Helen Reddy in concert, 1974
25 October 1941 |
|Genres||Pop, Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
|Years active||1970–2002, 2011, 2013–present|
|Labels||Fontana Records, Capitol,
Helen Reddy Inc.
|Associated acts||Olivia Newton-John|
Helen Reddy (born 25 October 1941) is an Australian American singer, actress, and activist. She is often referred to as the "Queen of 70s Pop". In the 1970s, she enjoyed international success, especially in the United States, where she placed fifteen singles in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Six made the Top 10 and three reached No. 1, including her signature hit "I Am Woman." She placed 25 songs on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Fifteen made the Top 10 and eight reached No. 1, six consecutively. She was the first artist to win the coveted American Music Award for "Favorite Pop/Rock Female" artist. She was the first Australian to win a Grammy Award and to have three No. 1 hits in the same year. In television, she was the first Australian to host her own one-hour weekly primetime variety show on an American network, along with several specials that were seen in over forty countries. Helen retired from live performance in 2002 and has practiced as a clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. In 2011, Billboard named her the No. 28 AC artist of all time (No. 9 woman). In 2011, after singing "Breezin' Along With the Breeze" with her sister, Toni Lamond, for Toni's birthday, she decided to return to live performing. Currently, she is living in California.
Helen Reddy was born into a well-known Australian show business family in Melbourne, where she attended Tintern Girls Grammar School. Her mother, Stella Campbell (née Lamond), was an actress, and her father, Maxwell David "Max" Reddy, was a writer, producer, and actor. Her half-sister, Toni Lamond, and her nephew, Tony Sheldon, are actor-singers. She is of part Irish descent on her father's side. Her maternal grandfather, Colin Lamond, was a one-time mayor of Waterloo, New South Wales, and her maternal grandmother was actress Stella Coffey.
At 4, she 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." Reddy's teenage 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 possessing only $200 and a return ticket to Australia, she elected to remain in the US with three-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 US performing career. In fact, the lack of working papers made it difficult to obtain any singing jobs in the US, and she was forced to make several trips to Canada where, being a Commonwealth country like Australia, she had the right to work. In the spring of 1968, Martin St. James – a hypnotist/entertainer and fellow Australian she had met in New York City – threw Reddy a party with an admission price of five dollars to enable Reddy – then down to her last $12 – to make her rent. It was on this occasion that 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 he and Reddy 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 the spring of 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 ever appearance on any chart as it peaked at No. 83 in her native Australia.
The "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 where Reddy was to attain stardom; however, Wald was hired and fired the same day. Reddy became frustrated as Wald found success managing such acts as Deep Purple and Tiny Tim without making any evident effort to promote her; after eighteen 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 the legendary Mac Davis b/w I Don't Know How to Love Him from Rice & Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. The A-side fell flat but then some Canadian DJ's flipped the record over and... "It became a hit – No. 13 in June 1971 – and Helen Reddy was on her way."
Reddy's stardom was consolidated when her single "I Am Woman" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1972. The song was co-written by Reddy with Ray Burton; Reddy has 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 saying 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 No. 1 peak. "I Am Woman" earned 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 native of Australia to top the US charts and also to win a Grammy.
Over the next five years, Reddy had more than a dozen other US Top 40 hits, including two more No. 1 hits. They included the Alex Harvey country ballad "Delta Dawn" (#1), "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" (#3), "Keep on Singing" (#15), "You and Me Against the World" (written by Paul Williams and featuring daughter Traci reciting the spoken bookends) (#9), "Peaceful"" (#12), "Angie Baby" (#1), "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady" (#8), and the Richard Kerr/Will Jennings-penned "Somewhere in the Night" (#19; later a bigger hit for Barry Manilow). Reddy's total sales figures for the United Sales are estimated in excess of 10 million singles and 15 million albums; her worldwide album sales tally is estimated in excess of 25 million.
At the height of her fame in the late 1970s, Reddy was a headliner, with a full chorus of backup singers and dancers to standing-room-only crowds on The Strip in Las Vegas. Reddy's opening acts were Joan Rivers and the then-up-and-coming Barry Manilow. In 1976, Reddy covered the Beatles song "The Fool on the Hill" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
Reddy was also instrumental in furthering the career of Olivia Newton-John, as she encouraged her friend to move from Britain to the United States in the early 1970s, giving her the best opportunity to expand her career. At a subsequent party at Reddy's house after a chance meeting with Allan Carr, the film's producer, Newton-John then won the starring role in the hit film version of the musical Grease.
Reddy was most successful on the Easy Listening chart, scoring eight No. 1 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 No. 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 No. 18 peak, but this track – co-produced by Kim Fowley – would prove to be Reddy's last Top 40 hit. Its parent album, Ear Candy, Reddy's tenth album, would become 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.
Of Reddy's eight subsequent single releases on Capitol, five reached the Easy Listening Top 50 – including "Candle on the Water", from the 1977 film Pete's Dragon (which starred Reddy). Only three ranked on the Billboard Hot 100: "The Happy Girls" (#57) – the follow-up to "You're My World" and, besides "I Am Woman", Reddy's only chart item which she co-wrote – and the disco tracks "Ready or Not" (#73) and "Make Love to Me" (#60), the latter a cover of an Australian hit by Kelly Marie – which gave Reddy a lone R&B chart ranking at No. 59. Reddy had also ranked at No. 98 on the country chart with "Laissez Les Bontemps 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 would say: "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 saw the release of Play Me Out, Reddy's debut album for MCA Records, who Reddy said had "made me a deal we [Reddy and Wald] couldn't refuse"; "we shopped around and felt the most enthusiasm at MCA." In fact, Reddy's new label affiliation 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 No. 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 No. 43, but in Ireland reached No. 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 subsequent interference in her career Reddy would blame for the decline of her career profile in the mid-80s: "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 – on her own label – the album Feel So Young, including remakes of Reddy's repertoire favourites; her one interim recording had been the 1987 dance maxi-single "Mysterious Kind", on which Reddy had vocally supported Jessica Williams. 1997 saw the release of Center Stage, an album of show tunes which Reddy recorded for Varèse Records; the track "Surrender" – originating in Sunset Boulevard – was remixed for release as dance maxi-single. Reddy's final album to date was the 2000 seasonal release The Best Christmas Ever.
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'd 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. Also in 1973, Reddy became the semi-regular host of the NBC late night variety show The Midnight Special, a position she retained until 1975.
Her film career includes an extended cameo as a nun in Airport 1975 – singing her own composition "Best Friend" – and a lone starring role in Walt Disney's Pete's Dragon, introducing the Oscar-nominated song "Candle on the Water". 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 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and has since played cameo roles in the films Disorderlies (1987) and The Perfect Host (2010).
Despite her late 1970s chart decline, Reddy still had sufficient star power in 1979 to host "The Helen Reddy Special" broadcast that May, on ABC-TV; 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. However, this project was abandoned. Reddy has been an occasional television guest star as an actress, appearing on the series 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". She played a 'red'-themed ('Red'-dy) member of the Red Squadron, alongside Red Five (Chris Griffin), Red Buttons, Redd Foxx, Big Red, Red October, Simply Red and others. 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. Reddy 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.
Notable stage roles include:
- Shirley Valentine – as Shirley
- Stage West, Canada (June 1997)
- 12 US City Tour (February – April 1996)
- Theatre by the Sea, R.I. (1995)
- Blood Brothers – as Mrs. Johnstone
- Love, Julie – as Gail Sinclair
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood – as Edwin Drood/Miss Alice Nutting
- Sacramento Music Circus (July 1988)
- Call Me Madam – as Mrs. Sally Adams
- Sacramento Music Circus (August 1986)
- Anything Goes – as Reno Sweeney
- Long Beach Civic Light Opera (July 1987)
- Sacramento Music Circus (July 1985)
Personal life and recent years
Reddy, who gave what she announced as her farewell performance with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in 2002, stated in 2008 that "she will never again perform before an audience", specifying "It's not going to happen. I've moved on", and that "her voice has deepened to a lower key, and she's not even sure she could sing hits such as 'Delta Dawn'." "I have very wide-ranging interests," she said in a recent interview. "So, singing 'Leave Me Alone' 43 times per song lost its charm a long time ago." But on 12 July 2012, Reddy returned to the musical stage at Croce's Jazz Bar in San Diego and for a benefit concert for the arts at St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City, outside of Los Angeles, where the opening act was the high school jazz band and the award winning Valiant Voices show choir. Helen Reddy also sang a duet ("You're Just in Love") with senior choir member Rosalind Smith. She decided to return to performing after being buoyed by the warm reception she recently got when she sang at her sister's birthday party.
"One of the reasons that I'm coming back to singing is because I'm not doing the greatest hits," Reddy explained. "I'm doing the songs that I always loved. So many are album cuts that never got any airplay, and they're gorgeous songs." However, in recent concert appearances, she has performed "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 it's her signature song and one that the audience "comes to hear." She maintains, however, that she still refuses to sing "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" because she dislikes the monotony of the repeated chorus (which repeats 42 times in the song).
Reddy became a naturalised American citizen in 1974, subsequently availing herself of the opportunity to maintain dual American/Australian citizenship when said opportunity was made available. She has been married and divorced three times, and has two children. Her husbands and children:
- Kenneth Weate (1961–1966), Child: Traci (b. 1963)
- Jeff Wald (25 May 1966 – January 1983). Child: Jordan (b. 1972). She converted to Judaism before marrying Wald.
- Milton Ruth (29 June 1983 – 1995)
Helen was married at age 20 to Kenneth Claude Weate, a considerably older musician and family friend, who 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, who became Traci Wald after her adoption by Reddy's second husband Jeff Wald. In a 1975 People interview Reddy admitted her relationship with then husband and manager Jeff Wald was volatile with the couple having "huge, healthy fights" but that she owed her success – she was then the world's most successful female vocalist for two years running – 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, with Wald moving into a Beverly Hills rehab facility to treat an eight-year addiction to cocaine. Reddy subsequently filed for divorce, yet withdrew her petition the day after filing it, stating: "After thirteen 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. In June 1983 Reddy married Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band; the couple divorced in 1995.
Active in community affairs, Reddy served as the state of California's Parks and Recreation Commissioner for three years. In 2002, she retired from performing and moved from her longtime residence in Santa Monica, California back to her native Australia, living first on Norfolk Island, before taking up residence in Sydney. There, she was a practising clinical hypnotherapist, and Patron of the Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists. 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-degree 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."
In a March 2013 interview with Chicago Tribune, Reddy revealed that she had moved back to Los Angeles in January 2013, and mentioned in a concert appearance that evening outside Chicago that she had originally returned to Australia in 2002 to be near her sister Toni, who was in frail health at the time, but has since improved. Also, she wanted to be near her son and daughter and their families, and while she had been travelling to the US about three times a year to visit, the expense of the frequent trips became a difficulty. According to her official website, she's been touring the USA for most of 2013 and will continue to in 2014.
Reddy published an autobiography, The Woman I Am, and appeared on the Today show in 2006. She was also added to the ARIA Hall of Fame, with a tribute performance by Vanessa Amorosi of "I Am Woman" at the ceremony. Reddy suffers from Addison's disease, a failure of the adrenal glands, which requires constant treatment.
Helen is performing live in Australia at the Sydney Opera House in 2014.
- The Woman I Am (2006) ISBN 1-58542-489-7
- "'I am Woman' on australianscreen online". Retrieved 2011-03-03.
- http://www.helenreddy.com/flash.html (biography)
- Arrow. Michelle. 2007. "It Has Become My Personal Anthem": "I Am Woman", Popular Culture and 1970s Feminism. Australian Feminist Studies 22: 213–230.
- Helen Reddy Biography (1942–)
- Reddy, Helen (9 May 2006). "Autobiography: "The Woman I Am"". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-06-16.
- [dead link]
- Helen Reddy Sings Out for Women's Lib—but Jeffrey Calls the Tune : People.com
- Interview With Helen Reddy
- Jeff Wald
- Helen Reddy
- New York Magazine vol#9 No. 32 (9 August 1976). pp. 24–27.
- Video interview with Helen Reddy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n85ajOGyCRU
- Billboard vol#93 No. 37 (19 September 1981). p. 37.
- Keck, William (16 April 2008). "Singer Helen Reddy is now a writer and a speaker". USA Today. Retrieved 6 July 2010.
- "Helen Reddy comes out of retirement".[dead link]
- "helen reddy chicago tribune". Yahoo! search.
- Helen Reddy – Biography
- Helen Reddy Biography (1942–)
- Levins, Harry (14 December 2000). "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2008-06-16. – "Although Helen Reddy is Jewish, she has just released an album titled 'The Best Christmas Ever.' When an Internet interviewer cocked an eyebrow, Reddy said she had stuck to her religious beliefs by making sure that no song mentioned Jesus."
- Addison's Awareness Week 7th – 11th May 2007
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Helen Reddy.|
- HelenReddy.com, Reddy's official website
- Helen Reddy at the Internet Movie Database
- Reddy at classicbands
- Listen to an excerpt of 'I am Woman' on australianscreen online
- 'I am Woman' was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2009