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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Yes Way, Jennifer Holliday!

posted by on January 30 at 12:30 PM

I know this is very en retard and à l’esprit de l’escalier and Why the fuck am I using French unnecessarily?, but since I discovered this on YouTube yethhhderday, I have played it just under 10 times for myself, once for my boyfriend, and once for my girl(_space_)friend.

Because the records that existed in my household as a child can be found in the following array: (The Sound of Music, The Man of la Mancha, Amy Grant’s Age to Age), I am missing about 20 years (and a good part of the history) of standard/mainstream pop music. But something that absolutely did not escape my attention was a true and real discernment for an excellent soul/R&B/gospel singer. Was it because I was a budding heaumeau or because I am Mexican and all my friends and I were obsessed with Video Soul on BET? Whatever. Anyway…

I knew of Jennifer Holliday back in those early ’90s primarily as a sort of old-school songstress—one who would give me a taste of what singing was like when it came up out of the earth. But she always stayed in periphery. I was into more graceful stylistic devices when it came to singing—Minnie Riperton, Terry Ellis of En Vogue (mostly because they, unlike Mariah Carey, took their above-the-staff pitches in full voice, without post-prod tidying).

So nothing—NO WAY—could have prepared me for this—a live performance on the 1982 telecast of the Tony Awards of a scene from Dreamgirls. No, not that tired-assed movie that’s in theaters now; the original Broadway version, in which Jennifer Holliday created and played the role of Effie (now taken by the drab and unremarkable Jennifer Hudson). After the two-minute-plus setup, Holliday launches into her solo—her signature song hereafter, “And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going).” This is at least one of the greatest performances of the 20th century. Holliday has a stentorian voice which she loads up, fires off, dampens, twists, stretches, and burns. To match: a masterfully shaded, pained, and powerful facial expression for every word. Her size helps her to create a character, a persona, and a performance that conjures every spirit of the theater dark and light. If you do not recognize the greatness of her gift and of this artifact, you may give up every endeavor you have ever dreamed because you have no seed and no soul. And if you do not watch her ending, you will have missed the prize altogether.

Now Mizz Hudson can be Oscar-nominated till the end of time, but remember, she recorded her performance in a studio, where you can just yell “Cut!” and try it again, both musically and dramatically. But Jennifer Holliday did this live, several performances a week, for four years. Think Jennifer Hudson could do that? In your dreams, girl.

RSS icon Comments


i love that brief shot of bernadette peters at the very end! she's all "that was incredible!"


Posted by terry miller | January 30, 2007 1:00 PM

Now that is a real girl. And you know she didn't stand in line out side of no superdome or whathavesya and wait for Paula Abdul to shake off her sillies, wipe off her cherry coke moustache before she blew them stiffs away with that voice.

Damn, I hate how much cred J. Hud is giving American Idol with her "success" and Oscar Nom

Posted by Calamity Positive | January 30, 2007 2:01 PM

Yeah, actually when I constantly tell people "YOU BETTA WORK," it's not a joke; it's an admonishment because anymore, success and stardom are so cheaply won that much of the performing arts have lost the ethic of hard work as it relates to a virtuosic and masterful expressive output.

Posted by Nick | January 30, 2007 2:09 PM

I think Jennifer Hudson is more than fine.

But Jennifer Holliday is something else.

Nick detailed facets of her triumph most eloquently, but one thing he didn't mention--and Jennifer Hudson ignored in her performance of the song--is the fact of Effie's pregnancy, by the motherfucker who just fired her. It's nothing huge (yet), just another little element that makes Holliday's performance the towering achievement it is.

Fact I'm required to share: While leaving a screening of Dreamgirls in Harlem, I overheard an audience member (who'd presumably seen the Broadway show) tell her friend that Jennifer Hudson was "even better than Jennifer Holliday." At the time I didn't know what an offensive statement this was. But Hudson's perfectly good execution of the song--coupled with the power of film sound and close-ups--may land in history books as definitive. Drag.

Posted by David Schmader | January 30, 2007 2:25 PM

Also, it's really interesting that there is probably large contingent of people who will look at this performance and see its as embarrassingly over-the-top, but this is likely because they haven't experienced live theater before. Holliday provides all the close-ups with her own face and body (I love her one-two steps before the second verse and the kick-stomp after whats-his-face runs out); these are very specific cues from a gestural language that has fallen out of use with the popularity of camera work on screen (though it was used as late as the 1960's, even in the movies). Hers is a representational performance, where Hudson's is naturalistic. I think the reason I feel so strongly about Holliday's performance is that this style of acting/singing is so clearly full of study and intention; there are no happy accidents and no second chances, as there are sure to be in the making of a film.

Posted by Nick | January 30, 2007 2:48 PM

Jennifer Hudson didn't get 'ugly' enough with it. When Jennifer Holliday sings it, it's as if she were vomiting her guts up and leaving her pain splattered all all over the theater walls. Performances like that are so rare... How did she ever keep it up 8 times a week. I have read that she was extremely depressed and even suicidal during the show. It definitely comes through in that performance.

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