*There’s no formula for achieving longevity in show business. However, Freda Payne continues to be one the world’s most celebrated Jazz vocalists. Throughout her career, she has produced numerous hit singles and dozens of classic love ballads.
Saturday, August 9, the vivacious songstress performed at BB King’s Blues Club & Grill in New York City. The concert included songs from her new album Come Back to Me Love — a project that contains 14 tracks in total.
Although she strives to keep her music fresh and relatable, Payne’s old material still resonates with her fans. Her most popular song, “Band of Gold,” was recorded more than 40 years ago and still gets played on the radio (scroll down to watch her perform the song live).
Payne embarked on her music journey after landing in The Big Apple in 1963. She was only a teenager then; but she quickly caught the attention of a few rather accomplished musicians.
“When I was 17, I got to audition for Duke Ellington and he wanted to sign me up for ten years to sing with his band,” she explained proudly during an interview. “When I was 19, I got to sing with Quincy Jones’ band at the Apollo Theater.”
Payne continued, “I almost took a different route when I was mentored by Berry Gordy. He wrote three songs and he recorded them for me and they were all pop and R&B. I was thrilled to be working with him. But things didn’t pan out like we thought they would.”
The next year, her debut album, a jazz recording entitled ‘After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More,’ was released on ABC Paramount’s Impulse label. (This album was re-issued on CD in Japan in early 2002, and again in the United States in 2005.)
Three years later, she released her second album (another jazz effort) ‘How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore,’ for MGM Records. She also made occasional guest appearances on different television shows including The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Payne eventually added theatrical credits to her repertoire; she understudied Leslie Uggams for the Broadway show Hallelujah Baby in 1967, and appeared with the Equity Theatre in a production of Lost in the Stars.
Payne made a decent living while singing Jazz and performing on stage at local clubs. However, she wasn’t satisfied with the direction her career had taken. She desired commercial success. The singer eventually decided to rebrand her image and repackage her music.
“I wanted to get a hit,” she said laughing. “I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere singing in Jazz clubs. I was doing okay, but I needed more. I saw what was happening with the Supremes and Diana Ross and other artists. I said to myself ‘maybe I need to start singing R&B too.’”
In 1969, Payne’s old friends back home in Detroit, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Edward Holland, Jr., persuaded her to sign with their newly formed record label Invictus. During that same year, her first Invictus single, “Unhooked Generation” (a minor R&B hit), was released.
Shortly thereafter, Eddie Holland offered her a song entitled “Band of Gold”, which he along with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier co-wrote (under the pen name Edythe Wayne) with Ronald Dunbar.
“It [the album] made a huge difference in my career,” explained Payne. “It gave me recognition and fame. It also changed what I could command financially. The song made me into a house hold name at the time. People would say, ‘Freda Payne—that’s the girl who recorded band of gold.”
As her celebrity continued to blossom, Payne ventured into new social circles. She eventually attracted the attention of her childhood idol, Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.
“She was my hero,” said Payne. “I thought she was such an excellent singer and her scatting was beyond reproach. I got the opportunity to meet Ella in the early 70’s in New York. I never got a chance to perform with her.”
She added, “I was totally in awe. I heard her sing and the hair on my arms were standing up.”
Payne, who’s still vivacious, sexy and youthful at 71, says that one of the keys to her longevity has been maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
“I’ve practiced yoga since 1973,” she explained. “I’m not an exercise fanatic but I do go to the gym. In my early twenties, I was into drinking carrot juice and wheat grass.
Payne continued, “I took dance classes in the 1960’s in New York. I remember going to a gym then. I had two roommates and sometimes I would be on the living room floor doing crunches and they would laugh at me. They’re not laughing now,” she added with a chuckle.
Payne’s new album, Come Back To Me Love (her first for Artistry Music) marks not only a return to the big band and strings-laden classics from her mid-`60s beginnings with Impulse!, but also marks a return to her hometown of Detroit.
“It is like a flashback to something really good happening for me at home in Detroit, my good luck charm,” says Payne. “It’s the springboard where I can replenish like a phoenix rising.”