Drop-dead gorgeous and possessing a bright, clear singing voice, Freda Payne has carved a successful career on record, stage and screen over the past forty years.
Born and raised In Detroit, Payne began her career singing in local commercials, though her passion was jazz music. She gained a reputation as a fine vocalist during her teen years, and was soon performing around the country with such legendary talents as Pearl Bailey, Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington. At age 19, she cut the jazz album After The Lights Go Down Low and Much More! for Impulse Records and followed it three years later with How Do You Say I Don't Love You Anymore. But real stardom came when she signed in 1969 with the fledgling Invictus label formed by Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Her first release for Invictus was "Band of Gold," an irresistible upbeat tune that shot to #1 on both the Pop and Soul charts. The song, about a new marriage gone sour, was lyrically vague enough to create quite a stir among listeners around the world who speculated as to the underlying meaning. Payne surprisingly found out that the earliest buzz on the song came from the gay community, where many interpreted the song as being the lament of a new wife finding out her husband is gay. Payne quickly followed "Band" with two more top 10 hits, "Deeper and Deeper" and the anti-Vietnam War song, "Bring the Boys Back Home," the latter of which generated a fair amount of controversy.
Invictus (and its sister label Hot Wax) encountered serious financial trouble by the mid-70s, derailing the careers of most of its artists. And while Payne was snatched up by ABC/Dunhill and later by Capitol, her recordings over the remainder of the decade failed to approach the critical or commercial success of her early work on Invictus. One of her best but most underappreciated pieces of work during this period was the duet "I Wanna See You Soon" with Tavares, which became a moderate hit in Europe.
With her recording career largely behind her, Payne refocused on the stage, taking major parts in the Broadway casts of Sophisticated Ladies, Ain't Misbehavin' and Hallelujah Baby, as well as some movie roles and television performances. She then signed with Dove Records for a series of albums in the 90s and then in 2001 released the critically acclaimed Come See About Me on Volt Records, which included some classic soul covers as well as a nice duet with Ali Woodson.
While many of her contemporaries have cut back or stopped performing altogether, Payne continues to work tirelessly. As she has reached her sixties, she works out religiously, takes incredible care of her body, and continues performing regularly. She modestly says "survival" is her driving force, keeping her active and relevant. Over the past few years she has created a concert tribute to her idol Ella Fitzgerald that has taken her around the country and even into Europe. She even briefly played Fitzgerald (padding and all) in the stageplay "First Lady of Song" in 2004.
In late 2007, Freda released On The Inside, her first new album in over a half decade. It was an disc she began working on in 2002 and kept picking up and putting down over a five year period. Working with producer Preston Glass, Payne put together an attractive urban adult contemporary disc that initiated her own Band of Gold Records label. The album found her sounding great and looking absolutely stunning in her fifth decade as a recording artist, and was a welcome return of a legendary soul songstress.
By Chris Rizik