Australian Jazz and Soul singer, Renee Geyer, has died at age 69.
Announcing the death in a statement, Geyer’s family said she died from complications following hip surgery, Daily Mail reported.
Describing the singer as a “force of nature”, the family statement read: “It is with immense sadness that we announce that Renee Geyer has passed away from complications following hip surgery.
“While in hospital, it was discovered that Renee also had inoperable lung cancer. She was in no pain and died peacefully amongst family and friends.”
Geyer, whose career spanned for over 50 years, was the first woman to be inducted into the Music Victoria Hall of Fame.
“Naturally we are all utterly devastated.”
“Just last month, Renée sang to a full house and was looking forward to another busy year ahead doing what she loved most – performing for her loyal fans around the country,” the statement said.
“Renée lived her life as she performed – on her own terms and to the fullest. Beloved and respected, she was a force of nature and a national treasure, and her passing leaves a giant void in the Australian music industry.”
Australian pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky described her as “Australia’s own Queen of Soul”.
In a tribute on Twitter, singer Marcia Hines described her as “a gamechanger. A soul diva. My sister in song,” who “possessed one of the greatest voices I have ever heard”.
Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil remembered singing with Geyer at a charity show: “Of course she blew the roof off. One of the very best voices we ever had the privilege to hear,” he wrote.
Renée described herself as “a white Hungarian Jew from Australia sounding like a 65-year-old black man from Alabama”. She began her singing career as a teenager in Sydney in the 1970s.
Her career would go on to span five decades, and include collaborations and performances with international artists including Sting, Chaka Khan, Neil Diamond and Bonnie Rait.
The Melbourne-born singer spent the first few years of the decade moving between different bands, including jazz-rock group ‘Sun’, with whom she recorded the album ‘Sun’ in 1972.
She launched her solo career with a self-titled album in 1973.
“It wasn’t a big thing that I could sing, it’s just when other people started thinking I was really great,” she told the ABC in an interview last year.
“People’s mouths opened agape. I started thinking, ‘Well, I must be pretty good.’
“So I just started doing it for a living and it was enjoyable and I kept doing it and people kept asking me back.”
Geyer’s highest-charting single, ‘Heading in the Right Direction’, was released in 1975.
The single — from her third studio album ‘Ready to Deal’ — peaked at number 31 on the Kent Music Report in 1976.
“It happened really quickly,” she said of her music career in a 1973 interview with the ABC.
“I don’t think [I’m confident]. I’m actually quite paranoid.
“But, when I sing something, I forget for that minute and, when I stop singing, I’m paranoid again.”
She released an autobiography, ‘Confessions of a Difficult Woman’, in 2000, and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2005.
Although nominated for an Aria award multiple times over her career, Geyer never won, but in 2005 she was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and in 2013 the Music Victoria Hall of Fame. In 2018, she received the lifetime achievement award at the Australian Women in Music awards.
Geyer was known for her uncompromising character and tendency to speak her mind; she nodded to her reputation with the title of her ninth studio album, Difficult Woman, in 1994.
She famously slapped interviewer Molly Meldrum in the face while live on air on Countdown, and was always candid about her struggles with heroin addiction in the 1970s and 1980s.
In her memoir, Geyer revealed she had been resuscitated three times after overdosing, and that she had undergone several abortions.
“At the times I got pregnant I was not responsible enough to have a child,” she said in an interview. “I regretted it every time I’ve had to do it, but I have no qualms about doing it.”
In 2010, Geyer avoided criminal charges after driving her car into a shop window in Melbourne.
In 2015, she pleaded guilty to a charge of intimidating with intent to cause fear, over a confrontation with a Sydney hotel receptionist. She was never married or had children.
Charlie Owen, a multi-instrumentalist who played with Geyer on many occasions, told ABC Radio Melbourne the whole Australian music industry was feeling the loss.
“She was a force of nature, [she] could excite, delight and fight. She was frisky, just about every side of the coin you could imagine, Renée could appeal to,” he said.