Helen Reddy, who became a feminist poster girl with her ’70s hit “I Am Woman”, was advocating for women’s rights before she even started school.
“I was a feminist when I was four,” she told InDaily ahead of her Australian tour.
“I remember when we were in Perth – my mum and dad and my sister Toni. They were doing a comedy sketch and I can’t remember exactly what it was about but I thought it was demeaning to women.
“I just had this strong feeling that women should be honoured.”
Reddy was already performing with her showbiz family, laying the foundations for a hugely successful music career that saw her release more than a dozen top-40 songs in the United States and become the first Australian to win a Grammy Award.
Her hits include “Delta Dawn”, “Angie Baby”, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady”, and 1972’s anthemic “I Am Woman”. The latter – with lyrics such as “I am strong / I am invincible / I am woman” – is now included in Modern American History high school textbooks, and in 2009 was added to Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive.
Did Reddy have any idea when she penned the song that it would become a women’s rights anthem and propel her to the status of a feminist icon?
“Not a clue!” she says emphatically.
“I would not have had the balls to sit down and write it [if I did] … I was just expressing myself.”
While “I Am Woman” will probably get an airing at Reddy’s April 15 concert at the Adelaide Festival Centre, the set list won’t just be a biggest-hits pop showcase. Reddy, now in her early 70s and living in California, says one of the things that drew her out of her 10-year retirement was the fact that she could sings the songs she liked to sing, including some that had never previously been performed live.
“I’d let things go long enough that I didn’t have to go out there and do a medley of my hits, God forbid.
“My mother always used to say that songs tell stories – if you’re not going to tell a story, you may as well sing ‘la la la’. That’s the kind of stuff I like. And I love a nice ballad – a nice, sexy nightclub ballad.”
In addition to solo performances all over the world, Reddy has also starred in theatre productions on London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, and hosted a prime-time variety show in the United States. She has danced in the White House, dined with Prince Charles and had a tulip named after her in Holland; a career highlight was her royal command performance for the Queen in 1980.
After retiring from live performing in 2002, she worked as a clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker, but it was singing a duet (“Breezin’ Along with the Breeze”) with her sister Toni Lamond at Toni’s 80th birthday party that helped her decide to return to the stage.
“I was bored,” she says, when asked why she decided to tour again.
“I’d sat out for a bit too long … and now here we are and I’m having a jolly good time.”
Reddy admits that the travelling is a hard slog – “I’m no spring chicken” – but she still gets a buzz out of live performance. To her the stage is “home”, and she is excited to be returning to Australia – the country she still calls home – to tour.
“There are some nights I wish I could go back to bed but on the whole I love it. It’s what I do.”
Helen Reddy will perform at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, on April 15.
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