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Broadway legend Jennifer Holliday talks MS and new project 'The Song Is You'

Tony and Grammy-award winning actress/singer Jennifer Holliday
Tony and Grammy-award winning actress/singer Jennifer Holliday
photo: "Jennifer Holliday - The Original Dream Girl" Facebook page

Tony and Grammy award-winning singer/actress, Jennifer Holliday may be best known for originating the role of “Effie Melody White” in the groundbreaking play “Dreamgirls.” Holliday released her latest project “The Song is You” in January, her first secular project in 23 years. With a career that has spanned 30 plus years, Holliday has spent the last 17 of them living with the autoimmune disorder Multiple Sclerosis. In celebration of this MS Awareness Week, Holliday discussed her journey as a person living with MS and her latest project with the website MusicMoviesThoughts.

Describing how she came to know something was physically wrong, Holliday shared "it started with my hand coordination, I was dropping and wasn’t able to hold things. Eventually I started falling. It took doctors quite a while to diagnose me because it is so similar to other autoimmune illnesses, like Lupus." Working on the hit show "Ally McBeal" at the time, Holliday shared she was frightened that she might not be able to finish the show; however unbeknownst to her the show would end around the same time that her symptoms worsened.

Not willing to accept a prognosis of immobility and impending retirement, Holliday took matters into her own hands by researching the illness and alternative treatments that best suited her medically. She also made significant lifestyle changes, that included a move from high-paced New York City to the slower-paced city of Atlanta, Georgia to better manage and reduce symptom-inducing stress.

Back now with a voice that's stronger than ever, Holliday states "I've been away a long time, but I haven’t been away not working on my craft or honing my skills. I've been away learning as well." And this latest project showcases the agility of her craft and skill, with a 15 track pop, jazz and soul showcase of ballads and jazz standards that include two new songs. When asked if she has a favorite track on the CD, Holliday admits “Love Me By Name is one of my favorites because it’s a beautiful song with a haunting type of melody. But the lyrics say so much about me as a woman out here, trying to maneuver through life, love and relationships just like everybody else. You want a person to take time to get to know you and what you’re about, not just know that you’re Jennifer Holliday."

Another track on the CD, "The One That Used To Be," was originally penned for the late Whitney Houston, although she never recorded it. Speaking of the late singer, Holliday commented “I think that (Whitney) really didn't know who loved (wanted to know) her for her and that was a part of her torment as well.”

When asked how she's maintained her vocal prowess, Holliday shared "I’m what they call a 'Broadway Baby.' Starting in the theater so young, doing eight shows a week, and having to sing a song like “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” eight times a week, you learn and are taught how to take care of your voice. So, I stayed quite disciplined over the years. I don’t do any dairy, I don’t drink alcohol or do recreational drugs, and I try to take care of my voice as much as I can. I hope that the instrument still sounds the way it does because I've stayed faithful to what I've been doing."

Click here to read more of the MusicMoviesThoughts interview, and get additional information about Jennifer Holliday at her official Facebook page.

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