R.I.P. Helen Reddy, Seventies pop icon and ''I Am Woman'' singer
The Australian-born singer appeared on Carol Burnett several times and starred in Pete's Dragon.
Image: The Everett Collection
Talent show prizes are not all they are cracked up to be. In 1966, a singer in her mid-twenties won the Australian talent broadcast Bandstand. Helen Reddy's award, supposedly, was a trip to New York and some studio time to cut a single for Mercury Records. After Reddy jetted across the ocean to the Big Apple, she learned that Mercury Records was only offering an audition. Actually, the label had seen performance tape from Bandstand. They were counting that as her audition. Thanks, but no thanks.
Reddy decided to stick around in America. Thankfully, for fans of golden Seventies pop music, she made that gutsy decision.
Young Reddy dwindled her nest egg down to a mere $12 in 1968 when she met her second husband. They quickly married and Reddy remained in the United States.
Her husband, Jeff Wald, worked for Capitol Records, which earned her a shot. Her first release for the label was a 1971 single, which included the track "I Believe in Music" written by Mac Davis. Reddy and Davis would coincidentally die on the same day, September 29, 2020.
The flip-side of that single, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, gave Reddy her first chart success. But it would be 1972's "I Am Woman" that rocketed Reddy to fame.
"I Am Woman" would be the first of three No. 1 singles for Reddy in the 1970s. She landed 15 singles in the Top 40, six in the Top 10. She particularly dominated Billboard's Easy Listening chart with breezy, beautiful tunes like "Angie Baby."
Her radio stardom led to television appearances. Carol Burnett was fond of Reddy, booking her for several appearances on The Carol Burnett Show between 1972–77. Reddy even snagged her own variety show, The Helen Reddy Show, a summer 1973 replacement series for The Flip Wilson Show on NBC.
After even more stirring singing performances on The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, etc., the movie studios came calling. Reddy had a role in the disaster flick Airport 1975 and Disney cast her as lead in 1977's Pete's Dragon. Naturally, Reddy sang music for Pete's Dragon, too. Her soundtrack number "Candle on the Water" earned an Oscar nomination.
But it was undeniably "I Am Woman" that stood as Reddy's signature song. It became an anthem of the feminist movement. Its opening line — "I am woman, hear me roar" — remains such an often-used declaration that many overlook its source. Of course, The Carol Burnett Show had a skit about it, when guest-star Jean Stapleton of All in the Family stated, "I am woman!" Harvey Korman replied, "I know; I heard you roar."
Anyone who lived through the 1970s certainly heard Helen Reddy. She passed away at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 78, according to a statement from her family in The Hollywood Reporter.