Interview: Legendary Singer Freda Payne
Freda Payne is a true legend in her own right. Her music and lyrical messages have inspired many of today’s artists. Even though Payne was thrust into the spotlight at a very young age, her desire to become a successful recording artist always allowed her to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground.
In 1970, Freda Payne became a household name after the success of her song “Band of Gold.” The song reached No. 3 on the charts in the U.S. and No.1 in the UK. Additionally, the song gave Payne her very first gold record.
Payne also brought us hits like “Deeper and Deeper,” “You Brought the Joy” and “Bring the Boys Home.”
Not many artists can live up to the standards of what represents a true legend, but Payne had proved that she is worthy of the title through and through.
Her longevity and ability to remain in the limelight despite an ever-changing industry is not only admirable, it is remarkable. Her powerful voice and elegant demeanor shines through in every song and during every performance.
Payne has more than 17 albums under her belt and suffice it to say she’s has more music on the way. Payne is currently touring various cities across the United States. Her tribute show to Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald has been receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike.
In this in-depth interview, Payne talks about stardom, what keeps her motivated and she even offers some sound advice for artists who are just starting out.
L.I.M.E.: I know you got your start when you won an amateur contest on WXYZ-TV in Detroit, is that when you started singing?
Freda Payne: “That was basically when I started. I started taking ballet when I was eleven, but I never became a professional dancer. I just enjoyed dancing so much and it brought me out of my shell. Not too long after, my piano teacher discovered that I had a good voice and she said I should sing. I auditioned for this talent show called Ed McKenzie’s Dance Hour. It was Detroit’s version of Dick Clarke’s American Bandstand and it was on NBC. I entered the contest as a singer and I won. Then about 6 months later they asked me to come back and be on it again and I won again. People started encouraging me to work on my singing and to pursue it as a professional and I did. “
So that was when you decided to take on singing as a career path?
“Yes I did and I liked it…I loved it! I auditioned for a radio show called Don Large’s Make Way For You. The show was broadcast on WJR and was located on top of the Fisher building in Detroit. I became a member of the chorus and then Don Large started giving me solos and I sang on that show. I was on that radio show for three years. It was a youth chorus with a full-band and an orchestra. We would broadcast live every Saturday afternoon.”
So was that overwhelming for you to be a part of something like that at such a young age?
“No it wasn’t overwhelming; it was responsibility because we had rehearsals twice a week. My mother would drive me there and then come back and pick me up. It was a 2-hour rehearsal. We’d rehearse every Tuesday and Thursday and then the show would broadcast live on Saturdays.”
I know that at that time, you loved being a part of the music industry, but was there ever a time when you felt like being in the music industry wasn’t for you?
“There were times when I felt like things aren’t happening and that this was not my calling. But every time I got to that point, something would happen that would totally turn it around and send me up on that high carpet ride again. A job would come or a big break would come. It was almost as though God would tell me to hang in there and don’t turn around.”
Who would you say were your musical inspirations growing up? Is there anyone in particular in the industry that inspired you?
“Oh there were so many. Well she just passed, but Lena Horne was a big inspiration. Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Sarah Vaughan were all inspirational artists.”
A lot of people get thrust into the spotlight, but they don’t handle it well. What would you say has always kept you grounded and focused?
“My spirituality and my belief in God kept me focused. Also, some of the lessons my mother taught me… just basic morals. There were times that I strayed, but I always came back.”
Now going along with that, what would you say keeps you motivated?
“The spirit of life and the belief in God that I have a purpose motivates me. Especially in this business where they’re quick to put you out to pasture. I believe that I can be an exception to the rules because I feel that God has blessed me. As long as I still have my strength, my talent, my voice and my health, then I can still do anything that I want to do.”
What has been your biggest obstacle in regards to being an artist in the music industry?
“Being accepted again and have people take me serious as an artist in today’s market. The industry tends to ignore the veterans. That’s been the biggest obstacle.”
Back when you were in the studio recording “Band of Gold,” did you ever think that it would be as successful and as popular as it was and still is today?
“Not at all. . .There were a lot of other songs that I did, that were just as good or even better. You don’t know which one is going to be the winner and when that one became such a mega-hit, I realized that this was my time now. Put it this way, I never predicted it in the beginning.”
Let’s go back for a second. The song “Bring the Boys Home,” was recorded in 1971. It just so happens to be one of my favorite songs of all-time. What inspired you specifically to record such a bold yet inspiring song?
“Well it was the timing. We’re talking 1971 and the United States was in the midst of the Vietnam War. It wasn’t a very popular war at all. They came up with this song and they played it for me and it brought tears to my eyes. So I loved it and they loved it and we went into the studio and cut it then put it out. It just addressed what was going on at that time.”
It’s no secret that the music industry has changed a lot. What are your thoughts on the current state of the industry?
“I’m from the old school and I’m looking at it with two different sets of eyes. You have to basically have an education in terms of knowing technology. Nowadays, artists are making money off of downloads and ringtones. The artists today have much more control of their recordings then they did back in the earlier days when I came along.”
Have you ever felt the need to conform to the changing times?
“Well I’ve been through changes. It happened back in the 70s when the Disco era came in. I thought maybe I should do some disco tracks. That was the type of music that was selling then and a lot of other singers were changing and doing Disco music. So I tried that, but it didn’t really work for me. I found that with staying true to myself, as a legitimate Cabaret artist, that I got further. I flourished more being myself, than by following a trend.”
When you aren’t singing and performing, what is Freda Payne up to? What are your leisure activities?
“I go to Equinox and workout, but I mainly take the yoga classes. I started doing yoga 34 years ago with Bikram Choudhury. I started out doing Hot Yoga for years and then I discovered 6 years ago that I could no longer take the heat anymore. That was when I started taking yoga at Equinox. Yoga relaxes you, takes the stress out of your body and balances you out. I also like going to the movies when there’s a good movie to see and sometimes I play a little bit of tennis.”
For an artist that is just starting out, what advice would you give them?
“One thing to remember is that you have to be deadset on what you want. Believe in yourself, be tenacious and go for it. If it’s meant to be, it will happen. They say many are called, but few are chosen. If you don’t try, then you’ll never know.”
Freda Payne’s music is available for purchase through iTunes and wherever digital music is sold.
Special thanks to J. Stander of Scott Stander & Associates.
Photo Credit: Alan Mercer
Wardrobe: Linda Stokes