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An Evening With Helen Reddy

When Michelle Esposito heard singer Helen Reddy was performing in Farmingdale, she immediately called her friend Carol MacNamara.

“I called Carol and said, ‘Let’s go down there and make a memory for your mother,’” she said. “When Helen Reddy sang our song we all started crying.”

The song, “Delta Dawn,” is one that evokes special memories for MacNamara, her three sisters and two friends, who all grew up in North Massapequa. It is a song MacNamara and her sisters sang for their mother, Jessie Sherman, when she died after battling leukemia three and a half years ago.

“‘Delta Dawn’ was the song my mother used to sing to us,” said Diana MacNamara, Carol’s sister, who lives in Farmingdale. “We were just anxiously awaiting for her to sing it and she did and it was beautiful as I ever envisioned, so it was wonderful.”

The inspirational Helen Reddy performed on a balmy evening last week at Ellworth W. Allen Park in Farmingdale, where 4,000 people gathered to hear the 71-year-old Australian singer, songwriter, actress and activist who inspired a generation of women to stand up and be counted.

Known as the “Queen of 70’s Pop” this Grammy Award winning singer was an international success, placing 15 singles in the Top 40 of the Billboard hot 100. Six of those 15 songs made the top ten and three of those songs reached Number one including the Grammy winning song which became the anthem for the women’s movement “I am Woman.”

“I actually wrote it over a period of time,” Reddy said of the song. “I started when I was 29 and finished when I was 31. It was something that needed to be said and no one else was saying it so I thought I should step up to the plate with this.”

The song rocketed to number one and help jump start the women’s movement in the 70s. Women started attending college and went on to become, doctors, lawyers, judges scientists, engineers, and politicians and changed the prevailing cultural mores.

“I think it is wonderful, I am very proud to have been part of that generation because we really were a terrific generation,” she said. “In Australia at one point we had a female mayor, female governor, female governor general, female prime minister and it went all the way up to the Queen. It was women all the way.”

In spite of her success in the music industry, Reddy wanted to do more with her life. She retired from music with a farewell performance in 2002.

“I had always been interested in hypnosis and healing so I went back to school and got a degree in clinical hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming and I enjoyed practicing it,” she said. “I have done it for 10 years and now just on and off.”

An opportunity to sing again presented itself and spurred her into action. She realized she missed music, but she wanted to be sure she could sing what she wanted to sing.

“I never set out to become a pop singer,” she said. “I wanted to sing some of the lovely ballads. There was such a great amount of good songwriting in the l970’s. I always say it’s kind of like if I were French and in Paris during the l880’s I would have been a painter.”

During the concert Reddy charmed the audience with her velvet voice and sang songs from some of her favorite artists, including Paul Williams who wrote “You and Me Against the World,” Don McClean, and a dear friend and writer who recently passed away, Alan O’Day. Unfortunately, halfway through her performance the laryngitis which she had been battling all week seemed to get the better of her as the humidity in the air rose. She apologized to the audience who broke out in applause and cheers and shouts of “We love you Helen!” One woman offered up a cough drop but Reddy declined admitting she had taking them all day.

Determined to forge ahead, Reddy perched herself regally on a three legged stool on stage and shared with the audience her musical journey from Australia to America when she won a singing contest. She arrived in the states with a toddler in tow only to be shot down because they really wanted a “male vocalist,” not a woman.

She struggled as a single mom to make a living while taking courses at UCLA in psychology.

“One of the things I realized, the problem that most of us  have is lack of self esteem, and its not our fault because that is what the culture teaches us. You are not blonde enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not tall enough, you’re not short enough. So I thought, you know I have a very, very good friend sitting right on this stool so I wrote a song called ‘Best Friend.’”

Without missing a note, she sang pitch perfect the song which inspires you to be good to yourself.

Reddy shared that she had always written poetry, but she never really thought of poetry as lyrics. It was in examining a particular song’s lyrics as poetry that inspired her to create her biggest hit.

“There was one song called “Born a Woman” and here were some of the lyrics: ‘If you are born a woman, you are born to be lied to cheated on and treated like dirt, but when your man comes home you are glad it happens that way, because to be his woman, no price is too big to pay.’ Young girls were being indoctrinated with this rubbish, and I thought, well I have to do something about this, so I wrote a song that was on my first album,” she said. “Soon the song caught on by women who kept calling the station and it became a hit.”

Reddy then recited the words to her famous song, “I am Woman,” as a poem to a rapt audience, which erupted in cheers at the end.

Reddy may not have roared that night but she touched the hearts and souls of so many people with her evocative lyrics, humor, and positive message, even 40 years later she is still a winner.