30 September 2020 14:38
news, national Helen Reddy, who has died in Los Angeles aged 78, is best known for her song I Am Woman, the unofficial anthem of the feminist movement. In 1972, she became the first Australian to win a Grammy Award. In her acceptance speech, she thanked God "because she makes everything possible". Helen Maxine Lamond Reddy was born in Melbourne on October 25, 1941, into a showbiz family. Her mother, Stella Campbell (nee Lamond) had been a performer since early childhood.
Her father was actor-producer Max Reddy and her godfather was theatrical entrepreneur Sir Benjamin Fuller. Reddy's half-sister, actor and cabaret performer Toni Lamond, was eight years her senior. When Reddy was born in World War II, her father was serving overseas in an army entertainment unit. By the time she was four, the family was on the Australian vaudeville circuit. She made her stage debut at age four in a musical called On Your Toes at Perth's Tivoli theatre. She boarded at Melbourne's Tintern Grammar and left at 15. Reddy faced a health setback at 17 when Addison's disease resulted in the removal of a kidney and an adrenal gland. At 19 she married an older musician, Kenny Weate. They soon broke up, leaving Reddy with a baby, Traci. Reddy resumed her singing career, travelling around Australia for TV appearances and concerts. She said showbiz was "the only business that allowed you to earn the same salary as a man and to keep your name". Reddy appeared on Bandstand's Starflite talent quest in 1965, singing Petula Clark's Strangers And Lovers in the final. And from Reddy's petite frame emerged a powerful voice with a pure, unadorned style. Reddy won a trip to New York and a record contract. Though she didn't make the cut, she remained in the US. Because Reddy had no green card, she kept nipping across to Canada to renew her US visa. Money was tight and when Reddy was down to her last $12, Australian hypnotist Martin St James held a party, charging $5 admission to raise money for the young mother's rent. Jeff Wald, who worked at the William Morris Agency, turned up and, according to Reddy, "it was love at first sight". When they married three days later, Reddy's visa problems ended. Wald became Reddy's manager, but her career remained moribund. Reddy later told New York Magazine "we spent what little money we had on cockroach spray". The family moved to Chicago, then to California. Wald managed successful acts including Deep Purple and Tiny Tim, but Reddy urged him to put more effort into promoting her. The result was a deal with Capitol Records to record a single. The A side was I Believe in Music, but the B side - I Don't Know How To Love Him, from the new Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar - became the hit. Reddy's career was launched. Reddy had become a feminist in the late 1960s. She told The Australian Women's Weekly in the 1970s she and Wald were "a perfect example of the unisex movement". Both wore men's shirts and went to the same hairdresser. "Women, today, won't allow themselves to be solely sexual objects, which is what they have been for a very long time," she said. Soon afterwards, Reddy wrote the lyrics for I Am Woman, seeking to express the confidence feminism had given her. (Session songwriter Ray Burton wrote the music.) The song made little impression when it was released in May 1972. However, I Am Woman featured in the film Stand Up And Be Counted and Reddy kept performing it on US daytime TV shows, and soon women were asking radio stations to play it. Reddy gave birth to a son, Jordan, in December 1972 - the same month I Am Woman topped the US charts. On March 3, 1973, Reddy won the Grammy for best female pop vocal performance. She went on to perform her hit at the White House for US president Gerald Ford. Over the next two years, more successes followed, including Delta Dawn, Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress), Ain't No Way To Treat a Lady, Angie Baby and You And Me Against The World. Reddy hosted her own show on US television, appeared in the 1977 film Pete's Dragon, and mentored up-and-coming Australian artists such as Peter Allen and Olivia Newton-John. I Am Woman remained Reddy's signature song. "It was wonderful to me that through music I'd changed things," she told Jeff Apter in his 2013 book Up From Down Under. Wald and Reddy divorced in January 1983. In June that year, she married Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band. They divorced in 1995. Reddy stepped up her career in the 1990s, doing cabaret and stage productions and making her Broadway debut in Willy Russell's musical Blood Brothers. Reddy retired in 2002, saying she had been singing for 55 years and that was "long enough". She moved back to Australia and studied to become a clinical hypnotherapist. In her 2006 memoir, The Woman I Am, Reddy said her interest in hypnotherapy could be traced to "an out-of-body experience" she had at 11. "I don't sing any more but I still use my voice to heal and hopefully inspire," she said in a US radio interview. Reddy continued to speak on women's issues and in 2006 received a medal from the Veteran Feminists of America. But Reddy performed professionally again from the mid-2000s, moving back to the US. She moved into a care facility, the Motion Picture and Television Fund's Samuel Goldwyn Jr Center for Behavioral Health in Woodland Hills, California. Reddy, who died on Tuesday, September 29, is survived by her children. Australian Associated Press