Helen Reddy retired a decade ago. But show business, which also is the family business, has pulled her back in.
A birthday party for her sister earlier this year included a sibling duet and a spark of recognition that performing still calls. A series of gigs followed, including one Monday night at Three Stages in Folsom.
Born into a family of Aussie vaudevillians, Reddy first hit the stage at age 5. She became a star in the United States in the 1970s, when female singers wore long evening gowns in casino showrooms and on television specials.
Her presentation was classy, her message strong. Of all Reddy's hits, including "Angie Baby" and "Delta Dawn," her signature song was and remains "I Am Woman," from 1971.
Awareness of feminism has flowed and ebbed in the decades between the ERA fight and current accusations of a Republican "war on women." But "I Am Woman" remained feminism's anthem throughout.
Reddy appeared on Broadway and toured in musicals before returning to Australia 10 years ago and earning a degree in hypnotherapy. She has practiced "spiritual" hypnotherapy on and off since, Reddy said during a phone call from Los Angeles.
Thrice divorced and single for the past 15 years, Reddy said she was glad to be back in California, where her grown son and daughter and her granddaughter "all my descendants," Reddy said with a laugh still live.
At 70, Reddy's speaking voice is still springy and her accent Aussie with decades of California is soft and welcoming.
Why did you decide to tour after 10 years away?
It is not a tour so much as some individual shows. I had actually retired for good, but my sister (veteran Aussie stage and television performer Toni Lamond) had her 80th birthday in March, and she asked if I would sing a duet with her. Of course I said yes.
I heard my voice coming back on the monitor, and I hadn't heard my voice in nearly 10 years, and thought, "That doesn't sound so bad."
Offers started coming in, and that is where it is.
All the (shows) are in California. I lived there for 35 years. I am a California girl.
Why did you move back to Australia?
I was retiring, and my sister is elderly. She is on a walking stick now.
Has the whole family always been in show business?
Oh yes, the whole family. Her son (Tony Sheldon) is now a Broadway star. He starred in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."
You had so many hits in the 1970s, and then you starred in several musical-theater productions. There is a large collection of songs from which you could choose. What will your set list look like Monday in Folsom, and how big is your band?
The band is guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, and two of the members (guitarist Lenny Coltun and keyboard player Mary Eckler) I have worked with for many, many years, so this was sort of a reunion for us.
I am doing mostly songs that I have recorded not the greatest hits so much. I like to sing ballads, and songs that are rich in meaning. For me, the lyrics are the most important thing.
It will be a couple of the hits and some album cuts that are not so well-known, but the fans will have been familiar with them. And I have thrown in some standards.
Will you sing "I Am Woman"?
I don't like to reveal these things (beforehand) but I don't sing it anymore. I recite it. I wrote the words and I feel they have more meaning and more impact when they are spoken.
How do you feel about the song now, and what do you think its impact has been?
Well, I think its impact has been tremendous. We had a real wave of feminism going on at the time, and a lot of things have changed for the better. We have so many more women doctors and lawyers.
When I was a girl in school, we were given five options, and only for before you were married, of course. Librarian, nurse, schoolteacher I can't remember the others, but they had nothing to do with show business.
But women now can do just about anything and do it well.
Do you get asked to perform at a lot of women's events?
From time to time. I am appearing at a women's event (this week) in Long Beach.
Have you made your brother understand?
I think we still have a long way to go. But there are and always have been certain men who are sensitive and kind and understand what we're on about.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Three Stages at Folsom Lake College, 10 College Parkway, Folsom
Information: (916) 608-6888, www.threestages.net