Photo credit: Yahoo.com/Images
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 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 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 practiced 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 to perform.
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 (number-9 woman). In 2013, the Chicago Tribune dubbed her as 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 favor 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 relocated 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 such 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 revitalize 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 realized 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 in its initial release. However, 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 sorts 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).
On 23 July 1974, Reddy received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in the music industry, located at 1750 Vine Street.
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.
Career eclipse –
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 alone 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 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 finalization 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 canceled, 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 favorites. Meanwhile, her one recording in the interim had been the 1987 dance maxi-single “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 maxi-single. 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.
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 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.
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.