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After Friday’s announcement that Jennifer Holliday would be performing at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration next week, the Grammy- and Tony-winning singer said she woke up to an onslaught of hatred directed her way.
“I was like, nobody knows that I’m alive, and then I decide to sing a song, and I wake up and they all hate me,” she tells Billboard.
Holliday is best known for her roles on Broadway and her recordings in the early 1980s, specifically for playing Effie Melody White in Dreamgirls. Most recently, she returned to Broadway to play Shug Avery in the revival of The Color Purple, which wrapped on Sunday with Hillary and Bill Clinton in the audience.
Holliday is not a Trump supporter and actually voted for Hillary Clinton in the November election. But throughout her career, she has performed for presidents of both parties, including Reagan, the Bushes (both father and son) and Bill Clinton. And Holliday insists that her decision to join Trump’s inauguration celebration to perform a song at its welcome ceremony is not political. She says it’s for the people of America.
“I haven’t even endorsed anything,” she says, “I’m not singing for Donald Trump; I’m singing to welcome the people of America. He cannot be the only face that’s gonna represent us. And just to have all white people up there singing is not going to be a fair representation, either. So you’re just saying don’t go? Really? I’m just very disheartened by it, that it would be so much hate.”
Social media’s response to Holliday’s decision to perform in the ceremony has brought plenty of death threats, suggestions of suicide, warnings of boycott and racial slurs to a level that she says scared her. But she never second-guessed her decision. And, in large part, she says, she is following President Barack Obama’s call for unity and a peaceful transition. She says she felt it was OK to attend the inauguration once the Clintons announced they would be going. She says she thought the inauguration would be a break from the political fighting, but must have “misunderstood.”
“I didn’t hear any of that [hate] spewed from the Obamas,” she says. “I thought that they told us to move on and try to be hopeful and make this a smooth transition. I didn’t understand that the orders were a wink and a nod to make sure that America doesn’t succeed or that Trump doesn’t succeed. … I thought we were just trying to pull together.”
Holliday’s performance was announced on Friday along with those of relatively high-profile performers Toby Keith and 3 Doors Down. But she remains the only black act on the bill, inciting negative feedback from the African-American and Broadway communities, who have been at odds with Trump and his Cabinet’s positions on social issues.
Holliday isn’t the only artist scheduled for next week’s event who has received harassment over her decision to perform. The 16-year-old singer Jackie Evancho, who has an older transgender sister, also has discussed publicly the accusations of being a “traitor” that have come her way. Likewise, Evancho maintains her decision is not political.
“I have been unable to see how my singing helps Donald Trump or how that does anything for America or what we’re trying to do by my not singing,” says Holliday. “If we’re protesting and we’re going to have a show with all white people on it and nobody black’s gonna be on it, I don’t understand that, either.”
Holliday adds with a feeling of confused, cautious optimism: “Hopefully, maybe, this will work out in the end. And if not, I will not be killing myself. I will not be committing suicide over this. If everyone’s trying to say that’s the end of my career, then I guess that will have to be, but I’m going to believe that that won’t be and that maybe other people will try to also see what we can do to unite the country on what little hope of togetherness we have left.”
A version of this story originally appeared on Billboard.com.
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