‘Band of Gold’ singer, native Detroiter Freda Payne on returning to her jazz roots, dishing dirt about her past love life in memoir

Karu F. Daniels
New York Daily News

There’s much more to Freda Payne than meets the ear.

Although she gained international fame with the 1970 hit “Band of Gold,” the chanteuse is making new waves in the jazz genre — returning to her 1960s roots.

The Detroit-born diva recently released the album, “Let There Be Love,” featuring collaborations with R&B balladeer Kenny Lattimore, jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, pop singer Johnny Mathis and vocal powerhouse Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Freda Payne performs during The Friends of Jazz at UCLA honors Herbie Hancock in recognition of International Jazz Day at Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center on April 30, 2021, in Los Angeles.

“It’s a relief because … people expected me to be a soul singer and booked me on R&B shows and tours but now I can be happy because now I can sing the kind of music that I feel most comfortable with,” the 79-year-old singer and actress told the Daily News. “I can do it all.”

A deep dive into her catalog will confirm that: she’s performed renditions of classic pop standards such as “‘Round Midnight” and “I Cried for You” in 1964 as well as spunky interpretations of blues classics “See See Rider” and “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” in 1971. Sprinkled throughout her body of musical work are soulful versions of Barbra Streisand’s timeless classic “The Way We Were” and Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” alongside songs popularized by the Beatles, Nina Simone and the Righteous Brothers.

Accompanied by Frank Owens and a three-piece trio, the Grammy-nominated song stylist performed selections from the opus, and much more, for the first time at New York City’s Birdland Jazz Club on Nov. 22, a place she was very fond of during her years living in New York City during the 1960s.

“I used to go to the old Birdland when it was on Broadway in the ‘50s,” she recalled. “I used to go there a lot. I’ve never performed at this one.”

Payne, who started her professional singing career in big bands and performing with Duke Ellington, knows that even with bellowing out tunes composed by the likes of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and songs popularized by Nat King Cole and Billie Holliday under her belt, she can't leave the stage without singing “Band of Gold.”

“I do,” she chuckled when asked if she ever gets tired singing the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic.

“But you know what? I’m so grateful that that song has really kind of helped bring me this far,” she added about her signature song. “Because no matter what I do ... people know who I am because of “Band of Gold.”

In 2004, the song was ranked No. 391 among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Jim Caruso, who hosts Birdland’s “Cast Party” and produces the “Broadway at Birdland” series, is a longtime fan of the songstress, who trod the boards of the Great White Way in productions starring showbiz greats Leslie Uggams (1967′s “Hallelujah, Baby!”) and Sammy Davis Jr. (1974′s “Sammy”).

“I dare anyone to sit still while listening to Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold.’ Her iconic voice and that magical song are etched in our hearts and minds and have become part of music history,” Caruso told The News.

Payne recently performed the chart-topping hit — covered in the 1980s by cross-dressing disco icon Sylvester, pop stars Belinda Carlisle and Bonnie Tyler, and in the mid-’00s by “American Idol” standout Kimberley Locke” — during Whoopi Goldberg’s 66th birthday celebration on “The View.”

On Nov. 2, Payne released a juicy memoir — titled “Band of Gold” —detailing her life story, which leaves very little to the imagination when it comes to former romances with producer Quincy Jones, Motown songwriter Eddie Holland, U.S. Sen. John Tunney and chart-topping singers Edmund Sylvers and Gregory Abbott.

The Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Famer has no regrets about revealing so much; in some relationships (notably with Jones and Tunney), she played the part of the other woman in extramarital affairs. She said she didn’t feel like a homewrecker.

Of her motivation to offer up so many intimate details of her life at such a ripe age, Payne said she couldn’t think of no better time than now.

“Because I was 79, OK?” she deadpanned. “And I realized that a lot of my peers, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Candi Staton, Bettye LaVette, and Darlene Love, you name them, I can go on and on, have done their memoirs. And I said, ‘Wait a minute, all these friends of mine and people that I know have written their memoirs, and I haven’t written mine?’’”

“And I said, ‘I better hurry up and write this damn book before my memory goes.’”