My Part of the World: Jennifer Holliday Feels Better When You Do

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    It’s pretty clear that Jennifer Holliday is a songbird.

    She has that unmistakable strong contralto that will rattle you to your very core.

    And one more amazing thing about her, and probably more significant, is that she is a good person. She uses her voice – her gift from God, as she calls it – to help others as well as entertain them.

    It’s been 32 years since she became famous and a Tony Award winner for her Broadway turn as Effie in “Dreamgirls,” but her voice is stronger and more powerful than ever. I know. I heard her just two months ago when she blew the roof off the Intercontinental Hotel at the National Black Arts Festival Gala.

    And now she’s lending her talent to benefit the Actor’s Express and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. She’ll be the headliner at a joint benefit for the two groups on Sept 29 at the Garden.

    “You know it would be one thing if I was rich, I’d just send a check and never sing,” she joked in talking with me about her support. “But God has given me a gift, with my voice, so I sing for you and you will raise the money you need.”

    Indeed. Everybody wins. To hear her beautiful voice, the organizations get a great turnout for their events and everyone is inspired and enriched by Jennifer’s singing.

    But, here’s something else I just learned about her. She has MS.

    “I announced it publicly for the first time in March,” she said. She was here to do a benefit for MS of Atlanta. Nonetheless, she said, “I feel very good. I’m disciplined about my work and my health,” she said. “And the things that I do to take care of my voice also help the rest of my body.”

    She went on to say that despite her illness, for which there is no cure, she is the happiest that she ever been. “I have an inner peace and an inner joy,” she said. With the passage of time, she said she’s learned to be grateful for what she has.

    “You know, I have MS. Somebody else has something else. We all have challenges,” she said. “What matters is how you respond to them.

    “I’m a happier woman and better person than I was 32 years ago,” she said in reference to all the fame and notoriety that surrounded her as a new Broadway star.

    “And in my way of giving (singing), it helps someone else and it helps me forget about myself,” she said. “Giving that way is my medicine.”

    And now, thanks to the internet, she’s going to be able to give to a whole new generation.

    “Social media and You Tube have allowed young people to make me relevant, again,” she said. “They have loved me back out into the spotlight.” And with that, all her fans can look forward to her first new secular CD in 22 years. “The Song is You” should be released by year-end, she said. It’s going to be all love songs, jazz standards and R&B classics, she said. Rather than “new music” as she calls it, she said she wanted to stick with what she knows. “I am a Broadway Baby,” she said.

    And guess what? In the middle of me writing this, she called me back to say she wanted to say thank you to Atlanta for being what her pastor calls “a life affirming community.” She said Atlanta embraced her as a human being, not just a commodity.

    “The core of what Atlanta has to offer is love, compassion and caring,” she said. “And that inspires me. When people accept you for who you are, it makes you want to be who you think they think you are.”

    So your very next opportunity to be uplifted by her amazing vocals — and support two worthwhile organizations — is the “Broadway in the Garden” benefit concert under the tent on the great lawn at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Sunday, September 29, at 6:30pm. Also performing is “The BeHip Allstars”, a six-piece jazz orchestra. Tickets begin at $125. All details are available at http://www.actors-express.com or by calling (404) 607-7469 (SHOW).

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