Helen Reddy, who became a feminist icon for her 1971 hit “I Am Woman,” has died at the age of 78.

Reddy’s children, Traci Donat and Jordan Sommers, broke the news on her official Facebook page. The cause of death was not given, but the Guardian reports that she had been diagnosed with dementia five years ago.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved mother, Helen Reddy, on the afternoon of September 29th 2020 in Los Angeles,” they wrote. “She was a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and a truly formidable woman. Our hearts are broken. But we take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever.”

Born Oct. 25, 1941 in Melbourne, Australia, Reddy first began performing at the age of four, singing and dancing with her parents in their vaudeville act. In 1966, she won a TV singing competition, with the prize being a trip to New York to audition for Mercury Records. Reddy wasn’t signed, but she decided to stay in the U.S. to advance her career. After moving to Chicago with her second husband Jeff Wald, she released a single called “One Way Ticket” on Fontana, which peaked at No. 83 in Australia.

They moved to Los Angeles and she signed with Capitol, putting out a single of Jesus Christ Superstar’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” in early 1971 that became her first Top 20 hit in the U.S.. An album of the same name came out a few months later with a self-titled release in November 1971. Neither did especially well, but a song she and Ray Burton wrote for the debut, “I Am Woman,” was released as a single in conjunction with a movie in which it appeared, Stand Up and Be Counted.

The song fit in perfectly with the feminist movement and began a slow climb up the Billboard Hot 100, topping the chart in early December 1972. “I Am Woman” earned her a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

Her success landed her a summer replacement variety show, and she occasionally co-hosted The Midnight Special. Film work also beckoned, including roles in Airport ’75 and Pete’s Dragon, which also earned her a Best Original Song Oscar nomination for “Candle on the Water.”

Reddy had two other No. 1 pop hits, “Delta Dawn” and “Angie Baby,” with six others that topped the Adult Contemporary chart by 1976. But her recording career stalled in the early ’80s and she moved into musical theater. But she scored one last hit in 1991 as part of Voices That Care, a group whose self-titled single raised money for the International Red Cross during Operation Desert Storm.

She retired in 2002, but briefly returned to performing a decade later.

Listen to Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”

 





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