National Post (Latest Edition)
Everyone heard Australian singer roar
1972 hit became anthem for global feminists
Helen Reddy, who has died aged 78, was a singer and songwriter whose song I Am Woman became a rallying cry for the nascent feminist movement; she won a Grammy Award for best female artist in 1973.
Looking for songs that reflected her increasingly positive self- image, she found none, and said. “I realized I was going to have to write it.”
Helen Maxine Reddy was born in Melbourne, Australia on Oct. 25, 1941.
After a brief early marriage that left her a single mother, she returned to singing. In 1966, newly arrived in New York with her three- year- old and $ 200, Reddy tried to forge a career. In 1968, when she was down to her last few dollars, an Australian friend threw her a $5-a-head party.
There she met Jeff Wald, a secretary at the William Morris talent agency, and they were married in short order. But he was soon sacked, and for a while she supported them playing gigs; at one point they had to do a moonlight flit, their few possessions in paper bags.
They moved to Los Angeles, where Wald began managing acts as diverse as Tiny Tim and Deep Purple.
After 18 months, Capitol agreed to do one single. I Believe in Music was a flop until DJS began playing the B- side, a cover of I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar. In June 1971 it peaked at No. 13 on the U. S. charts.
A couple of unsuccessful singles followed. And then, “I remember lying in bed one night,” Reddy said, “and the words, ‘I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman,’ kept going over and over in my head. That I consider divinely inspired.”
By the end of 1972 I Am Woman was No. 1, making her the first Australian to top the U.S. hit parade.
The next five years saw more than a dozen Top 40 hits, including No. 1s Delta Dawn and Angie Baby. She was the world’s top- selling female vocalist in 1973 and 1974.
She also acted in film and TV. In the 1980s she began establishing herself in the theatre, mainly in musicals.
In 2017 she sang I Am Woman at the 750,000- strong Women’s March in Los Angeles.
Reddy’s son and daughter survive her.