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Freda Payne

Singer and actress Freda Charcelia Payne was born September 19, 1942, in Detroit, Michigan, to Frederick and Charsilee Payne. Payne attended Palmer Elementary School and Crossman Elementary School; she also modeled and took ballet and Afro-Cuban dance. In 1956, while at Hutchins Middle School, Payne appeared on the nationally televised Ted Mack’s The Original Amateur Hour; singing jingles, she was featured on WJR radio’s Make Way for Youth, in addition to many other local television and radio shows. Payne’s mother spurned a contract from the then unknown Barry Gordy. When she graduated from Central High School in 1959, Payne began touring with Pearl Bailey’s musical review and sang with the Duke Ellington Band. Payne’s first album was After the Lights Go Down for ABC’s Impulse Records in 1962.

Moving to New York City in 1963, Payne made appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show and The Dick Cavette Show. In 1964, Payne joined the Four Tops, Billy Eckstine, and Nipsey Russell on the Quincy Jones Tour. Payne was understudy for Leslie Uggams in Broadway’s Hallelujah Baby! in 1967; she also performed in the Equity Theatre production of Lost in the Stars. Stardom for Payne began when she signed with Invictus Records, a label run by her old Detroit friends Brian Holland, Edward Holland, Jr., and Lamont Dozier (formerly of Motown) in 1969. Payne’s smash single Band of Gold, released in 1970, was ranked #1 in the United Kingdom and #3 in the United States; it was her first gold record. Payne’s other hits included Deeper and Deeper, You Brought Me Joy, and the anti-war, Bring the Boys Home.

As her star kept rising, Payne began appearing in television specials and touring the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Although she left Invictus in 1973, date Payne continued recording, pressing twenty-one albums, including several remakes of Band of Gold. In 1974, Payne made the cover of Jet magazine after she was dubbed a Dame of Malta, by the Knights of Malta and the Sovereign Military, and Hospital Order of St. John of Jerusalem by the Prince of Rumania. Payne hosted Today’s Black Woman, a talk show, in 1980 and 1981, before joining the cast of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies in 1982. Payne also starred in productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ with Della Reese, The Blues in the Night, Jellies Last Jam with Gregory Hines and Savion Glover in the 1990s. Payne’s film appearances include: Private Obsession in 1995; Sprung in 1997; Ragdoll in 1999; The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps in 2000; and Fire and Ice in 2001.

Returning to her jazz roots, Payne later toured with Darlene Love in a critically acclaimed revue entitled Love and Payne.

Accession Number




Interview Date

4/28/2005 |and| 10/7/2005



Last Name


Maker Category

Central High School

Palmer Elementary School

Caroline Crossman Elementary School

Harry B. Hutchins Intermediate School

Crosman Alternative High School

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean, Hawaii

Favorite Quote

What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Short Description

Stage actress and singer Freda Payne (1942 - ) pressed twenty-one albums, including the hit single, Band of Gold.

Favorite Color

Blue, Maroon, Red, Tan, Yellow

Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Freda Payne's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Freda Payne lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Freda Payne talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Freda Payne talks about her mother's upbringing and career in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Freda Payne states her father's name

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Freda Payne shares the story of her name

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Freda Payne talks about her father, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Freda Payne talks about her paternal family's relationship to the Vanderbilt family

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Freda Payne talks about her father, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Freda Payne speculates about how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Freda Payne describes her parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Freda Payne describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Freda Payne describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Detroit, Michigan, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Freda Payne describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Detroit, Michigan, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Freda Payne recalls her childhood personality and foray into playing piano

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Freda Payne recalls her elementary school years in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Freda Payne remembers her favorite entertainers from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Freda Payne remembers starring in a play at Hutchins Middle School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Freda Payne recalls her favorite childhood movie stars, Audrey Hepburn and Dorothy Dandridge

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Freda Payne remembers discovering her talent for singing

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Freda Payne reflects upon her personality as a youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Freda Payne recalls performing on Ted Mack's 'The Original Amateur Hour' at the age of fourteen

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Freda Payne remembers her breakthrough on Ted Mack's 'The Original Amateur Hour'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Freda Payne recalls HistoryMaker Berry Gordy's interest in her as a young performer

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Freda Payne remembers rejecting contracts with Motown Records

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Freda Payne reflects on HistoryMaker Berry Gordy's success with Diana Ross

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Freda Payne remembers singing with The Three Debs during her time at Central High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Freda Payne recalls her hiring as a backup singer for the Pearl Bailey Revue

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Freda Payne recalls performing as a backup singer for Pearl Bailey after high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Freda Payne recalls declining to sign a ten-year contract with Duke Ellington's band after performing with them

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Freda Payne remembers performing with HistoryMaker Quincy Jones' band in the mid-1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Freda Payne talks about working with the Four Tops

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Freda Payne talks about segregated hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Freda Payne talks about the rise of Motown in the mid-1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Freda Payne recalls her first album, 'After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More!!!'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Freda Payne remembers her recordings in the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Freda Payne remembers appearing on 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Freda Payne remembers talk shows she appeared on, including 'The Merv Griffin Show'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Freda Payne recalls the aftermath of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Freda Payne remembers moving to New York City and acting as an understudy for Leslie Uggams in 'Hallelujah Baby!'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Freda Payne remembers signing with Invictus Records in 1968

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Freda Payne talks about the state of Motown in the late 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Freda Payne lists hit songs she recorded with Invictus Records

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Freda Payne talks about her hit single 'Band of Gold'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Freda Payne talks about her controversial song 'Bring the Boys Home'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Freda Payne talks about her two remakes of her single 'Bring the Boys Home'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Freda Payne talks about her movie roles and various songs

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Freda Payne talks about suing Invictus Records

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Freda Payne talks about hosting the talk show 'Today's Black Woman'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Freda Payne talks about being made a Dame of the Knights of Malta

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Freda Payne talks about the end of her talk show, 'Today's Black Woman'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Freda Payne talks about her performance career after the end of her talk show

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Freda Payne recalls funny stories from her days as a performer

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Freda Payne talks about performing in the play 'The Blues in the Night'

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Freda Payne recalls her marriage to Gregory Abbott

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Freda Payne mentions her cabaret show, 'Love and Payne'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Freda Payne shares her opinion on contemporary singers

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Freda Payne talks about her favorite singers and songs

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Freda Payne describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Freda Payne talks about her career's longevity and drug abuse by entertainers

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Freda Payne talks about her family

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Freda Payne reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Freda Payne talks about giving to Minority AIDS Initiative

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Freda Payne describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Freda Payne explains how she stays healthy

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Freda Payne narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Freda Payne narrates her photographs, pt. 2







Freda Payne remembers discovering her talent for singing
Freda Payne remembers signing with Invictus Records in 1968
You started taking piano lessons.$$When I was five.$$Okay. So, did you take them very long?$$Until I was twelve.$$Okay.$$It kind of just, when I got to be about twelve, I kind of, I just lost interest. I was really more starting to, that was when I had discovered I could sing, and I was like wanting to sing more than concentrate and sit down and practice.$$Now, how did you discover that you could sing? Or how were you discovered as a singer?$$I had a piano teacher. Her name was Ruth Ann Johnson [ph.], Mrs. Johnson. And she, we had been taking--I'd taken--my sister [HistoryMaker Scherrie Payne] and I both had taken piano lessons from her for like about eight years. And there was a recital every year, a yearly recital. And so, she was trying to find some of the, some of her students who could sing, who had voices, who could sing a little bit for an ensemble to perform at the recital. And she said, "[HistoryMaker] Freda [Payne], can you sing?" I said, "I don't know." She said, "Let me hear your voice." She said, "I need singers for my ensemble, and maybe you could fit in. But let me hear your voice." So, she started playing, and she said, "Sing this." And I said okay. And she said, "Freda, you have a lovely voice." And she said, "I thought it was just Scherrie. But you have a lovely voice." She says, "I want you to sing a solo in addition to singing in the ensemble." So, she gave me this song she picked out. And she says--and she taught me the song. It was called 'Stars are the Windows of Heaven.' And then the ensemble song was called 'June is Bursting Out all Over' ['June is Bustin Out All Over']. And when I sang at the recital, all my mother's [Charsilee Hickman Farley] friends--my mother invited all her friends, and they were all excited. They said, "Charsilee, we didn't know Freda could sing. We thought when you told us that Freda was going to sing you were just mistaken, you were mistaking it for Scherrie." And they started, people starting asking me to sing at their little like teas and banquets and dances, stuff like that. And that's how it all started. And so then I started entering talent contests, just little local things where you would win. Like once I think I won a radio. And then I won a trophy and a radio, and I won some money. And then that's when I went on, and then I went to Ted Mack on TV.$$Now, that--$$That was Channel 4.$$Now, how old are you then?$$With Ted Mack, I was thirteen.$$Thirteen.$$So, we're talking about like a year later.$$And you're in eighth grade?$$Yeah.$$Was that the Ted Mack amateur hour ['The Original Amateur Hour']?$$No, no, this was still Detroit [Michigan].$$Detroit?$$This was local, Channel 4, WJBK. It was Channel 4 in Detroit. And it came on every Saturday, and it was called Ed McKenzie's dance hour ['Ed McKenzie's Saturday Night']. And he had, it was like '[American] Bandstand,' it was like 'American Bandstand,' but it was Detroit's bandstand. (Laughter) And he would invite like local entertainers who were like appearing in Detroit, who were stars, you know, to come on the show. And then a portion of the show was designated for a talent contest, and they would have four acts. And so, I was on it. And you had to audition for it and everything. So, what happened, was when I auditioned for it, I danced. I wanted to be a dancer, because my mother also let Scherrie and I start taking ballet at the age--I was eleven and Scherrie was almost ten. And we started taking ballet, and I started--I felt like I wanted to be a dancer, because I liked dancing. So when I auditioned, I created and choreographed my own dance number, and I danced. And they said, "Yes, you can be in the contest." I went home that night and I started thinking. I said, "I don't want to dance, I want to sing." And I told my mother, and she said, "Well, I'm going to call them and tell them, and they're probably going to want to see you again." So she called them, and they wanted to hear me sing. And I sang, and they said, "Yes, you can sing." And I won. And then about three or four months, about four months later they called me back to do it again, and I won again.$$Now, this is before the Ted Mack Show?$$This is before Ted Mack.$$Now, when did Ted Mack happen?$$That happened--I must--what's that, I was fourteen.$$Okay.$$I was about fourteen.$$I'm not trying to get ahead, but--$$No, that's okay. That's why we're here.$$Okay.$$I think I was fourteen, and I think I did have to audition for that. And then we flew to New York [New York], they flew us to New York--$$Okay. We're going to pause.$$--my mother and I.$$Okay.$So you went from that show ['Hallelujah Baby!'] to the one in '68 [1968] with Kurt Weill?$$Then I went, I did 'Lost in the Stars' after that.$$'Lost in the Stars.' Okay, okay. And so, what happened after '68 [1968], after 'Lost in the Stars'?$$After '68 [1968], after 'Lost in the Stars'--$$Is that when you started recording for--$$Yeah, that's when I--right, because that's when--what happened, in '68 [1968] that's when I got a call, that's when Brian Holland popped up. And he said, "What are you doing, what's going on?" I said, "Well, I'm just, I mean I'm doing stuff, you know." He said, "Well, do you have a manager?" I had just gotten out of, my contract had just ended with Joe Scandore. I said, "No." He said, "Are you signed with a label?" I had just finished my deal with ABC-Paramount [Records]. I said, "No, I'm not with ABC-Paramount anymore." He said, "Do you want to come with us?" I said, "I thought you were with Motown." He said, "No, we're leaving Motown. We're forming our own label, and we're going to call it Invictus [Records] in Detroit [Michigan]. And we want you, do you think, you know, would you want to come with us?" I said, "Yeah," you know. So I flew to Detroit and sat down and talked, and we signed contracts. And the rest is history.$$Invictus, I was just thinking. Why the name Invictus?$$You know who came up with the title Invictus? What's her name? [Ruth] Copeland, she was an artist on Invictus. God, what's that girl's name? Nothing ever happened. You know, she never really, nothing ever happened. Like, she never really, like I think she should have become bigger.$$Isn't that a poem, "Black as the night that covers me as the pits from pole to pole--$$Right.$$--I thank whatever gods may be for my immortal, my unconquerable soul" ['Invictus,' William Ernest Henley].$$Right, that's right, right. But it's a white woman who came up with that, I'll never forget that.$$Okay.$$But that's where it came from.$$Okay.$$That gave them the idea.$$So, this time, Motown [Records] was (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And if I'm wrong, I stand to be corrected (laughter).