Bandstand, Travel and a Legacy
Written by Ryan Stevenson on 22 December 2020
While the world was watching or avoiding the US Presidential Debate, news came through that music icon Helen Reddy had passed away.
Helen Reddy was born in Melbourne on October 25 1941 to parents Stella Campbell (née Lamond) and Maxwell David “Max” Reddy who were in the performing arts industry as singers, writers, producers and other roles.
Helen’s career started going places when she won a competition on Bandstand and she went to New York as part of her prize but it turned out that the chance to record at a studio was a chance to audition for the right to record and her Bandstand performance was her considered to be her audition and she wasn’t accepted.
Despite only having a few hundred dollars in hand, she stayed in the United States and thanks to friends helping her out and lots of hard work, her first single “One Way Ticket” was released in 1968 through Fontana Records with the song peaking at No. 86 in Australia.
Her then husband and manager called Capitol Records three times a day for five months asking them to let her cut a song, she would be given the opportunity with the single “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” in 1970 leading to a Top Twenty hit and she would then release her debut album of the same name in May 1971.
Helen and Ray Burton would co-write “I am Woman” and it was released on her second album “Helen Reddy” in May 1971 but a new version of the song would be released as single in May 1972
The original version of the song was in the 1972 movie Jacqueline Bisset movie “Stand Up and Be Counted” in the same month the single was released but the film was judged not to make a big impact on the song.
“I Am Woman” was not an instant hit upon release, it had reached the bottom rungs of the Hot 100 then dropped out of the Hot 100 for a few months before coming back in and then steadily marched up the charts to reach No. 1 by December.
“I Am Woman” is considered to be an enduring anthem for the women’s liberation movement, women watched Helen performing the song on one or more of the nineteen talk and variety shows that she was on as a guest at the time and they called up radio stations requesting that the song to be played.
Her next seven singles would peak no lower than No. 22 on the Hot 100 chart with “Delta Dawn” and “Angie Baby” hitting No. 1 and she was even more successful on the Adult Contemporary chart as eight songs would consecutively chart no lower than No. 2.
Nine albums would chart in the United States between 1971 and 1977 with “Ear Candy” being the last after its release in 1977, Helen would continue to record into the 2000’s with the last album being “Greatest & Latest” in 2002.
She would be the first Australian to have her own show in the United States and she would be a guest host on several popular shows throughout the 1970’s including Midnight Special where she hosted the show’s second episode but it’s the first episode if you don’t include the pilot episode hosted by John Denver.
Helen would also play roles in five movies including Airport 1975 as Sister Ruth in the first sequel to the hit movie Airport from 1970, the role gave her a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer – Female.
The 1980’s brought Helen a new career, acting in Theatre and her theatre career included six notable roles in productions like Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers, Love, Julie, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Call Me Madam and Anything Goes.
She memorably made a guest appearance on Late Show with David Letterman in 1994 where she appeared in the crowd before singing “I Am Woman” everywhere from the aisle to behind David to interrupting another performance to sing.
Helen retired from show business in 2002 and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 before she made a comeback to show business in 2012.
A biopic about Helen Reddy “I am Woman” was released on Stan on August 28 this year, it was originally scheduled to be released in cinemas around the world before COVID-19 forced a change in release plans.
Helen Reddy was married three times and had two children, she briefly relinquished her Australian citizenship to take up an American one before regaining her Australian citizenship once it was possible to be a dual citizen of two countries.
When you take in all the above and more, Helen Reddy led a full life that saw her overcome numerous challenges to become an icon not just for women’s empowerment but an icon for not giving up when times are tough, success is possible if you got the right people with you and you’ve got the determination work hard with them.
Her music will live on with every passing generation that hears them and will continue to inspire people perhaps to the end of time.