Gary James' Interview With
Freda Payne

Freda Payne is the singer of the 1970 hit, "Band Of Gold". She's also an actress and had her own TV talk show. A multi-talented lady with a nice personality. That's a hard combination to find these days in the music business, but best describes Freda Payne.

Q - Freda, when you were starting off, did you see singing as being a stepping stone to something else, or did you always want to be a singer?

A - I always saw myself as a singer, a possible stepping stone to something else, but that something else might've been acting, but I never would've left singing. Singing would always be in my life.

Q - How long had you been singing before you got a record deal?

A - I kind of started out singing in Detroit while I was still in school, high school. I graduated when I was 16. When I was 17 I went on the road with Pearl Bailey. You might say my singing career at 17, even though when I started out with Pearl Bailey, I was not a featured singer, but one of her background singers. Then I sang with Duke Ellington very shortly. Then when I was around 18, 19, I met Quincy Jones and I sang with his Big Band, I'd say about a good ten years before I got my first record deal.

Q - When you went on the road with Pearl Bailey, you were performing where? Supper Clubs?

A - Oh, no my dear. Pearl Bailey was a Super Star. We played theatres like 2,500 seats or less. It was the Pearl Bailey Revue. Back then she was considered top of the line.

Q - Were you on the road with Pearl Bailey for an extended period of time?

A - No. I wasn't gone all the time 'cause I was still like a kid. At 18, I left Detroit and went to New York.

Q - Didn't it take money to do that?

A - I guess my parents subsidized me. They kept me afloat with the money and Western Union to keep the rent paid. I found a room mate. At one time I was actually staying at the YWCA. I was beating the pavement. I was out there singing whenever I could and that's how I got discovered. Then I got an agent. The agency was GAC, which was a major agency in New York at the time. My agent was Sid Bernstein, who became a very famous agent. He was the first agent to bring The Beatles over to the United States. He was the one who was instrumental in getting me hooked up with ABC / Paramount Records. He was instrumental in getting me my first record deal.

Q - Were you writing your own material at that time?

A - No, I wasn't. I was singing standards and whatever the Pop tunes of the day were.

Q - Your sister was a member of The Supremes at one point?

A - She became a member of The Supremes in 1974. She replaced Jean Terrell as a lead singer with The Supremes and Mary Wilson

Q - Did your success sort of pave the way for her?

A - Not really. Everybody knew who I was. Berry Gordy knew me. I was Berry Gordy's first female protégé by the way, at the age of about 14. He nurtured me. He worked with me. He wrote songs for me. This was before Motown was launched.

Q - Where did Berry Gordy see you?

A - He heard about me and heard me singing. I used to sing on the radio. I was winning talent contests on television. He knew of my mother slightly. He didn't really know her well. And he contacted her and then he started watching me at my dance class and hanging out. He wanted to write songs. He had written hit songs for Jackie Wilson. So that's what happened.

Q - When "Band Of Gold" became a hit, how did your life change? What happened to you?

A - Well, I got busier. Things were starting to happen. The things that I wanted to happen for my life and career were beginning to happen.

Q - You toured behind that record, didn't you?

A - Yes.

Q - What kind of venues were you performing in?

A - I played The Copa in New York. I played The Coconut Grove in The Ambassador Hotel, which no longer exists. I was headlining The Apollo in New York. I played Mister Kelly's in Chicago and that was a hot little spot. It wasn't a big club. Barbra Streisand played there back in the early part of her career. I played The Venetian Room in San Francisco, at The Fairmount Hotel in New Orleans. I played theatres in the round. I played outside of Chicago. I think it was Mill Run and Painters Mill in Baltimore, Front Row in Cleveland. That was with Bill Cosby. I opened for him. The Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario across the river from Detroit. The Holiday House, which was a hotel and they had a nightclub in Pittsburg and it's the same venue I played when I went to see Duke Ellington and he wanted me to come up and sing with his band when I was 17.

Q - Who was booking all these shows for you?

A - I think I was with GAC or CMA. I was with William Morris for ten years.

Q - You also were on The Johnny Carson Show when Johnny Carson was actually hosting?

A - I did The Johnny Carson Show several times before I did "Band Of Gold", in the '60s. My manager at that time was Joe Scandori, who handled Don Rickles and several other comedians. He himself owned a nightclub in Brooklyn called The Elegante. I did Johnny Carson many times and I did The Merv Griffin Show many times before "Band Of Gold" and after "Band Of Gold".

Q - And didn't you do Ed Sullivan as well?

A - I did Ed Sullivan once. It was with The Four Tops and The Carpenters.

Q - After "Band Of Gold" became such a hit, what did the record company follow it up with?

A - Well, the first song they released was "Deeper And Deeper". That did okay, but it didn't kind of make the surge that "Band Of Gold" made. Then after that they realized that they had to get something stronger. So about a year later they came up with "Bring The Boys Home".

Q - And how did that do?

A - It was a Gold record.

Q - I guess it did very well then.

A - Yes, it did very well. As a matter of fact, it went Gold quicker than "Band Of Gold". "Band Of Gold" was kind of like a slow rise. Once it took, it took.

Q - Do you ever get tired of singing "Band Of Gold"?

A - Yeah. Sometimes I do 'cause I consider myself not only a recording artist singing hit records, I'm like an artist. I come from more of an enriched background. I just don't do one thing. I have a Jazz background. My thing is like cabaret standards. I love Jazz music. As a result, that's why I was able to do eight companies of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Lady over the last twenty-five years and other shows as well, like Ain't Misbehavin' and The Blues In The Night. I consider myself a person that was versatile. If you were to come and see me 'live', it just wouldn't be all Pop and Soul music. It would be a variety of music that you probably wouldn't even expect.

Q - What keeps you busy these days? Do you have your own talk show?

A - No. I gave that up in the '80s. I only did it for two years. It wasn't something I was yearning to do. It was something that was handed to me by my management. I did it for two years and then that stopped. I just went back to my regular singing, which I still do. I still perform today, not as much or as frequently as I did in the past. Also, I just recorded a new CD. It was recorded this past January (2013) at Capitol Records in Studio A. It's going to be on a label called Mack Avenue Records. They've got a vast roster of Jazz musicians and I must say top Jazz musicians in the business. They did the CD with strings and big bands. A few of the cuts are just like a trio. That's not going to be out until later on this year. (2013)

Q - Usually, when I interview someone who was around in the '60s and '70s, I ask if they met certain celebrities. Did you ever meet Frank Sinatra?

A - Oh, yeah. I met Frank Sinatra.

Q - Did you like him?

A - I liked him a lot and he like me.

Q - Where did you meet him?

A - The first time was here in L.A. in about 1964. I was working a little club called The Losers. It was on La Cienega Boulevard, just right of the corner of Santa Monica. Of course it no longer exists. It's long been gone. It was owned by an Italian guy and I was working there. At the same time I was booked to do a movie. I was doing double duty. I was doing a movie with Jerry Lewis, The Disorderly Orderly for Paramount. Then I was working at night performing in this club, this Jazz club. One night I'm standing there singing and it's dark. All of a sudden I see somebody strike a match. Back then you could smoke in the clubs. The light from the match enlightened the person's face and I could see it was Frank Sinatra. So, after I finished singing, the owner of the club brought me over to meet him. He said that Quincy Jones had recommended that he come see me. That was my first encounter. The second encounter was in Florida when I was performing in The Fontainebleau Hotel. Still in the '60s, before "Band Of Gold", I was performing downstairs in the lounge area. It was like a lounge supper club. He was staying in the hotel in the penthouse because he was doing a movie. Right now I can't remember the name of the movie. This must've been around 1966, '67. He just happened to come downstairs with a group of people while I was doing my show. He listened to the show and then he invited me to come up to his penthouse and just hang out. And that was it.

Q - And he made small talk?

A - Yeah. He didn't try to make out or anything like that. He was basically treating me like he was welcoming me into his space as an acquaintance and that was it.

Q - How about Elvis?

A - Never met Elvis. Never seen him in person.

Q - Any of The Beatles?

A - I met Ringo. I got to meet John Lennon and this was because of my dear friend Michael Vena, who is no longer with us. This must've been in the '70s. It was here in Chosen's, a restaurant that's no longer here. It was in Beverly Hills on Beverly Boulevard and Doheny Drive. Michael was having a private party in their small banquet room. He had me sitting right next to John Lennon and Ringo was on the other side of the table, the opposite side of the table. I met John Lennon and I met Ringo.

Q - What did you think of John Lennon?

A - He was strange to me. Some people are really friendly when they talk to you. He would just kind of stare at me. It was like he was very cynical. If he had any conversations, he was more of a cynic. That's all that I can say. When he looked at you, it was like he was examining you.

Q - Did he know who you were?

A - Yeah, he knew who I was. I was sitting next to him. He must've known I was somebody, otherwise they wouldn't have had me sitting next to him.

Q - Michael Jackson?

A - Oh, yeah. I knew Michael Jackson. I encountered him a few times from the time he was at Columbia (Records), at industry type parties. The last time I saw him was here in L.A. at The Beverly Hilton Hotel. My friend David Guest was doing one of his big gala shows. Michael was there. Elizabeth Taylor was there. David was known to invite a lot of movie stars to his affairs. Michael walked over to me and kind of like grabbed my hand and said "Hi." Other than that, I didn't have much contact with Michael, but I knew him and he knew me.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Freda Payne
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection