Freda Payne – Band of Gold: A Memoir (Book Review)(2022) (Review)

Freda Payne – Band of Gold: A Memoir (Book Review)(2022) (Review)

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Book Review: Freda Payne – Band of Gold: A Memoir

There’s nothing quite like a good memoir to round out a listener’s appreciation of a longtime favorite singer. The performers who deliver the tracks that help shape the timeline of our personal experiences allow us to better understand what makes music special to us as they open up about their own journeys and the circumstances surrounding their most influential recordings – and , likewise, sometimes overlooked additional professional efforts. Whether written sequentially and methodically, or presented in a freer, idea-based context, a solid autobiography can serve as a springboard to dig deeper into an artist’s catalog and get a fuller picture of their output.

Freda Payne, known to the masses for her early 1970s soul hits “Band of Gold” and “Bring the Boys Home,” has six decades of music experience under her belt. In his book, gold band (co-authored with Mark Bego), it sheds light on his professional activities in detail, while offering a number of insights into his personal background and how he shaped his career choices.

From her childhood in Detroit to her determination to succeed on her own in New York, Payne reveals that while she was exposed to a number of musical facets early on through the family line, it was first her younger sister, Scherrie (who later became Supreme in the 1970s), who initially showed the most interest in pursuing performance. Luckily, however, Big Sis began to make a name for herself in the city via local competitions and television. While she gives no clue as to why her father was irrelevant so early in her life, she does detail how her mother cared for her children with care in matters of family and business. Thus, several potentially big opportunities were passed over due to questionable contracts during Payne’s teenage years.

One of the most compelling aspects of gold band is Payne’s account of experiences and relationships with legendary figures from a bygone era: Frank Sinatra, Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, to name a few. His relaying of these stories does not gloss over unpleasant situations, but the tone is never bitter or insulting. Even when discussing heartbreaking storylines that came into play with Eddie Holland during his time at Invictus Records, she is unbiased and attributes a lot to lessons learned.

Payne is also relatively thorough in her discussion of most of her discography. She gives space to the writers, producers and musicians involved in achieving the range of jazz, R&B and pop on her 60s and 70s albums. The only notable omission is a closer look at the recording sessions of her beginnings, After the lights go out and more, who came after a number of years playing clubs and revues across the country. Along with her details of each phase of her career, however, she includes her assessments of her romantic liaisons, some of which complicated the practical side of events.

Readers will notice that Payne doesn’t hold back his opinions on both his peers in the industry and others who have come into the fold in recent years. It gives a clear view of his paths taken in entertainment, where other artists sometimes forgo any negative feedback in the memoir and therefore don’t display as much personality. It’s an effective tool for conveying how her thoughts on her own decisions affected the roads she later took. There is a context, however, in which his memories become somewhat confusing. Referring to her relationship with wealthy businessman Edgar Bronfman, Jr., she makes it clear upfront that she wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship due to his erratic behavior, but later laments to several times that she did not marry him given his potential to elevate her own social position.

In contrast, Payne is notably objective in most other cases, be it the decline of her marriage to Gregory Abbott; the opportunity to record an album passed when her then-boyfriend would not have been allowed to produce it alone; or, losing an invaluable manager to stay in an emotionally damaging relationship. Through these candid examples, as well as a handful of observations on bygone traditions of show business, Payne connects the dots between life and art in a way that is continually engaging and illuminating. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

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