Jennifer-Yvette Holliday was born October 19, 1960 in Riverside, Texas. Ms. Holliday landed her first big role on Broadway in 1979. At age 19, she landed the part the very same day she auditioned for the production of Your Arms Too Short To Box With God, a performance earned her a 1981 Drama Desk nomination. Her next role was that of a lifetime, and came in 1981. Originally constructed as project for Nell Carter, Holliday served as Carter’s replacement (after Carter accepted an offer from NBC to star in Gimme A Break). However, Holliday left the project during the workshopping phase, as she disliked the material and was upset that her character, Effie White, died at the conclusion of the first act. The creative team continued to iron out the story and songs. After two mildly successful workshops which featured Jennifer Lewis as Effie, Holliday returned to the project, now known as Dreamgirls. However, she found Effie’s role had been reduced significantly in favor of Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Deena character, and Holliday eventually quit the project again (Effie style). After acquiring funding from music industry mogul David Geffen and fellow co-financiers ABC Entertainment, Metromedia, and the Shubert family, Bennett called Holliday, and agreed to rewrite the show’s second act to build up her character. The rest is history.
Among the acclaim was Holliday’s sweep of awards in 1982, including the Tony Award for Best Actress, a Grammy Award for her recorded version of the song, and Drama Desk and Theater World awards for her acting performance. Shortly after Dreamgirls, Holliday performed in the touring company of Sing, Mahalia Sing in 1985. In 1998, Holliday was featured on the album, My Favorite Broadway Ladies as one of “The Queens of Broadway.” After that, Holliday underwent a huge weight loss tranformation, losing roughly half of her body weight. She then took over for Billie Porter as Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of Grease; and appeared again on Broadway as Mama Morton in the revival of Chicago in 2001. She continues to do concert work around the U.S., and can occasionally seen in the random regional production of Dreamgirls. Her quintessential interpretation of “And I Am Telling You” remained the standard, until Jennifer Hudson (Why is every Effie named Jennifer?) later won the Academy Award for the role. The rest of us remember the original, and celebrate her today. Happy Birthday, Ms. Holliday!!
Click below to see multiple scenes of Jennifer Holliday Tony winning performance in Dreamgirls (1981).
Dreamgirls at the 1982 Tony Awards (followed by acceptance speeches).
Dreamgirls on Broadway (1981).