The cruel year of 2020 has taken another talent, with the death of singer Helen Reddy. Her 1972 smash ‘I Am Woman’ made her a feminist icon, and we’ve got five things to know about her.
This is so not the time to lose the feminist firebrand who sang “I am woman, hear me roar,” but Helen Reddy has died at the age of 78. In a statement, her daughter and son, Traci and Jordan, said: “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. 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.” The family did not give a cause of death, although she had reportedly been suffering from dementia.
Helen was mourned by her second husband and former manager Jeff Wald, who said in a statement to our sister site Variety that “I am very sad to announce that my first wife of 18 years and the mother of my two oldest, Traci & Jordan,” has died. “Traci spent the morning with Helen and she passed soon after under the excellent care of the Motion & Television Home.” At least Helen was surrounded by those who loved her in the end. We’ve got five things to know about the singer.
1. Helen’s breakthrough 1972 hit “I Am Woman” became a feminist anthem. The song eventually reached to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and became associated with the early 70s burgeoning Women’s Rights movement. Helen co-wrote the song after realizing she wanted to sing the type of number to celebrate feminism, but no one had recorded such a tune. In The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Helen said “I realized that the song I was looking for didn’t exist, and I was going to have to write it myself.” That she did, and it went on to have a place in history.
2. Helen’s song was not an immediate hit, but “I Am Woman” put her on the map and won her a Grammy. Despite “I Am Woman”s May 1972 release, it failed to get much radio airplay. But once women got to listen to the empowering song that began “I am woman, hear me roar// In numbers too big to ignore // And I know too much to go back an’ pretend,” they wanted to hear more of the song. By Sept. 1972 it gained enough traction to make it back on the charts and reach number one. It earned Helen bragging rights of the first Australian solo singer to score a number one song in the U.S. and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
3. Aussie Helen eventually became an American citizen. She was born in Melbourne, Australia moved to New York in 1966 at the age of 25 after winning an Australian talent competition and the chance to audition for an American record label. While it turned out to be a bit of a let down (her performance was her audition and Mercury Records didn’t sign her), she decided to stay in the U.S. and fight for a singing career. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1974, and eventually was able to obtain duel American-Australian citizenship when it became legal.
4. Helen was married three times. While still living in Australia she married Kenneth Claude Weate at the age of 20. They went on to have a daughter, Traci. In 1966 she converted to Judaism to marry Jeff, and they welcomed son Jordan in 1972. After her manager Jeff suffered a long battle substance abuse, Helen eventually filed for divorce in Jan. 1983. She went on to wed one more time, marrying her band’s drummer Milton Ruth in the summer of 1983 after her split from Jeff. They eventually divorced in 1995.
5. Helen supported Women’s Rights causes all the way into Donald Trump’s presidency. The day after Trump’s Jan. 20, 2017 inauguration in Washington D.C., millions of women across the U.S. and world held women’s marches in protest of the man who claimed her could “grab” a woman by the” p***y,” and was accused of unwanted sexual advances by a number of women. At the Jan. 21, 2017 Women’s March in Downtown Los Angeles, Helen performed an a capella version of “I Am Woman” to the roughly 750,000 attendees. She was introduced by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who called it the “Honor of my life” in a remembrance tweet.