Jennifer Holliday: Talks Health Challenges, Dream Duets & Broadway Revivals

She’s Broadway royalty and Jennifer Holliday approaches the entertainment business on her own terms – recording when she wants to, how she wants to and whatever she wants to.

Now, after a 23-year hiatus, this Tony Award-winning original member of the acclaimed musical “Dreamgirls” has released her first full-length mainstream CD, “The Song Is You.”  A collection of soulful love songs and jazz standards produced by Daniel Moore (LeToya Luckett/Jagged Edge), Holliday is in fine form in her return to mainstream music.

“So much has happened over the years between my last album ‘I’m On Your Side’ in 1991 and my new CD! Primarily, the reason why it took me so long to record again was because the music industry itself, especially with regards to R&B music. It went through several major changes,” Holliday told AlwaysAList.com. “Then my personal life also went through a lot of major changes.”

The Houston-bred song stylist suffered some health challenges that had her wondering if she would ever be able to perform the way she used to.

“I suffered with clinical depression for most of those years,” Holliday confessed. “On top of that, I was diagnosed and battled with Multiple Sclerosis for 17 years.  I was partially-paralyzed early in my illness and I have been blind twice, most recently in 2007.”

While dealing with her health, Holliday released several gospel albums over the years. Her first one, “On & On” in 1994 and a more recent one, “Goodness & Mercy” in 2011. The powerhouse chanteuse also released several dance singles that topped the charts.

Jennifer Holliday

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There’s one song that Holliday can never stop singing—her signature ‘And I Am Telling You, I’m Not Going’ performed by Effie White in “Dreamgirls.”

“I’ve been singing ‘And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going’ for over 33 years,” she acknowledged, before adding: “No, I never get tired of singing MY song!”

Holliday was only 20-years-old when she first belted out the tune as an inexperienced, plus-sized woman. Now, the svelte 53-year-old said the song has taken on new meaning for her.

Sherri Shepherd, Jennifer Holliday & Barbara Walters

“When I first sang the song I didn’t even fully understand what I was really singing about or what being in love was all about.  So way back then I drew from my own mother’s painful divorce from my father.  As I grew into a woman with heartaches of my own then the song took on a more deeper meaning for me.  During the years that I was reclusive and struggling, it became a song of survival for me,” she explained.

‘And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going’ has been a go-to song for singing competitions and beauty pageants for years, but Holliday said reality TV birthed new life into the anthem and caused a career resurgence for her.  Most notably, “American Idol” finalist Jessica Sanchez performed the number on the 2012 season and had Holliday join her on the finale to sing it as a duet.

“Now, the youth of the new millennium have given both me and this song a rebirth.  They’ve made me relevant again through reality TV! The word winner is forever attached to the song and hopefully for me and my life as well,” she expressed.

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Jennifer Holliday

Speaking of duets, Holliday has always wanted to record with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Aretha Franklin. “As a child and as an adult, I’ve always wanted to sing a duet with The Queen of Soul! Although Miss Franklin has been very gracious and supportive of me throughout my career, somehow that dream has never come true,” she shared.

“My number two dream duet is John Legend, if I had enough money to hire John Legend to write and produce an album for me, I think that he could do for my career what Barry Manilow did for Dianne Warwick and her comeback,” Holliday expressed.

She’s also eager to duet with some of her other favorites like Adele, Sam Smith and Ledisi. “So many artists of many genres of music excite me right now, those are just a few,” Holliday offered.[pullquote_right]”Oh, you’re short! I thought you were so much taller than you are,” – Holliday shared her fans are often surprised by her height.[/pullquote_right]

And for those eager to see Holliday return to The Great White Way, she’s always open to a Broadway return.

“Presently, I have no plans on returning to the Broadway stage but I’d really love to do a revival of the all-black adaptation of ‘Hello Dolly,’ which Pearl Bailey starred and won a Tony Award. I would also like to do a revival of ‘St. Louis Woman’ that also starred Pearl Bailey,” Holliday closed.

In the meantime, “The Song Is You” is out now via Shanachie Entertainment.

Jennifer Holliday

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