Jennifer Holliday enjoys being off the radar. Known for her role as Effie in the Broadway production of Dreamgirls, the performer has enjoyed her musical roots as she recently completed a trek in the final Broadway adaption of The Color Purple. All of her career accomplishments and accolades to date came to a head on Friday (Jan. 13) when it was announced that she would be taking part in the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” a concert scheduled to occur prior to the swearing in of President-elect Donald Trump in Washinton D.C. this week.
After a few back and forths from her team, the Tony Award-winning actress decided on Saturday (Jan. 14) not to take part in the ceremony that she perceived to be for the people and about the people. Her decision to walk away from the mic was inspired by not only a dust off of her moral compass but also the voices of fans and critics who slammed her for considering the gig. “I thought it would be a healing and unifying thing,” she explained over the phone.”I was thinking about the past.”
After all, the Houston native has remained neutral in her past inaugural performances for Ronald Regan, George W. Bush Sr., his son George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She made sure to inform reporters she voted for Hillary Clinton in the recent election and express her true intentions on standing against oppression. Call it lost in translation (or social media), Holliday’s apologies are gentle and assuring while her critics are not. Since the initial announcement of her possible performance, the singer says she’s been hit with racial slurs, death threats, and offensive language from fellow African-Americans, a reaction she didn’t see coming. “They called me ‘house n****a.’ They called me a ‘coon,’ an ‘Uncle Tom,'” she said. Rather than request RSVP’s for a pity party, the singer has learned—through backlash—just how weary some Americans view the coming of the 45th President of the United States.
After becoming the subject of many headlines and unsupportive social media reactions, the Grammy award-winning singer sat with VIBE to share why she decided to pull out of the inauguration, her support of Steve Harvey’s trip to Trump Towers and coming to terms with her “lapse in judgment.”
There have been a lot of statements made out there. The deal is that you aren’t performing at President-elect Trump’s celebration concert, right?
Jennifer Holliday: Right, I have officially canceled and informed the Inaugural Committee that I will not be performing for what I was thinking they were calling the “Welcome Concert for the People.”
Do you think that a lot of the confusion had to do with the way it was presented to you? Since they didn’t label it an inauguration concert?
No, I think that it was me and my polylogism way of thinking. I have sung for five presidents [with the exception of] Obama because I was never invited to perform for them, but I’m thinking, ‘Okay, for the people! And for America! And my voice out on the mall.’ That’s what I was thinking; until I spoke to the New York Times and they said Trump was going to speak. I said, ‘Speak? I thought it was just going to be music.’
I didn’t think it was going to be any more than that. So I’m thinking we’re welcoming the people and I didn’t think it would just be Republicans at the mall, coming to the free concert. I also didn’t think to ask if there would be any other black people at the show. I guess because all of the people who said they weren’t performing were white and really, I thought it was my fault for not paying more attention to the issues instead of thinking more.
There’s actually an African-American member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who explained why she’s performing in the same manner you have. She felt like it was for people and said she found inspiration in Marian Anderson and other black figures…
That’s what I was thinking, too. I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be great!’ To have a black person [in this position] singing. I didn’t know to look at it from a political standpoint. People would say, ‘Trump would’ve had to approve of you,’ and I didn’t really see it that way. I thought it would be a healing and unifying thing. I was thinking about the past. I’ve sung for President Reagan, both Bushs, the Clintons – so I thought, ‘This is for America.’
People like Steve Harvey and Kanye West have met with Trump to either work with or ensure he’s accountable for his actions, but many don’t see it that way. It seems as though the same thing happened in your situation…
I think that’s definitely what happened to me. For your own people to call you..they called me ‘house n****a,’ they called me a ‘coon,’ and ‘Uncle Tom.’ They said that I should kill myself and this is coming from [my] black people. And I’m like, ‘First of all black people, you didn’t show up to vote for Hillary. Obama asked you to vote for Hillary.’ Oprah made a personal appeal, but they didn’t listen. So now that they realize what has happened, everything that we want to do now is almost hard.
People told me to turn the [social media] comments off and I won’t. I want to read these and remember that this is black people attacking me and I didn’t do anything. It would be different if I took a position on something or approved of something that was, you know, actually tangible, but I think that I’ve been very loyal to my people.
I’ve raised awareness and raised money for causes. I feel like someone like Steve Harvey has done way more than me for our community for them to go off on him and not hear him out. I think maybe he thought, ‘We can influence this guy to help the inner city.’ It is a difficult thing to hear, your own people just destroy you over something you haven’t done yet. I was thinking that I wanted to sing for all of us and to represent us. Now there’s no representation of us at this concert. It’s like, ‘Okay really?’ Is that fair, too?
It’s a tough boat to be in. With the Million Woman March and Al Sharpton’s “We Shall Not Be Moved” march coming up this week, what do you think happens now? Will you be involved in social issues more than before?
I don’t know. All I know [right now] is that the right decision was to cancel. So many people were actually hurt and disappointed. In spite of the negative comments, I can see the hurt and pain from my fans. Like I said, even though a lot of the rhetoric towards me was cruel, I can see that they were disappointed. I didn’t even know that I meant that much to anybody in terms of what I’ve represented over the years.
Thank you. I think I wasn’t even aware of that because if I did I would have thought about this differently. There were those who asked me to reconsider, but the negative comments were hard because they did come from black people. I think I’ve been quite consistent if people needed me to show up. But I also understood that going into this inauguration are people reliving the election. It’s not about me, it’s how everyone feels right now. One person pointed out to me that a lot of people will be mourning. They said it’s like a funeral with the Obama’s leaving and someone coming in who isn’t concerned or cares. It’s way different than what I thought.
Hopefully, this will inspire people to see their power.
Right, maybe once they’ll [also] see that it’s more than showing up on Election Day. A lot of people voted for Trump but also [submitted] a straight-ticket vote. Everything has been pushed towards Trump and I didn’t look at the ceremony that way. This [welcome celebration I was going to take part in] is something that has happened for years and years and it’s the day before. It wasn’t the inauguration, but that’s not what people were hearing. We’re making it all about Trump. Even if I sang a prayer or “Amazing Grace,” it’s like, ‘No no, don’t sing for Trump.’
Anything else you wanted to add?
I just want to sincerely apologize for causing so much confusion. I’m a person that’s never on the radar [laughs]. I don’t get any attention otherwise and this is not what I wanted. I definitely didn’t want people to be heartbroken or thinking that I wasn’t taking into account the issues that affect the African-American or gay community or any issues that have been heightened due to his [Trump’s] rhetoric. I want when I sing my voice to be healing and to bring a sense of love of comfort. The fear is real now and I see that. Hopefully, this lapse in my own judgment will not be a lasting damage with my relationship wth my fans.