Unfortunately, there was no silver lining to Freda Payne’s 1970 hit single “Band of Gold.” Because of a royalty dispute, “I haven’t been paid a cent in 25 years,” says the 50-year-old songstress. Still, she has worked steadily, touring some seven months a year with musicals like Sophisticated Ladies and her most recent road show, Blues in the Night. “I’m not a hit artist, per se,” she says. “I’m a career professional entertainer. That is what I do.”
When her R & B career fizzled in the early ’70s, Payne went back to the smoky jazz singing that made her a 13-year-old Detroit talent show winner who went on to share the stage with Pearl Bailey, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. “I’m just as spry as ever,” says Payne. “I fit into the same dress size I did 20 years ago—an 8. My voice is just as good, if not better. And I’m versatile. I can do the acting, the singing, the recording, the dancing.” As well as the chatting. In the early ’80s she was the host of a syndicated talk show, Today ‘s Black Woman.
She has done it all as a single mother to son Gregory Abbott Jr., now 18, from a brief marriage to music producer and songwriter Gregory Abbott. “She’s not rich,” says lyricist Lennie Bleecher, her longtime friend. “But she’s taken good care of her boy and continues to be an artist. One of the reasons she hasn’t achieved great heights since the ’70s is that she has been brought up a lady. Freda Payne is a good human being.” At her Beverly Hills apartment, where she settled in 1986, Payne switches into a slower gear by taking yoga lessons and playing tennis. But she’d like to up the rpm. “I think of it as being like lava,” she says. “You flow, you move, you’re hot, you’re alive. I’d like to hit the top of the charts again.” Adds Bleecher: “She may still end up the toast of Broadway. There’s a lot of mileage left in Freda Payne.”