs it all. Naturally, when the moment of performance comes I have to deliver – but everything else is him. It's not my career; it's our career."
By 2 January 1981, Reddy and Wald had separated and he had moved into a Beverly Hills treatment facility to overcome an eight-year cocaine addiction, a US$100,000-per-year habit (US$264,931 in 2019). Reddy subsequently filed for divorce, yet withdrew her petition the day after filing it, stating: "After 13 years of marriage, a separation of one month is too short to make a decision." In 1982, after finding evidence of Wald's continued substance abuse, Reddy again separated from him and initiated divorce proceedings, which this time went through in January 1983. They agreed to shared custody of their son Jordan, but later became embroiled in a court battle after both filed for sole custody. Her son later changed his surname to Sommers and became her assistant.
In June 1983, she married Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band; the couple divorced in 1995.
In December 2020, Helen Reddy was listed at number 35 in Rolling Stone Australia's '50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time' issue.
|1974||Airport 1975||Sister Ruth|||
|1978||Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band||Our Guests at Heartland|||
|2010||The Perfect Host||Cathy Knight|||
- Not to be confused with Dick Clark's television program American Bandstand; here Bandstand refers to the variety program hosted by Australian presenter Brian Henderson.
- Original name Jordan Wald, 1972, currently Jordan Sommers
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- Official website (archived)
- Helen Reddy discography at Discogs
- Helen Reddy at IMDb
- Reddy at classicbands
- "I Am Woman" – the 2009 addition to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry
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