October 19, 1960– Jennifer Holliday:
“Well, you know I’m in the theater, so of course, everybody’s gay in theater pretty much! Unfortunately, I also lost a lot of gay friends because the 1980s was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, so I saw firsthand how devastating the illness was. It was a very devastating time. I knew lots of gay people, and was dear, dear friends with them, but I also lost so many dear friends as well.”
One early Wednesday morning in October 1999, I was just one of hundreds of men at the end of night at Splash, NYC’s iconic West 17th Street gay bar noted for its wet go-go boys, stiff drinks, and gay debauchery. Just before closing, the bar’s video wall was playing a series of iconic gay-themed videos that wound down with Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand dueting on Happy Days Are Here Again and climaxed with Jennifer Holliday doing And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. I somehow, in that moment, found the real power in that performance and I was enthralled, even though I had heard it a hundred times.
Holliday’s career was built upon her stage successes, especially her performance as Effie Melody White in the much-loved musical Dreamgirls, and her big number And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. Gay Director/Choreographer Michael Bennett’s final masterpiece, Dreamgirls opened in late 1981 and ran for four years on Broadway. It took on gender and racial issues with an almost all black cast, with three female leading roles. Set in the 1960s, when the Black Power Movement was influential and black artists starting to succeed in the music industry with black music becoming accessible to all audiences. It’s the story of three women working their way up in the music industry to achieve their dreams while the most powerful people in the business are men. In the end, the women stand up for their rights and become influential figures.
Holliday’s career began in 1979, when she was 19-years-old. She was cast in the Biblical Broadway musical Your Arms Too Short To Box With God. Her performance was such a knock out that the creators of Dreamgirls wrote the character of Effie in Dreamgirls just for her.
Unusual for a song from a Broadway show in that era, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going was released as a single in 1982, reaching Number One on Billboard’s R&B chart, and Number 22 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Holliday won a 1982 Tony Award for Dreamgirls and the recording won a Grammy Award in 1983.
Holliday released three hit albums in the 1980s: Feel My Soul in 1983, Say You Love Me in 1985 a collaborated with Earth, Wind & Fire’s, Maurice White, and Get Close To My Love in 1987.
Holliday’s albums in the 1990s received strong reviews, but only middling sales and she changed labels and styles several times before she concentrated on session singing and doing mostly Gospel Music. She collaborated with Luther Vandross, Andrae Crouch, and The Mighty Clouds Of Joy.
In the 1990’s, Holliday also dealt with personal problems, including depression and weight loss and gains, all while going back to school and receiving a Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music in 2000.
Holliday returned to Broadway as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago in 2001 and as Shug Avery in The Color Purple on Broadway. It was the same role Jennifer Hudson had played just months before her.
It was not the first time the two Jennifer H’s career paths were tangled up together. Hudson played the role Holliday had originated and made famous in the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls, bringing her an Academy Award. That had to have hurt. Holliday played Effie White in St. Louis Municipal Opera production of Dreamgirls in the summer of 2012 and then announced she was done with the role. Holliday:
“I don’t think I’m much of Effie today as I was as a young girl, mainly because Effie was overweight and I’m no longer overweight, so a lot of things that came out of creating her back then … a few things might still exist, but I’ve grown up now.”
As you might expect, Holliday and Hudson didn’t start on the best of terms. Holliday was public in her disappointment that the younger performer snubbed her by not reaching out to her for the making of the 2006 film. Holliday:
“You’re young and you have a lot of people around you trying to advise you. She was ill advised, because she wasn’t old enough to say, ‘I don’t care what you say, I’m going to call and find Jennifer Holliday, and I’m going to do whatever … and maybe she even tried to.”
“Something that had hurt me so much actually turned out to be one of the greatest things that could have ever happen to me. Had it not been for the movie, had it not been for her snub … it would’ve been different.”
“Maybe had she embraced me in the beginning, maybe it would’ve been short lived. But because she didn’t embrace me … it made its own story, and it made it last longer.”
For Holliday, she needed Hudson to reach out to her because she had helped created Effie White. Holliday:
“I didn’t step into the part. I co-created the character. The show didn’t even have a name then. It was just called ‘Project No. 19.'”
That is why it was so meaningful when the two beautiful, talented Jennifers gave a goosebump-inducing performance together of And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going at the 2007 BET Awards.
In January, just days after Holliday was listed among the artists participating in President-elect Grab ‘Em By The Pussy’s Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration, she announced that she was dropping out of the inauguration performance following huge protests from her LGBTQ fans.
In an open letter to her “beloved LGBT community” Holliday explained that she agreed to the performance because of her reputation as a “bi-partisan songbird.” Holliday admitted that the response from the LGBTQ community to her performance, including a Daily Beast article titled: “Jennifer Holliday Will Perform at Trump’s Inauguration, Which Is Heartbreaking to Gay Fans”, convinced her to pull out of the concert.
Holliday was to have joined an unlikely lineup that included White Nationalist favorites 3 Doors Down, Toby Keith, and Lee Greenwood at the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the evening before the biggest crowd in history gathered to witness the inauguration.
Holliday’s exit ended up to be just one in a string of embarrassments for Trump’s inauguration committee: Members of the Radio City Rockettes and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir voiced frustration about performing for a White Nationalist, and the inauguration team had a tough time attracting any A-list talent to their event. There was no Beyoncé at that shingdig. She told Trump: And I’m Telling You, I’m not Going. No, No No, No Way!
Here is Holliday’s letter:
To My Beloved LGBTQ Community:
Please allow me this opportunity to speak to you directly and to explain why I originally made my decision to perform at the inauguration which was what I had thought would be my simply keeping in my tradition of being a bi-partisan songbird having sung for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
I was asked to sing a song for what was presented to me as the “Welcome Concert For The People”– in my mind I was reflecting on the past times of being asked to sing for presidents and I only focused on the phrase “For The People”… I thought, For America!
I was honestly just thinking that I wanted my voice to be a healing and unifying force for hope through music to help our deeply polarized country… Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
In light of the information pointed out to me via the Daily Beast article on yesterday, my only choice must now be to stand with the LGBT Community and to state unequivocally that I WILL NOT PERFORM FOR THE WELCOME CONCERT OR FOR ANY OF THE INAUGURATION FESTIVITIES!
I sincerely apologize for my lapse of judgment, for being uneducated on the issues that affect every American at this crucial time in history and for causing such dismay and heartbreak to my fans.
Please know that I HEAR YOU and I feel your pain. The LGBT Community was mostly responsible for birthing my career and I am deeply indebted to you… You have loved me faithfully and unconditionally and for so many years you provided me with work even though my star had long since faded.
Thank you for communicating with me, I had no idea that I still meant so much to all of you.
Thank you for your posted comments both the good supportive ones as well as the ugly hurtful ones.
With LOVE & Appreciation,
JENNIFER HOLLIDAY, “The Original DreamGirl”