reda Payne began her career at the age of five, studying piano at the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts. She soon performed at teas, banquets, and other social functions, and at thirteen added singing to her repertoire. "I was turned on early by applause," she said.
Freda entered a hometown amateur contest, and won a radio. "For that one glowing moment, I felt I was somebody," she recalled. "Right then I decided to become a professional vocalist." She then appeared on "Ed MacKenzie's Dance Hour," a local TV talent show. "I won three times," she laughed. From there she went to Ted Mack's "Original Amateur Hour," and made her national television debut. On that program, she came in second place, behind an Italian opera singer.
Berry Gordy took an interest in Freda, and supervised her first recording sessions. At that point, he hadn't yet formed Motown Records, and planned to place her tapes with an existing major label. He drove Freda and her mom to New York to sign contracts, but at the last moment, Mrs. Payne changed her mind. "My daughter is not going to become a rock 'n' roll singer," she announced, and that was that.
Freda graduated from high school, and spent a year cutting jingles for radio commercials. Finally, she landed a spot in the chorus of Pearl Bailey's revue. After that, she met Duke Ellington, who offered her an exclusive ten-year contract singing with this band. She worked with him for six months in Las Vegas, but then walked out -- it was too much of a tie-down.
Freda moved to New York, and got a job as a telephone operator. Her singing ceased, and she considered becoming a dancer instead. Quincy Jones talked her out of that, and invited her to sing with his band at the Apollo. She toured Europe with him, performing in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and England.
Back in the States, Freda became the understudy for Leslie Uggams in the Broadway musical, Hallelujah Baby. "I geared and polished myself into being a sophisticated and well-rounded entertainer," she remembered, "and the very first night I went onstage, I received a standing ovation."
Holland-Dozier-Holland convinced Freda to move from straight jazz into a more popular vein. "The first song they handed me was 'Band of Gold,'" she recalled, "and my initial reaction to it was 'What?' Lines like 'we stayed in separate rooms' made me think that this song was for a seventeen-year-old. She's copping out, doesn't understand her own womanhood and is really frigid, you know. So I said, 'Hey, I'm not frigid. Why should I sing about somebody who is?' They explained to me that the idea was to get the feeling over, and sell the song.
"Well, I worked on about twenty tunes over six months and 'Band of Gold' was the first one we sat down with and started rehearsing. I didn't know it was going to be a big hit, but it sure wound up that way."
"Band of Gold" was released in April 1970, and by July was one of the top-selling singles. It clung to the charts for twenty weeks, and quickly earned Freda her first gold record. A few months later, "Deeper and Deeper" became a second Top 30 hit.
In 1971, Freda recorded "Bring the Boys Home," a topical tune about the Vietnam war. The U.S. Command banned the song from the American Forces Network, claiming it would "give aid and comfort to the enemy." Stateside, it gained heavy air play and became a third million-seller.
Freda didn't have any more major hits after that, although she did appear in a 1973 movie, Book of Numbers. She also accepted a few television acting roles and later frequently performed on the supperclub circuit.
"Whatever I was before, I'm even better now," she said in 1979. "I never stopped reaching for the stars."
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