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I am WOMAN! changed our lives

Pop Singer Helen Reddy
Helen Reddy
  How did you react when you first heard Australian-born pop singer Helen Reddy declare "I am WOMAN!" back in 1972? Were you inspired, annoyed, or (as I was) just plain amused? Don't tell me. Tell Dr Michelle Arrow, a Sydney historian, writer, teacher and TV presenter.

Michelle, of the modern history department of Macquarie University, wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald: "I am researching a history of post-war popular culture and am currently looking at the 1970s. I'm trying to find people to write to me with their memories of Helen Reddy's song I Am Woman. Do you remember I Am Woman? What did the song mean to you? If you have memories of it, I would like to hear from you for a forthcoming history of Australian popular culture."

To my shame, 34 years ago I used to annoy my poor overworked wife, Jerry, by repeating to her, in mocking tones,

If I have to, I can do anything.
I am strong, I am invincible.
I am WOMAN!

With the benefit of hindsight, I suppose I was reluctantly applauding her brave decision the year before to return to office work, after many years spent at home as an overworked but sometimes bored housewife, cooking, washing, ironing, house-cleaning, and looking after four sons and a work-obsessed husband.

At the age of 55, Jerry (who had worked for General MacArthur in Brisbane in WWII) made the courageous decision to look for a job in the city. She was promptly appointed a temporary supervisor in the Government Census office.

Later, she worked happily for several years in the office of a company selling lighting equipment. Somehow she still managed to perform most of her accustomed housework in her spare time. Eventually, our sons having established their own homes, Jerry and I retired from Sydney to enjoy a more relaxed life style on the Central Coast.

"I Am Woman!" was Helen Reddy's first Number One record and won her a Grammy Award. The song became the anthem of the feminist movement, and the United Nations adopted it as its theme for International Women's Year (1975).

Helen's official website says:

More top singles followed, and songs like "Leave Me Alone," (Ruby Red Dress), "Angie Baby," "Delta Dawn" and "You And Me Against The World," on gold and platinum selling albums led to Helen's multi-media career.

Her Television specials have been seen in over forty countries while her starring role in the Disney film "Pete's Dragon" continues to attract a new generation of fans.

With these successes solidly behind her, Helen returned to her theatrical roots with starring roles in productions both on Broadway and in the West End of London. Although Helen won rave reviews for her theatrical work, she still continued to appear in concert and with symphony orchestras.

Active in community affairs, Helen served for three years as a Commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the State of California. Of the many honors she has received. Helen is most proud of the tulip named for her in Holland.

Helen Reddy retired from live performing in 2002. She lives in Sydney, and her best-selling memoir, "The Woman I Am," published by HarperCollins in 2005, is due for release in North America in the spring of 2006.

Asked how she came to write the song, Helen Reddy said: “In the early 1970s Australian singers were considered second-class by those in the entertainment business. At the time nobody wrote their own material - they did cover versions of popular songs.

“I was inspired to write ‘I am Woman’ by the hardships suffered by the women in my own family. The song was originally used in a movie soundtrack. When it was released it went to No. 97 in the top 100 before dropping out again. However, women kept ringing radio stations demanding to hear it. It took nine months to make it all the way to No.1.”

Helen became the first Australian to win a Grammy, to have her own prime-time variety show on a US television network and to have three number-one hit singles in the same year. Then, at the height of her career, her world was shattered by the death of both her parents and also the news that she had a rare, incurable disease.

It was Addison's Disease (which was also contracted by Jane Austen and John F. Kennedy, among others). Helen now 64, is patron of the Australian Addison’s Disease Association.

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Story first posted February 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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