Freda Charcilia Payne was born September 19, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan to Frederick and Charsilee Payne. She attended Palmer Elementary School and Crossman Elementary School. Payne also modeled and took ballet and Afro-Cuban dance. In 1956, while at Hutchins Middle School, she appeared on the nationally televised Ted Mack's The Original Amateur Hour. Singing jingles, Payne was featured on WJR radio's Make Way for Youth and many other local television and radio shows. Payne's mother spurned a contract from, then unknown, Barry Gordy. When she graduated from Central High School in 1959, Payne toured with Pearl Bailey's musical review and sang with the Duke Ellington Band. Her 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, she 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, ran 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" in 1970 was ranked #1 in the U.K. and #3 in the U.S.A., her first gold record. Other hits included "Deeper and Deeper", "You Brought Me Joy" and the anti-war, "Bring the Boys Home". As her star kept rising, Payne appeared in television specials and toured the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Although she left Invictus in 1973, to date she has recorded 21 albums including several remakes of "Band of Gold". In 1974, she 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 Todays Black Woman, a talk show, in 1980 - 81 before joining the cast of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies in 1982. She 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 into the 1990's. Payne film appearances include: Private Obsession (1995), Sprung (1997), Ragdoll (1999), The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000) and Fire and Ice (2001).
Returning to her jazz roots, Payne recently toured with Darlene Love in a critically acclaimed revue entitled "Love and Payne". With a son from her 1976 marriage to Gregory Abbott, the fitness conscious Payne lives in the Hollywood Hills. Her sister, Scherrie Payne, also a singer, was a member of Glass House and the last lead singer of the Supremes.
Payne was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 28, 2005.