Lime interview - Theatre
EDITOR - Vernia Mengot
In this exclusive interview Lime magazine talks to Jennifer Holliday the original Dreamgirl on Broadway that was Effie Melody White.
After of her appearance at the 12th Annual Celebration of Gospel telecast on BET, we got a glimpse into the life of a Broadway actress, recording artist and gospel singer. Jennifer believes that music has a healing power and after 15 years since recording her last solo project she talks about the next leg of her journey proving that her story and her music is a gift to her audiences.
You were born and raised in Houston, Texas where you began singing at the Pleasant Grove Baptist choir when you later moved on to big things on Broadway in the Big Apple. Tell us about the transition?
Well if you’ve not been over to the USA, Texas is flat land; there are lots of trees so then to go to New York being a big city. It’s very reminiscent of London; Broadway is very close to Piccadilly. It was quite a shock. The whole culture; the scene was different.
Touring with “Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God.” must have been a benchmark in your career, how was that experience for you?
That was very exciting for me I had a lot to learn in theatre you do eight shows a week. They taught me how to preserve my voice. It was exciting to learn, basically doing gospel music with a story; tell a story through a song.
You went on to perform in Dreamgirls, on Broadway in December, 1981 where you played the musical role of Effie Melody White; how did you find getting to grips with her as a character?
We were doing a workshop it [Dreamgirls] hadn’t been titled. My role, my character hadn’t been developed. I hadn’t done a lot of acting. I did singing with interpretation of my eyes. It was all an amazing experience, it took a year and half to put together.
More recently Jennifer Hudson played the role of Effie in the screen version of Dreamgirls that went out in 2006. What did you think of her portrayal of the character?
Well I think she did a good job in a sense that when they make movies it’s an adaptation to theatre or book. There’s a liberty to do a lot of things. They stayed true to things I done with Effie.
You also performed the “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” with Jennifer Hudson at the 2007 BET awards, what was that like?
That was the first time that I had a chance to meet her. That time I was meeting her was the same time I was going to work with her. It was emotional for both of us and we went on to do it again in 2009.
As a recording artist you must spend a lot of time in the studio. Tell us about some of the musical artists you have worked with...
Well basically I’m slowly getting back into the music. 1991 was my last album, ‘I’m on your side’. They just re-released that in the UK, for the anniversary collection. I started that with doing a bit of gospel and r’n’b.
What would you say is your biggest influence in life?
I would say my biggest influence in music would be Aretha Franklin. I grew up listening to her pretty much my whole life. In theatre having to do eight shows a week, my voice changed a little bit, my voice got better and a lot more depth. Then I began to learn about other artists I had never heard off. Jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald.
Since Broadway, you’ve gone onto performing all over the world with the leading symphonies and received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from The Berklee College of music, what does this mean to you?
That meant a lot; I went straight from Baptist choir to the stage. I went to college for only a quick second. And I never got a chance to do it. I’ve always stressed how important education is; education in music. It was very important to have some affiliation in education.
What do you prefer being on stage or on screen?
Acting, it’s nice, and you don’t know if you did a good job until it comes out. You have to trust the director if they were pleased. Unless you’re a major star you get to see the dailies. Theatre is live and in the moment; concerts are live and in the moment so out of these I’m best at home. It’s live in the moment you know by the audience response and connect with that. That’s even opposed to just recording in the studio.
So you’re working on two CD projects, what can we expect?
I’m making on gospel, jazz love standards. It’s coming along; the music industry of course has changed. By the time I finish everything would have changed again. So I’m working independently.
In this generation of music which artists reminds you most of when you first started out in your musical journey?
I look at instrumental course; theatre. I would say Ledisi would be the closet to where I am in terms of this generation compared to my generation. In terms of emotion, transferring raw emotions it would be Adele. But I’m just saying in terms of raw emotion being able to come through.
What does this year have store for you?
Well the biggest thing I’m going to do this year is Effie in Dreamgirls- this summer. This is quite an amazing task that would be a miracle in its self. I’m over 50. I’m really happy and excited for that, a few people from the UK have said that they’re flying over.
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