Jennifer Holliday has been proclaimed by both critics and fans alike as one of history’s greatest Broadway legends. Over 25 years ago, Miss Holliday’s show-stopping, heart-wrenching performance of the torch ballad “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going” in the smash hit Broadway musical, Dreamgirls, made her a household name and introduced her big soulful voice to the world. Her portrayal of Effie “Melody” White, a role which she co-created, not only brought theatergoers to their feet for 8 performances a week, but also garnered her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocalist.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Holliday went straight from the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church Choir to the Broadway stage in the Big Apple. One Sunday, while singing in the church choir, she was discovered by dancer Jamie Patterson who was touring in the national company of A Chorus Line. Jamie not only set up an audition for Jennifer in New York for the show Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God, but he also bought her an airline ticket and made arrangements for her to stay with his aunt. During the audition with the show’s creator and director, Vinnette Carroll, Jennifer sang her favorite hymn, “God Will Take Care Of You.” And that He did. She was hired for the show that same day.
Jennifer toured with Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God for five months and then made her Broadway debut with the show as Jennifer-Yvette Holliday.
While on Broadway as her reputation grew, Jennifer came to the attention of many notables and critics, but the most notable of them all was the renowned Broadway director and choreographer Michael Bennett, the creator of A Chorus Line. At the time Jennifer wasn’t familiar with Bennett, but as soon as he heard her sing, he knew he wanted to work with her. He invited her to participate in an untitled project that he was producing. Even though Jennifer was still performing in Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God, Bennett’s project sounded too good to pass up. Of course the project turned out to be Dreamgirls. At this early stage of the workshop process however the role of Effie was not fully developed and even the signature song “And I’m Telling You…” had not been written yet. During workshops for the show, Jennifer began shaping and changing the storyline of Effie’s character to be what she felt would be a more truth portrayal. And around this time Bennett suggested that it would be better if Jennifer dropped the hyphen and go by Jennifer Holliday, which she did.
Dreamgirls had previews in Boston opened on Broadway on December 21, 1981 at the Imperial Theatre…and the rest, as they say is history!
Jennifer considers herself to be a Broadway Baby and theater continues to be a significant part of her career. Her recent theater credits include Sing Mahalia Sing: The Mahalia Jackson Story, Downhearted Blues: The Bessie Smith Story, Harlem Suite (with Aretha Franklin), Chicago (starring as “Mama Morton”), Grease (starring as “Teen Angel”) and Black Nativity (starring as the “Angel of God”). Jennifer also reprised her role as Effie to sold-out crowds and rave reviews in the 2007 Theater of the Stars production of Dreamgirls at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
Music lovers around the country and Jennifer’s die-hard fans, both old and new, are hoping that her latest “Rediscovery” will inspire and encourage her to record again. It has been almost 15 years since she recorded a solo project. Holliday’s recording career has been moderately successful with the release of five albums beginning in 1983. Her second album, “Say You Love Me,” won her a second Grammy for her rendition of Duke Ellington’s classic, “Come Sunday.”
Jennifer’s arrangement and powerful recording of “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going” remains her biggest chart-topping success to date. The song was #1 on the R&B Charts for four consecutive weeks and a Top 40 hit on the Pop Charts. From 1985 to 1992 she has enjoyed solid public support with five Top 10 singles on the R&B and Dance Charts. The millennium brought her not one, but two “Best of Jennifer Holliday” CD Collections, which have received favorable response.
Over the years Jennifer has worked with and recorded with many other major artists including Barbra Streisand, Luther Vandross, David Foster, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Maurice White and Foreigner on a special version of “I Want To Know What Love Is.”
Savvy moviegoers can hear Jennifer singing on compilation albums for films such as “In The Mood: The Sonny Wisecarver Story” (1987), “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” (1988), “Magic Man,” “The Five Heartbeats” (1991) and “Amazing Grace” (2006). She composed and sang the original songs for the soundtrack to “The Rising Place” (2001).
Jennifer Holliday the actress got a big career break when celebrated Hollywood television writer and producer David E. Kelley saw her on the Rosie O’Donnell show and gave her a call about making a guest appearance on “Ally McBeal,” his new hit television series for Fox starring Calista Flockhart. Jennifer happily accepted the invitation. The response to her version of Randy Newman’s “Short People” was so overwhelming that Kelley wrote her into more episodes and eventually made her character, Lisa Knowles, a regular! As the outspoken, quirky choir director and lead soloist at McBeal’s church, Jennifer’s character appeared on the series for five seasons.
A number of other prime-time television series have featured appearances by Jennifer including: “Touched By An Angel,” “Hang Time,” “Happily Ever After,” “The Love Boat” and “Ellen.”
Jennifer captivated and wowed TV viewers with her surprise appearance on the 2007 BET Awards. She’s performed many times on television and some of her favorite experiences have been performing on “The Leading Ladies” (PBS), “4th of July Celebration with the Boston Pops Symphony” (CBS), “The Singer and the Song: Live from the White House” (PBS), “A Capitol 4th with The National Symphony” (PBS) and “Everybody Say, Yes!” with Paul Simon (Showtime).
Jennifer Holliday has been crowned a “singer’s singer.” She’s truly an electrifying performer who delivers her songs with deep passion and sincere emotion. She’s a vocal powerhouse whose soulful and throaty style touches hearts and leaves her audiences moved with inspiration and with their spirits soaring. She feels that she is at her absolute best when she is singing live in front of an audience. To witness her in concert is an unforgettable experience.
Jennifer has sung all over the world and continues to perform concert dates regularly with her 14 piece band. Her current repertoire showcases new songs, jazz classics, pop standards, show tunes and much more. She is thrilled to perform live with many of America’s most distinguished symphony and philharmonic orchestras, among them: The Boston Pops with Keith Lockhart, The San Diego Symphony with Marvin Hamlisch, The Rochester Philharmonic with Jeffrey Tyzik, the Philadelphia Symphony with Peter Nero, and the Cincinnati Pops with Eric Kuntzel, just to name a few!
Considering herself a “bi-partisan songbird,” Jennifer is both honored and grateful to have performed at the White House for President Ronald Reagan, President George Bush, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.
Whether singing at the White House or from the choir of a store front church, Jennifer always gives everything to her audiences and sings from her heart – and her heart is just as big as her voice. Charity work is very important to Jennifer and she uses both her voice and her heart to raise money and awareness for the many causes that are of special importance to her. In 2000 she received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Berklee College of Music for her work on behalf of mental health awareness, depression and suicide prevention. Jennifer continues to believe that music has a healing power and she also strongly believes that her music and her story are her gift to her audiences. She strives to bring hope, comfort and love to everyone who may hear her voice. In the summer of 2007, Jennifer founded the Yolanda D. King “Achieving The Dream” Artistic Scholarship Fund in memory of her beloved friend, fellow actor, and eldest daughter of Dr. Martin and Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Scholarships will be awarded to college students for books and school supplies who attend a Historically Black College or University in the field of Music, Theater and Film. Some of Jennifer’s other favorite causes and charities include The National MS Society; The Lupus Foundation; Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; Operation Smile; Youth, Inc; The Special Olympics; The Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center; The Iris Alliance Fund; The Suicide Prevention Action Network; The Human Rights Campaign; The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS; AID Atlanta; Project AIDS Los Angeles; The Diva Foundation; Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; Odyssey Health Care (National Hospices) and The Dream Foundation.