Helen Maxine Reddy (born 25 October 1941) is an Australian-American singer, actor 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 a television program, Bandstand, in 1966; her prize was a ticket to New York City and a record audition, which turned out to be 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 No. 13 in Canadian pop chart RPM and she was signed to Capitol Records a year later.
Helen Reddy in concert, 1974
|Birth name||Helen Maxine Reddy|
|Born||25 October 1941|
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Genres||Pop, easy listening|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
During the 1970s, she enjoyed international success, especially in the United States where she placed 15 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; 15 made the Top 10 and eight reached No. 1, six consecutively. In 1974, at the inaugural American Music Awards, she became the first artist to win the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist. 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 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 U.S., she acted in musical theatres and recorded a few albums such as Center Stage before retiring from live performance in 2002. She returned to university in Australia and earned her 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.
Her song "I Am Woman" played a large role in popular culture and became 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 No. 28 adult contemporary artist of all time (No. 9 woman). In 2013 the Chicago Tribune dubbed her as the "Queen of '70s Pop".
Helen Maxine Reddy Jr. was born into a well-known Australian show business family in Melbourne on 25 October 1941 to her mother, Stella Campbell (née Lamond), an actress, and her father, Maxwell David "Max" Reddy (born 1914 in Melbourne, Victoria) a writer, producer and actor. During her childhood, she was educated at Tintern Grammar. Maxwell Reddy's great grand father Edward Reddy (born 1855 in Dublin, Ireland) was born to an Oxford-educated South Indian father and an Irish mother.
Her half-sister, Toni Lamond, and her nephew, Tony Sheldon, are actor-singers. Helen has Irish, Scottish and English ancestry. Her Scottish great grandfather, Thomas Lamond, was a one-time mayor of Waterloo, New South Wales, whose patron was Hercules Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead. Her mother, Stella Lamond, was an actress, singer and dancer who sang and danced at the Majestic Theatre in Sydney. She is best known as regular cast member in TV series Homicide (1964), Country Town (1971) and Bellbird (1967). Patsy Reddy, New Zealand's Governor-General, is a distant cousin.
Reddy was born during World War II, six weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. 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 Helen's birth. Her father returned to service during the Korean War.
At age four, 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." At age twelve years, due to her parents' constant touring nationwide and arguing, Reddy went to live with her paternal aunt, Helen "Nell" Reddy, who was the namesake for the younger Helen. The younger Helen'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 US$200 (equivalent to $1,544 in 2018) and a return ticket to Australia, she elected 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 any singing jobs in the U.S., and she was forced to make several trips to Canada which did not require work permits for citizens of Commonwealth countries like Australia. 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 US$5 (equivalent to $36.02 in 2018) to enable Reddy – then down to her last US$12 (equivalent to $86.46 in 2018) – to pay 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 the magazine New York, 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 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 b/w 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' from Rice and 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 solidified 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 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 No. 1 hits. They included Kenny Rankin's "Peaceful" (No. 12), the Alex Harvey country ballad "Delta Dawn" (No. 1), Linda Laurie's "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" (No. 3), Austin Roberts' "Keep on Singing" (No. 15), Paul Williams' "You and Me Against the World" (featuring daughter Traci reciting the spoken bookends) (No. 9), Alan O'Day's "Angie Baby" (No. 1), Véronique Sanson's and Patti Dahlstrom's "Emotion" (No. 22), Harriet Schock's "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady" (No. 8), and the Richard Kerr/Will Jennings-penned "Somewhere in the Night" (No. 19; three years 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 25 million albums; her worldwide album sales tally is estimated in excess of 80 million.
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 Strip in Las Vegas. 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 furthering 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 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 10th 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 Disney film Pete's Dragon (which starred Reddy). Only three ranked on the Billboard Hot 100: "The Happy Girls" (No. 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" (No. 73) and "Make Love to Me" (No. 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 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 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 alleged subsequent interference in her career Reddy would blame 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 which included 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. 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 programmes 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 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 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 U.S. city tour (February – April 1996)
- Theatre-By-the-Sea, Rhode Island (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)
Reddy announced her retirement from performing in 2002, giving her farewell performance with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. That 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 neuro-linguistic programming. 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."
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."
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. 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, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Reddy also sang a duet ("You're Just in Love") with senior choir member Rosalind Smith.
Being more in control of her performances also appeals 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 does perform 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 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. "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 performed at the Paramount nightclub at The Crown & Anchor in Provincetown on 13 October 2013. She performed two nights at Catalina Supper Club, Los Angeles in November 2014, shortly after her 73rd birthday. The following January 2015, Reddy performed two nights at Orleans Hotel Showroom in Las Vegas.
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 her song, "I Am Woman".
Political service, citizenship
Reddy became a naturalized American citizen in 1974; "I feel like I'd like to have a cup of tea and a good cry," Reddy said after the ceremony. She resumed her Australian citizenship when the subsequent opportunity to maintain dual American / Australian citizenship became available.
Reddy has been active in community affairs:
- In the 1970s she helped raise millions of dollars for Democratic political candidates.
- In 1978, 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 for three years.
Reddy is an enthusiastic genealogist; she has 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 writes 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 a year habit (US$259,621 in 2018). 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 popular culture
A biographical film about Reddy titled I Am Woman was announced in mid-2016 with Unjoo Moon as director of the film. On October 2017, the media announced that Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey will portray Reddy in the film.
- Not to be confused with Dick Clark's television program American Bandstand; in the given context, "Bandstand" refers to the variety program hosted by Australian presenter Brian Henderson.
- original name Jordan Wald, 1972, currently Jordan Sommers
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