Original Dreamgirls Broadway Star, Jennifer Holliday, Re-Entering The Music Industry In A Major Way

Updated: Jul 9


Broadway Icon & 2x Grammy Award Winner! The original Effie in the Broadway hit "Dreamgirls" starring in "Arms Too Short To Box With God." The Powerhouse Vocalist, Jennifer Holliday Is Making Her Comeback With A Brand New Single, "So In Love", And She's Rising Fast! J Hud's predecessor was the original Jennifer Holiday, and she will always remain. Her Grammy Award-winning song, "And I'm Telling You," has been a hit for decades. Not only has she become an icon on Broadway for her role in the Broadway play, "Dream Girls," but she also starred in "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God." In addition to being an actor and a singer, she's releasing new music that's getting everyone's attention. Our interview covers all of these topics and more.


First and foremost, thank you so much for allowing me the pleasure of interviewing you. You’re such an amazing talent and gift to this world! Oh, thank you.


You’re welcome! Jennifer, Let’s go back down memory lane. Where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Houston, TX.


I’ve never been to Texas before. Tell me about growing up in the South? Well, everything has its pluses and minus. The South is the South which is different from California. I don’t know too much about the background of California, but it seems to be a much more open and liberal type environment. Texas is a very conservative state.


Yes, that’s true. California as a whole is a liberal State. Jennifer, at what age did you know that God gave you the talent to sing? I started singing around the age of 12 but I got discovered at age 17 while singing in the church choir.


Wow, that's wonderful! What’s the name of that church? The Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.


You’re such a powerful singer! Were you formally trained or just a natural God-given gift? I've never taken any voice lessons of any sort; my gift is natural.


Later in your career, you became a Broadway sensation. But let's go back a little bit. Have you ever been to any school place when you were young? I didn't. At one time, I thought about it, but I was torn between wanting to become a lawyer or a politician.



Wow! That’s awesome! I think you would have been excellent at either one of those career paths. Thank you. In Houston, there was this amazing woman named Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and I idolized her. In the back of my head, I thought, I want to sing but I also want to be like this amazing woman who’s helping our community and representing us through congress. I was torn as to the direction that I should take; therefore, I didn’t become involved in outside activities like school plays. On the other hand, I was on the debate team. That was the route I chose.


Eventually, you did choose the arts above politics and law. Tell me about your transition into Broadway? I was discovered at 17 and my first show was called “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God.” That was where it all began for me. While I was in that production, I began working with Dreamgirls. Basically, I was in both productions simultaneously. I'm considered a Broadway baby. I went straight from the church choir to the Broadway stage.


Upon entry into the Broadway world, what did you enjoy the most about it? I wasn't aware that there were black plays and writers. I found that fascinating. It was great to know that I was a part of an all-black cast Broadway play. It was directed by an acclaimed director, an African American woman. The music was also written by two African American women. It was great to experience that. What was even better is that the audience enjoyed the show. That was my first experience on Broadway.


When you first stepped onto the Broadway stage, were you nervous? No, I wasn't nervous because I had prior experience singing in the church choir. The church I grew up singing in was one of the first megachurches. Because I came out of a large black Baptist congregation, I was used to singing in front of people. What I wasn’t used to was the structure. When you're singing in front of a church, you stand where you want. But when you're on Broadway, they tell you where to stand, sing and dance. I wasn't used to that. That's the part that was different. The areas that I was most fearful in were remembering my mark, my queue, the choreography, and my stage entrance. Those things made me more nervous than the actual performance.



Oh yes, the blocking. Yes, the blocking. That’s a good word. Wow, you know?


Yes, in addition to all the other hats I wear, I'm also an indie filmmaker. Well, alright!


In Dreamgirls you played the powerful role of Effie and what an extraordinary job you did. Your voice was insane! The way you sang in that performance was out of this world. I didn't think that it was humanly possible for anybody to sing so well, but you nailed in Jennifer!

Thank you.


You’re welcome. What type of preparation went into preparing for that character? And were there any Character traits of Effie that connected to your own personal life? What helped me with Effie was that I got a chance to be a part of the development of the character. We did a workshop. In fact, they still hold workshops on Broadway, but they’re expensive. It's not the same as it was when I came upon Broadway. Back then, you could work a show, develop it, and do out-of-town tryouts, but they’ve stopped most of that due to cost. Because I was a part of that developmental system, it gave me a great opportunity to thoroughly develop my role.


A lot of people don't know this, but Nell Carter was originally cast in the role of Effie, but when she landed a role in the hit TV series, “Give Me A Break” she was unable to fulfill that role. Now that the role became open, they had to find someone to fulfill the role of Effie. They saw me performing in the play, Arms Too Short To Box With God and asked me would Ibe interested in working with them.


So I worked with Dream Girls from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Arms Too Short To Box With God from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Originally, Effie was not supposed to be in the second act, so I was able to carry her over into the second act by developing more of her story and songs.


That’s what made the process different than just someone stepping into a part that's been finalized. When I came aboard, Effie's role had not been completely written, nor her songs. It was an honor to be a vital part of the developmental process of that character. It was exciting and interesting!


As far as connecting to Effie's role. the one thing that we had in common was our struggle with weight. Because I battled with the fluctuation of my weight, I was able to identify with Effie in that sense. Other than that, our stories are different. Unlike Effie, I wasn't trying to break into the show business, and I didn’t have a love relationship like Effie had at that age. To get into that aspect of her life, I had to draw inspiration from other sources.


What type of disciplines did you have to commit to as a Broadway actor? Thank you for asking that question because a lot of people ask me how is it that I still have my voice after 43 years of singing. As far as discipline, in Broadway, they teach you the discipline of theater and how to do 8 shows a week. Everyone doesn't follow those guidelines, but I did closely. One of the courses they taught was about the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol. They taught you how to preserve your voice by reframing from excessive speaking outside of show hours. I never did vocal warmups before a show. I just went for it. But they teach you how to Pace yours