Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy (born October 25, 1941) is an Australian-born singer and actress. 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. Three of those fifteen songs reached #1, including her signature hit "I Am Woman."

Early years

Reddy was born into a well-known Australian show business family in Melbourne, Victoria, where she attended Tintern Girls Grammar School. Her mother, Stella (née Lamond), was an actress, and her father, Max Reddy, was a writer, producer and actor.[1] Her half-sister, Toni Lamond, and her nephew, Tony Sheldon, are actor-singers. Reddy is Jewish,[2] and also of part Irish descent on her father's side.[3]

At age four, Reddy joined her parents on the Australian vaudeville circuit, singing and dancing; she'd recall: "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."[4] Reddy's teenage rebellion in favor of domesticity manifested as marriage to Kenneth Claude Weate, a considerably older musician and family friend; divorce ensued within a few months, and to support herself as a single mother - daughter Traci having been born several months after the divorce - Reddy resumed her performing career, concentrating on singing, as health problems precluded dancing (Reddy had a kidney removed at age 17). Reddy 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, Reddy 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, Reddy elected to remain in the US with three-year-old Traci and pursue a singing career.

Reddy would recall her 1966 appearance at the Three Rivers Inn in Syracuse, New York - "there were like twelve people in the audience"[5] - 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 Reddy 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:[6] Reddy told People in 1975, "[Wald] didn't pay the five dollars, but it was love at first sight.".[4]

Wald would recall 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.[7] Reddy would later state that she married Wald "out of desperation over her right to work and live in the United States".[8] 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 sneaked out of a hotel room carrying their clothes in paper bags." Reddy would recall: "When we did eat, it was spaghetti, and we spent what little money we had on cockroach spray."[4] Wald then landed a job as talent coordinator at Mister Kelly's in Chicago. While living in Chicago, Reddy gained a reputation singing in local lounges[9] - including Mister Kelly's - and, in the spring of 1968, recorded her first single, "One Way Ticket" for Fontana, a division of Mercury Records (Mercury was based in Chicago). While the single was not a success, it did give Reddy her first chart debut in her native Australia at #83.

The "I Am Woman" era and stardom

Within a year, Wald relocated Reddy and Traci to Los Angeles, where Wald was hired at Capitol Records, the label where Reddy was to attain stardom; however, Wald was hired and fired the same day.[9] Reddy became frustrated as Wald found success managing such acts as Deep Purple and Tiny Tim without making any evident effort to promote Reddy; 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 phones 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 sang "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar...It became a hit" - #13 in June 1971 - "Helen Reddy was on her way."[9]

Reddy's stardom was consolidated when her single "I Am Woman" reached #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 #1 hit status. "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 U.S. Top 40 hits, including two more #1 hits. These included the Alex Harvey country ballad "Delta Dawn" (#1, 1973), "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" (#3), "Keep on Singing" (#15, 1974), "You and Me Against the World" (written by Paul Williams and featuring daughter Traci reciting the spoken bookends) (#9), "Emotion" (an English version of the French tune "Amoureuse"), "Peaceful"" (#12), "Angie Baby" (#1), "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" (#8, 1975), Richard Kerr-Will Jennings-penned "Somewhere in the Night" (#19; later a bigger hit for Barry Manilow), and the Carole King-Gerry Goffin song "I Can't Hear You No More" (1976). 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 the then-up-and-coming Barry Manilow, and Joan Rivers. In 1976, Reddy covered the Beatles song "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. At a subsequent party at Reddy's house after a chance meeting with Allan Carr, the film's 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 #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 last named track evidenced a sharp drop in popularity for Reddy, with a #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 #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: Helen Reddy from 1972.

In 1978, Reddy sang as a backup singer on Gene Simmons' 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 #59. Reddy had also ranked at #98 on the C&W 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."[10]

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."[10] In fact, Reddy's new label affiliation would result in only one minor success: her remake of Becky Hobbs' 1979 C&W hit "I Can't Say Goodbye to You" returned her for the last time to the Billboard Hot 100 at #88. "I Can't Say Goodbye to You" also returned Reddy to the charts in the UK and Ireland (her sole previous hit in both areas was "Angie Baby"). Reddy's 14 November 1981 TOTP performance brought "I Can't Say Goodbye to You" into the UK Top 50; the track would rise there no higher than #43, but in Ireland reached #16, giving Reddy her final evident 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 Jeff Wald whose subsequent interference in her career Reddy would blame for the near-decimation 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.'"[8] Reddy states that it was effectively being blacklisted from her established performance areas which led to her pursuing a career in theater where Wald had no significant influence.