Helen Reddy started performing from a young age and had to fight her way in the 1970s to get even one song recorded and distributed.
There are a few artists who were not only blessed with incredible voices but also had equally remarkable messages to give. Some of them became icons because of their words of wisdom, empathy, and empowerment. 1970's queen of pop, Helen Reddy, was one such figure. Her song I Am Woman became a feminist anthem and earned her names like "angry, man-hating, dangerous or all three," according to The New York Times.
Australia-born Helen Reddy, 78, passed away on September 29, 2020, after a lengthy illness. Her children, Traci Donat and Jordan Sommers, announced her death on Facebook.
"It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved mother, Helen Reddy, on the afternoon of September 29th, 2020 in Los Angeles. She was a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and a truly formidable woman. Our hearts are broken. But we take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever [sic]," they told the followers on her official fan page.
As per The New York Times, she had Addison’s disease for decades and had to get a kidney removed at the age of 17. She had dementia from at least 2015. She lived her last few years in a celebrity care home in Los Angels, according to BBC.
Her family was in show business in Melbourne, Australia, according to NPR. Born in 1941, she started performing from a young age, but quit at the age of 12. She went to live with her aunt while her parents continued touring the Australian vaudeville circuit, according to the New York Times. She married early, became a mom, and divorced, after which her financial situation turned for the worse.
She returned to show business and at the age of 24 won a talent contest. The single mom got a chance to audition for a recording contract with Mercury Records in New York for winning the contest. While she didn't get the contract, she chose to stay in the U.S. and start her career in pop music. Best known for her feminist anthem I Am Woman, Reddy had more hits like Delta Dawn, Angie Baby, Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress), and Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady.
She met Jeff Wald, who became her manager and future husband, in 1968. Wald was handling acts like Tiny Tim, Deep Purple, and The Turtles. The pair convinced Capitol Records to record one single but unfortunately, the intended A-side flopped. However, her cover of I Don't Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar was No. 13 on the Billboard charts in June 1971.
In 1972 came her biggest hit, I Am Woman, smack in the middle of the feminist liberation movement in the U.S. Reddy told Houston Public Media in 2014 that the phrase, which became the title of her song, came to her repeatedly. She believed it came to her from heaven. "Over and over," she recalled, "'I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.' And I thought, well, this has to be a song."
Getting recording companies to rally behind her was a hard task for the couple. "That women's lib crap is gonna kill her," said a Capitol Records executive to Wald, according to NPR. "Why are you letting your wife do this stuff?" In 2014, Reddy said, "It was so hard. So hard. You know, so many radio stations would say, 'Well, we're already playing a female record.'"
However, he persuaded a small radio station to play the song and the requests to hear it again kept pouring in. Reddy won a Grammy for the song and thanked God, saying, "She makes everything possible." A feminist herself, her words have resonated with many women over the years, and her words will continue to do so, long f