Helen Reddy is an Australian-born singer and actress. In the 1970s, she enjoyed international success, especially in the United States, where she placed fifteen singles in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Three of those fifteen songs reached #1, including her signature hit “I Am Woman.”
Reddy was born into a well-known Australian show business family in Melbourne, Victoria, where she attended Tintern Girls Grammar School. Her mother, Stella, was an actress, and her father, Max Reddy, was a writer, producer and actor. Her half-sister, Toni Lamond, and her nephew, Tony Sheldon, are actor-singers. Reddy is Jewish, and also of part Irish descent on her father’s side.
At age four, Reddy joined her parents on the Australian vaudeville circuit, singing and dancing; she’d recall: “”It was instilled in me: you will be a star. So between the ages of 12 and 17 I got very rebellious and decided this was not for me. I was going to be a housewife and mother.” Reddy’s teenage rebellion in favor of domesticity manifested as marriage to Kenneth Claude Weate, a considerably older musician and family friend; divorce ensued in a few months and to support herself as a single mother – daughter Traci being born several months after the divorce – Reddy resumed her performing career, concentrating on singing as health problems made dancing impossible. Reddy sang on radio and television, eventually winning a talent contest on the Australian pop music TV show Bandstand, the prize ostensibly being a trip to New York City to cut a single for Mercury Records. After arriving in New York City in 1966, Reddy was advised that Mercury’s position was that her prize was only the chance to audition for the label, and that the label considered the Bandstand footage to constitute her audition, which was deemed unsuccessful. Despite possessing only $200 and a return ticket to Australia, Reddy elected to remain in the US with three year old Traci and pursue a singing career.
Reddy would recall her 1966 appearance at the Three Rivers Inn in Syracuse, New York – “there was like twelve people in the audience” – as typical of her early US performing career. In fact, the lack of appropriate working papers made it difficult to obtain any singing jobs in the US, and she was forced to make several trips to Canada where, being a Commonwealth country like Australia, she had the right to work. In the spring of 1968 Martin St James – a hypnotist/entertainer and fellow Australian Reddy had met in New York City – threw Reddy a party with an admission price of five dollars to enable Reddy – then down to her last $12 – to meet her rent. It was on this occasion that Reddy met her future manager and husband Jeff Wald a 22 year old secretary at the William Morris Agency who crashed the party: Reddy told People in 1975 ” didn’t pay the five dollars but it was love at first sight.”.