Jennifer Holliday: “I’m Singing Better Than Ever”

“If I had a chance to start a new era of recording at this point in my career,” says Jennifer Holliday, “I would be at my best ever.”

Holliday soared to national attention—and took home a Tony and a Grammy—in 1981, when she originated the role of Effie White in the Broadway production of Dreamgirls and won her first recording contract.

“When I made my first records,” Holliday explained in a recent interview from her home in Atlanta. “I was uncomfortable with the process. I was used to singing live, from the stage, in a very big voice. And taking my big voice into that little booth, trying to sing without the orchestra and the audience. It was a little awkward for me back then.”

Her signature number from Dreamgirls, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” was the extraordinarily rare theater song that makes the leap to the popular music charts. A #1 Billboard R&B hit and #22 in the Hot 100, “And I Am…” was a phenomenon.

“I’d like to be able to show my growth as an artist at 56 years old,” says Holliday. “I think I sing better now. People may think of me as just a belter, but over the years I have worked at developing my lilt and the softer parts of my voice. I have a richer tone, and I have much more control of my instrument.”

At her San Francisco concert, Holliday will perform a mix of jazz standards and show tunes accompanied by a five piece combo.

And of course, she says with a mix of appreciation and resignation, “I’ll do ‘And I Am Telling You…’ I can never go anywhere and leave without singing it. So it shall be done.”