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‘I Am Woman’ singer Helen Reddy, ’70s hitmaker, dies at 78

Blues great B.B. King and Australian-born singer Helen Reddy perform.
Blues great B.B. King and Australian-born singer Helen Reddy on “The Helen Reddy Show” in 1973.
(NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Helen Reddy, who shot to stardom in the 1970s with her feminist anthem “I Am Woman” and recorded a string of other hits, has died. She was 78.

Reddy’s children, Traci Donat and Jordan Sommers, announced that the actress-singer died Tuesday in Los Angeles. “She was a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and a truly formidable woman,” they said in a statement. “Our hearts are broken. But we take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever.”

The Australian-born singer enjoyed a prolific career, appearing in “Airport 1975” as a singing nun and scoring several hits, including “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” “Delta Dawn,” “Angie Baby” and “You and Me Against the World.”

Reddy’s version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” in 1971 launched a decade-long string of Top 40 hits, three of which reached No. 1.

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Two years later, she won the best female vocal pop performance Grammy Award for “I Am Woman,” quickly thanking her then-husband and others in her acceptance speech.

Helen Reddy.
Helen Reddy, shown in October 1977.
(Associated Press)

“I only have 10 seconds so I would like to thank everyone from Sony Capitol Records, I would like to thank Jeff Wald because he makes my success possible, and I would like to thank God because she makes everything possible,” Reddy said, hoisting her Grammy in the air and leaving the stage to loud applause.

“I Am Woman” would become her biggest hit, used in films and television series.

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In a 2012 interview with the Associated Press, Reddy cited the gigantic success of “I Am Woman” as one of the reasons she stepped out of public life.

“That was one of the reasons that I stopped singing, was when I was shown a modern American history high-school textbook, and a whole chapter on feminism and my name and my lyrics [were] in the book,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Well, I’m part of history now. And how do I top that? I can’t top that.′ So, it was an easy withdrawal.”

Reddy’s death comes less than three weeks after the release of a biopic about her life called “I Am Woman.”

A performer since childhood, Reddy was part of a show-business family in Melbourne. She won a contest that brought her to the United States and launched her recording career, although she first had to overcome ideas about her sound.

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“In my earlier days in Australia, I was considered to be more of a jazz singer. When I won the contest that brought me to this country, one person said, ‘The judges didn’t feel you could have a recording career because you don’t have a commercial sound.’”

Reddy retired from performing in the 1990s and returned to Australia, where she earned a degree in clinical hypnotherapy.


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