Australian singer and activist, Helen Reddy, passed away on Tuesday, September 29, at the age of 78. Reddy was best known for her 1971 song, “I Am Woman,” which had been co-written with Australian musician, Ray Burton. Her two children confirmed her passing in a statement on Facebook, saying Reddy died in Los Angeles.
“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,” Reddy’s two children, Traci Donat and Jordan Sommers, said in a statement on Facebook. “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.”
“I Am Woman” remained a feminist anthem throughout the 1970s, with the song’s release coming in the same year that saw Shirley Chisholm running for president, the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States Senate and the landmark Supreme Court decision for Roe v. Wade. Reddy won a Grammy for the song, with “I Am Woman” peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1972. Following her Grammy win, Reddy thanked God, famously stating, “Because She makes everything possible.”
“I think it came along at the right time,” Reddy said about the song’s release during a 2013 interview. “I’d gotten involved in the Women’s Movement, and there were a lot of songs on the radio about being weak and being dainty and all those sort of things. All the women in my family, they were strong women. They worked. They lived through the Depression and a world war, and they were just strong women. I certainly didn’t see myself as being dainty.”
At the time of the song’s release, many music executives doubted the song’s ability to become popular, expressing Reddy’s song to be “women’s lib crap” and asking Reddy’s husband and manager, Jeff Wald, why he “allowed his wife” to sing the song.
Reddy retired from performing in 2002, however did brief comeback of concerts from 2012 until 2017. One of Reddy’s last performances had been at the 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles that had followed the inauguration of Donald Trump, with Reddy singing “I Am Woman” at the march.
Following her retirement from performing, Reddy moved back to her home country of Australia to be closer to her family. In 2015, the Australian singer was diagnosed with Addison’s disease and dementia, prompting a move back to Los Angeles, where she resided in the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Samuel Goldwyn Center until her death.