International recording artist Freda Payne joins Jerry Blavat’s show “The Divas of All Time,” tomorrow at the Kimmel Center. Payne joins classic performers from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, including Darlene Love, Candi Staton, The Tymes, Baby Washington and others.
Payne’s career began when she was a shy child growing up in Detroit, Mich., learning to express her feelings through music. “I was taking piano lessons and my teacher discovered I could sing and she said I should sing,” Payne remembers. “I auditioned for a talent show called ‘Ed McKenzie’s Dance Hour,’ which was Detroit’s version of ‘Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.’ I entered and won. Then, about six months later, they asked me back and I won again. That’s when people started encouraging me to work on my singing and pursue it as a profession, which I did.”
Working her way up the music charts, Payne says some of her inspirations growing up were Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Sarah Vaughan, to name a few.
Hoping to make it big in the business, Payne got her wish when her first release for Invictus called ”Band of Gold” shot to the top of both the Pop and Soul charts. Released in 1970, 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.
And even though the song made her a household name, she admits she never thought it would become as successful and popular as it was and still is today. She says, “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 this was my time now. But I never could have predicted it in the beginning.”
Over the years, Payne produced other hits like “Deeper and Deeper,” “You Brought the Joy” and ”Bring the Boys Home,” which was recorded in 1971 and happens to be one of Payne’s favorites.
“It was the timing,” she says. “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 and then put it out. It just addressed what was going on at that time.”
Payne’s longevity and ability to remain in the limelight despite an ever-changing industry is remarkable. She has more than 17 albums under her belt with much more music on the way. In late 2007, she released “On the Inside,” her first new album in over half a decade. Soon, she says, she’ll be heading back to the studio to record a new jazz CD, explaining that jazz is really her forte and where her musical roots are.
Still motivated to stay in this business no matter what, Payne says, “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 also stay motivated because I haven’t reached the heights I aspire to yet. But I’m doing what I love and so I intend to keep going as long as I can.”
And for an artist just starting out, Payne says to “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.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 893-1999.