Helen Reddy, Australian Jewish Singer Behind Feminist Anthem ‘I Am Woman,’ Dies at 78
Jewish Australian singer-songwriter Helen Reddy, best known for the 1972 feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” died on Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 78, her family announced.
“She was a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and a truly formidable woman,” the family wrote on her official Facebook fan page. “Our hearts are broken. But we take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever.”
The news of her death comes just one month after the official release of Reddy’s biopic, also titled “I Am Woman.”
Reddy was born in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 25, 1941, and moved to the United States in 1966 after winning an Australian TV talent show called “Bandstand.” The divorced mother, who had a young daughter named Traci, converted to Judaism to marry her Jewish manager, Jeff Wald, in 1968.
The singer initially found success with the song “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” in 1971, but “I Am Woman” in 1972 made her a global superstar and feminist icon at the age of 30 when it reached No. 1 in the US, Canada and Australia by September of that year. The song appeared on her debut album, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” and earned Reddy a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Reddy co-wrote “I Am Woman” with Australian musician Ray Burton. She explained that it was partially inspired by her experiences facing misogyny and sexism in the entertainment industry.
“Women have always been objectified in showbiz. I’d be the opening act for a comic and as I was leaving the stage he’d say, ‘Yeah, take your clothes off and wait for me in the dressing room, I’ll be right there.’ It was demeaning and humiliating for any woman to have that happen publicly,” she told Australia’s Sunday Magazine in 2003, as reported by AOL.
She added: “I couldn’t find any songs that said what I thought being woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that. The only songs were ‘I Feel Pretty’ or that dreadful song ‘Born a Woman.’ These are not exactly empowering lyrics. I certainly never thought of myself as a songwriter, but it came down to having to do it.”
Reddy followed up the popular song with a number of hits, including “Delta Dawn,” “Angie Baby” and “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.”
The singer officially retired from the music industry in 2002. She was diagnosed with dementia in 2015.