Jennifer Holliday knows that she missed out on something important with her early claim to fame.
Yes, she became a star in 1981 at age 20, performing in “Dreamgirls” on Broadway.
Her one regret: She sacrificed a regular life in high school and college.
Holliday, now 58, may still have visions of being in a sorority. But her place is still on stage.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
And this month, she is taking it to another level. Holliday is using her voice for good in a concert to benefit Miami Beach Pride, a week-long celebration in April for members of the LGBTQ community and their allies.
Holliday will appear Sunday night at the Faena Theater in Miami Beach in “An Intimate Evening With Jennifer Holliday.”
We talked with Holliday about her discovery, her role in “Dreamgirls” and why this cause is so special to her.
Q: Your Beach show is a benefit Concert for Miami Beach Pride. Why is this cause close to your heart?
A: The LGBTQ community has really been my biggest fan base and has loved me unconditionally. From the start of “Dreamgirls” all the way till now, and during the years that I did not have a hit record or was not in a show. This community has been faithful to me, and now I really feel that if it hadn’t been for them, the “Dreamgirls” movie, none of that would have been possible because they kept “Dreamgirls” alive doing drag shows and all kinds of stuff. They kept the music alive, kept my name alive. I’ve been rediscovered now and I’ve had a great resurgence in my career. I really owe this community everything.
Q: Do you consider yourself an activist?
A: I don’t consider myself an activist. I’m a singer first and foremost, and I use my voice to spread love and healing and hope and comfort. And if my name can be used to raise funds, then I’m happy about that. I don’t work with every cause. The gay community, HIV/AIDS, mental health, I have multiple sclerosis, so multiple sclerosis. Those are my main ones.
Q: What’s different about performing in a smaller, more intimate venue like the Faena in Miami Beach?
A: It’s like having everyone in my living room! This is so nice because very seldom do I get to do a sit-down concert for the gay community. Usually it’s just Pride events where you get to sing only two, three songs. They’re moving along, everybody’s standing, everybody’s drunk. I’m so appreciative to Miami Pride for letting me do it this way. I asked them could I not just do a regular stand-up type of show, and they found this beautiful theater. I can’t wait. It’s not like a long night, but it’ll be longer than I usually get with the audience. It’s up close and personal, then I get to do meet-and-greets. This is so different, to be able to spend time with them and sing for them.
Q: Are you going to have some vacation time while you’re in Miami?
A: No, I don’t need any! I’m kind of an island girl, so I love Jamaica, I love the Bahamas. I get enough vacation time.
Q: What are the most rewarding and the most difficult parts about being associated with such a prominent role like Effie White in “Dreamgirls”?
A: Fortunately for me, I haven’t had any difficulty. I didn’t get that Oscar, though. I didn’t get to do the movie. But other than that, I haven’t had any difficulty being Effie. I originated the role, and here we are some 37 years later where “And I Am Telling You” is a bigger hit than ever. I don’t see where the bad side of it would be.
Q: Tell us a little bit about landing your first big Broadway role as a teen. Were you involved in theater as a kid?
A: I was 17 when I started my first show, which was called “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God.” I got discovered singing in the church choir down in Houston, Texas. A young man by the name of Jamie Patterson said, “Oh boy, you have a great voice. You should go to Broadway.” And he called me and he said there’s a show that’s doing auditions that’s going out on the road. A national tour of “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God,” and it would be great if you come to New York and audition. And I auditioned that day and I got hired. The rest is history. So I was already on Broadway when they saw me for “Dreamgirls.”
Q: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your younger self?
A: Start later. I should have gone to college and just started later. I missed the whole growing up, and I missed the whole adult life. It was almost like I was a star within two years, and after that I had a very lonely life having to perform eight shows a week, one day off, no time to spend with friends and to do stuff. So I wish that I had taken the time to go to college and meet some friends, join a sorority, have some man carry my books. Just so I could have had some memories of that before I got famous. And even though I see that parents are pushing their children younger and younger to be stars, I don’t know how that’s going to end up with a lot of them. You really got to be able to balance it, you got to be able to relate to people. I would feel that that was my biggest regret. Not having some college memories, or any kind of memories to go back on. Just from being a teenager in high school. It just wasn’t enough.
Q: At what point in your career did you think “Wow, I made it”?
A: “Dreamgirls” was my second show, and that was it. It was a huge hit. Smash on Broadway, Grammy, Tony. I think that was it. I think that was a clue.
Q: How would you compare performing live on stage to recording your work in a studio? Do you do anything different to prepare for each one?
A: Yes. There is a big difference. First and foremost, there’s nothing that can take the place of performing live. Whether it’s an intimate setting of a couple of hundred, or a big setting of a couple of thousand, it’s just no comparison. Having that interaction with the audience, being spontaneous, feeling them, experiencing the moment. Recording, I prepare different because I’m either singing something new or singing something that I’ve done, and I can be more perfect. I can be like “Let’s take it again” or “I didn’t like that.” but live you’re live. You don’t do it again.
Q: Have you ever been starstruck with anyone you’ve worked with?
A: I was fortunate to become a celebrity at a time where other stars and celebrities really encouraged and embraced you. Even though I was young, a lot of people would take me to the side and say “Jennifer, don’t smoke, don’t drink.” I would say probably Barbra Streisand would be my most wonderful starstruck experience. She came to see “Dreamgirls” many times. She also asked me to perform for her personally for the Oscars in 1984. I sang “The Way He Makes Me Feel” from “Yentl.” I would say that would be one of the greatest honors and one of the most starstruck moments that I could ever have.
Q: What can the audience expect to see at your upcoming show in Miami?
A: To be able to appreciate being that up close and personal. Not everyone would be able to appreciate that. We live in a time where a lot of people don’t understand what a live performance is because they see so much on YouTube. I’m expecting a crowd that not only loves me, but loves the cause as well.
If you go
▪ What: An Intimate Evening With Jennifer Holliday
▪ When: 8 p.m. Sunday
▪ Where: The Faena Theater, 3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
▪ Tickets: $50-$1,000