Otago Daily Times

Mu­sic aided women to know their strength

- HE­LEN REDDY Entertainment · Sexism · Women's Rights · Musicians · Feminism · Celebrities · Music · Discrimination · Human Rights · Society · Social Movements · Orange Telecommunications · Los Angeles · Stella · Kenneth, Indiana · United States of America · New York City · Rock · William Welch · Australia · Germaine Greer · Brisbane · Hollywood · Fame · Alice Cooper · Helen Reddy · Helen · Max · Lillian · Gloria Steinem · Raymond S. Burton · Alice


‘‘SHOW busi­ness’’, He­len Reddy once said, ‘‘was the only busi­ness that al­lowed you to earn the same salary as a man and to keep your name’’.

The singer and ac­tress best known for her trail­blaz­ing fem­i­nist an­them I Am Woman died in Los An­ge­les on Septem­ber 29, aged 78.

She was one of the most fa­mous Aus­tralians in the world dur­ing the 1970s, and an icon of women’s lib­er­a­tion.

Born in Mel­bourne in 1941 to vaudeville per­form­ers Max Reddy and Stella La­mond, Reddy learned to sing, dance and play pi­ano as a child. By her late teens, she was per­form­ing in her father’s tour­ing show.

At 20, she mar­ried the mu­si­cian Ken­neth Weate. The mar­riage was brief — after it was over, she and her daugh­ter Traci moved to Syd­ney.

Am­bi­tious and keen to try her luck in the United States, in 1966 she en­tered and won a singing com­pe­ti­tion. A trip to the US and a record­ing con­tract were her prize. Ar­riv­ing in New York with 3­year­old Traci, the promised con­tract evap­o­rated. Reddy per­formed in clubs in the US and Canada to stay afloat.

She had the good for­tune, how­ever, to meet the ex­pat Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist Lil­lian Roxon (au­thor of the ground­break­ing Rock En­cy­clo­pe­dia) who or­gan­ised a rent party for Reddy on her birth­day. There, she met her fu­ture sec­ond hus­band (and man­ager) Jeff Wald. They mar­ried shortly after, mov­ing to Los An­ge­les in 1968.

Reddy and Wald ini­tially en­coun­tered re­sis­tance from the mu­sic in­dus­try when try­ing to build her ca­reer. But their per­sis­tence paid off: in 1970 she recorded a cover of I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Je­sus

Christ Su­per­star, which made it to No 13 in the US and No 1 in Aus­tralia.

Reddy be­came in­volved in the women’s move­ment. As she re­called in her 2005 mem­oir, The Woman I Am, her grow­ing interest in women’s lib­er­a­tion drove her to try to find songs that ex­pressed her pride in be­ing fe­male.

Un­able to find one, she ‘‘fi­nally re­alised I was go­ing to have to write the song my­self’’. While Ray Bur­ton wrote the mu­sic, the lyrics to I Am Woman were Reddy’s.

‘‘I am strong, I am in­vin­ci­ble’’ en­cap­su­lates its pow­er­ful mes­sage. The song found its au­di­ence as the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment took off glob­ally. It went to No 1 in the US in Oc­to­ber 1972, and No 2 in Aus­tralia in 1973.

It made Reddy a star, and a celebrity fem­i­nist: one of a small group of women, in­clud­ing Glo­ria Steinem and Ger­maine Greer, whose pro­file and me­dia savvy helped com­mu­ni­cate fem­i­nist ideas to wide au­di­ences.

The song was the of­fi­cial theme song of In­ter­na­tional Women’s Year in 1975.

While I Am Woman made Reddy fa­mous, her Grammy ac­cep­tance speech in 1973 made her no­to­ri­ous: thank­ing ‘‘God, be­cause she makes ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble’’.

Her win was said by Bris­bane’s Courier Mail at the time to have ‘‘sent a thrill through the bra­less bo­soms of women’s lib­er­a­tionists around the world’’.

Reddy was awarded a star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame in 1974. She per­formed un­til the early 2000s, re­leased her mem­oir in 2005, and was in­ducted into the ARIA hall of fame in 2006.

While she kept a lower pro­file in the last years of her life, she ap­peared in the 2017 Women’s March in the US. A biopic di­rected by Un­joo Moon, I Am Woman, was re­leased this year.

Alice Cooper fa­mously dis­missed Reddy as the ‘‘queen of housewife rock’’ in the 1970s. It is doubt­ful she saw this as the in­sult Cooper per­haps in­tended it to be.

In a male­dom­i­nated mu­sic in­dus­try, and a sex­ist so­ci­ety where women were rou­tinely dis­crim­i­nated against, Reddy’s mu­sic made women feel strong and in­vin­ci­ble. — The Con­ver­sa­tion

 ?? PHOTO: REUTERS ?? Hear her roar . . . He­len Reddy ar­rives at the In­ter­na­tional Achieve­ment in Arts Awards in Bev­erly Hills in 1998.
PHOTO: REUTERS Hear her roar . . . He­len Reddy ar­rives at the In­ter­na­tional Achieve­ment in Arts Awards in Bev­erly Hills in 1998.

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