Jennifer Holliday

*The original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday will make her dream debut on the Apollo Theater’s famous stage on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at the Opening Night of the 2012 season of the legendary Theater’s signature weekly live show, Amateur Night at the Apollo.

The dream show marks the 78th year of the world’s original amateur talent competition.  Since its inception in 1934, Amateur Night has been one of New York City’s most popular live entertainment experiences, launching the careers of thousands of performers and attracting audiences from all over the world.

Hosted by comedian Capone, the opening night of Amateur Night 2012 will feature several surprises in celebration of the Theater’s 78th birthday as well as a special “dream” performance by Holliday of her much fêted song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”  The song is the most-performed song in the Apollo’s Amateur Night history.

Holliday portrayed the role of Effie Melody White in the original musical version of Dreamgirls, giving one of the most triumphant singing performances ever committed to Broadway.  Her raw, all-consuming vocal version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” made the Tony-winning performer a cult phenomenon.

Dreamgirls, and Holliday by extension, are very closely connected with the Apollo — the opening scene in the musical took place at the Apollo and the period when Dreamgirls is set is an important chapter in the Apollo’s history.  Also, the 2009 national tour of the musical premiered at the Apollo.

Holliday gained national recognition when she landed the lead in the Broadway musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.  Her performance earned her a 1981 Drama Desk nomination and led to her star-making performance in Dreamgirls, and featured her show-stealing performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,“ which became a hit single in 1982.

Dreamgirls earned her not only the 1982 Tony Award as Best Actress (Musical), but Drama Desk and Theatre World Awards; she also won a Grammy Award for her recorded version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”.

She returned to the stage in 1985, appearing in Sing, Mahalia, Sing, and she continued to release pop music albums while on Broadway.  The two-time Grammy Award winner has recorded five chart-making CD’s for Arista, Geffen and Intersound Records.

Holliday has also had several chart-topping singles.  Her signature spine-tingling hit song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” charted at #1 on the R&B charts and was a top 40 Pop charter as well.

The robust performer won a Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Vocal Performance for her soul-stirring rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” a tribute to the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.  She went on to perform in the touring company of “Sing, Mahalia, Sing” in 1986, as the late, great gospel singer.

During her stellar musical journey, Holliday has recorded with such artists as Barbara Streisand, Foreigner, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Michael McDonald, Maurice White, Peabo Bryson, Loretta Lynn, the Cincinnati Pops Symphony and many CD compilations featured with other artists, including soundtracks for “The Five Heartbeats,” “The Woo-Woo Kid,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “The Rising Place.”

In the 1990s, Holliday lost a substantial amount of weight and talked about her health battles with clinical depression.  She is now a spokesperson on the subject.  In an effort to avoid regaining the weight, Holliday had gastric bypass surgery.

Jennifer Yvette Holliday was born October 19, 1960, in Riverside, Texas.  The singer/actress received a Doctor of Music honoris causa from the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.  Her career started on Broadway in musicals, but eventually she became a successful recording artist.  Her biggest hit to date is the R&B/Pop hit “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

Holliday landed her first big role on Broadway in 1980, when she landed her first notable role in the Broadway production of Your Arms Too Short To Box With God.  Her performance in that musical earned her a 1981 Drama Desk nomination.

Her next role was the one for which she is best known: the role of Effie Melody White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls.  Holliday joined the show in December 1981 and remained with the show for nearly four years.  Her performance in the role was widely acclaimed, particularly in her iconic performance of the musical number that ends Act I, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”

Among the acclaim was Holliday’s sweep of awards in 1982, including the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, a Grammy award for her recorded version of the song, and Drama Desk and Theater World awards for the performance.

In 2001, she sang “America The Beautiful” on the first WWE pay-per-view to be held after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  The Best of Jennifer Holliday: The Millennium Collection on Universal Records is her most recent release.

“Twenty years ago when I was in ‘Dreamgirls,’ I was always a joke because I was huge.  I went out once to a birthday gathering for me, and the New York Post wrote that I had broken the chair because I was so big.  Well, I didn’t break the chair; it was just really wobbly.  But the humiliation was terrible.”  “Even after I lost weight, I was still the same person.”

apollo theater marqueeThe Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night has long been revered by artists as a transformative experience where up-and-coming talent feels the power of the legendary performers who have come before them, and where audience response can help make or break a career.

Ralph Cooper, an actor and producer, started the original Harlem Amateur Hour in April 1933 at Frank Schiffman’s Lafayette Theater.  In 1934, Cooper began the Wednesday Amateur Night at Sidney Cohen and Morris Sussman’s 125th Street Apollo Theater.  Cooper’s Amateur Night in Harlem radio shows were broadcast live from the Apollo over WMCA and carried on a national network of 21 stations.  When Amateur Night at the Apollo debuted in 1934, it quickly became the leading showcase for many young, talented, new performers such as a 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, who went on to become one of the first Amateur Night winners.

Also on February 1, 2012, the Amateur Night experience will be taken to new heights with the launch of Amateur Night Digital to complement the weekly, live show and will bring the Amateur Night at the Apollo experience to an even broader audience.  Amateur Night Digital will enable users worldwide to track the progress and vote for their favorite Apollo Amateur Night contestants.  “This year’s Opening Night show is particularly special because we are introducing something really different and new to the Apollo audience with Amateur Night Online,” said Amateur Night producer Marion J. Caffey.

“The new site will be interactive, allowing users to vote from home, extending the Apollo’s reach well beyond our own four walls.  And we couldn’t be more excited to be showcasing the original Dreamgirl, Jennifer Holliday, who will surely be an inspiration to all our contestants and who will help us kick off our 78th season in style.  This is going to be a great year for Amateur Night,” Caffey continued.

One of the most exciting features on Amateur Night Digital (amateurnight.org) will be the “Remix Round” feature – an opportunity for performers who participated in the live Amateur Night show but who did not place as finalists to enlist their friends and fans to go online, view their performance, and submit a vote to bring the candidate back to a subsequent live Amateur Night competition at the Apollo.

Via the new Amateur Night mobile app for iPhone and Android, users can also win points and rewards for app usage and get access to exclusive content after they leave the theater.  The site will feature video clips from the live version of the show, pre- and post-performance interviews with artists, audience reaction, and testimonials. Amateur Night Digital will expand the Apollo’s reach well beyond its own four walls.

Amateur Night will feature staples like C.P. Lacey in the role of the “Executioner” (the character who sweeps “booed” contestants off the stage) and the Apollo’s Amateur Night house band, fronted by Onree Gill.

Highlights of the season include: a pre-show jam fest led by one of New York’s hottest DJ’s, DJ Jess, and special themed night shows including Broadway Night on March 16, 2012.  The new season of Amateur Night runs from January 26, 201will start Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 7:30pm and will occur every Wednesday through October 2011.  Amateur Night is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company.

Tickets for Amateur Night begin at $19and are available at The Apollo Theater Box Office: (212) 531-5305, 253 West 125th Street.  Ticketmaster at (212) 307-7171 or www.ticketmaster.com

Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in the emergence of innovative musical genres including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul and hip-hop.

From its notoriously tough audience to the magic of the Tree of Hope, the Apollo Amateur Night story is the stuff that legends are made of — literally.  Amateur Night has been the launching pad for some of the world’s greatest artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Gladys Knight, Luther Stevie Wonder, Vandross, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollo’s stage.

Long before Ted Mack and the Amateur Hour and American Idol, Apollo Amateur Night was, and continues to be, a primary source for discovering new talent and spotlighting up-and-coming artists, all hoping that the hallowed stage and the approval of the Apollo audience will launch their careers in the entertainment world.

The Apollo is a national treasure that has had significant impact on the development of American culture and its popularity around the world.  Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in cultivating artists and in the emergence of innovative musical genres including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul, and hip-hop.

The Apollo Theater’s new artistic vision builds on its legacy.  New Apollo programming has music as its core, driving large scale and more intimate music, dance and theater presentations.

The Apollo will continue to present historically relevant presentations, as well as more forward-looking, contemporary work.  Based on its cultural significance and architecture, the Apollo Theater received state and city landmark designation in 1983 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, visit www.apollotheater.org.

The Apollo’s annual season is made possible by lead support from The Coca-Cola Company, The Parsons Family Foundation, the Ronald O. Perelman Family Foundation, the Edward and Leslye Phillips Family Foundation, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, Reginald Van Lee, the Ford Foundation, Bloomberg, and the Neuberger Berman Foundation.

Lead annual support is also provided by public funds from the City of New York Theater Subdistrict Council; with additional funding from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; New York State funding from Senator Bill Perkins, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; and the New York State Council for the Arts.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

audrey j bernard