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Less than 24 hours after being named, with fanfare, as one of President-elect Donald Trump’s headliners for his inauguration concert, Jennifer Holliday canceled her appearance.
The singer, along with country artists like Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith and rock band 3 Doors Down, was set to perform at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 19 for what is titled the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration.”
Shortly after the Broadway singer publicly made the decision, she spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what happened. (This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
What was the reasoning behind accepting an offer to perform at the official Trump celebration concert?
My initial thinking is, that I have sung for presidents in the past, and it was presented to me as a welcome concert for the people. That’s what I focused on, the “for the people” part. I’m thinking, “This will be great, I’ll have an opportunity to represent and have my voice be healing and unifying out on the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial.” So that’s really what I was thinking, and, regretfully, I did not take into account what that symbolized to other people.
I was really thinking that it was going to be for America and participating in history and, especially, because it was going to be the day before the inauguration, and I’m thinking it’s just a concert of music out on the Mall.
What type of feedback have you been hearing since the announcement went out yesterday morning?
It’s amazing because I’m not a person that gets a lot of attention or that seeks a lot of attention. And I’ve spent all day yesterday and all last night reading all the terrible things that people were saying about me.
And even being called by my own black people a “n—er,” a “house n—er,” “c—n, “Uncle Tom,” people suggesting I should kill myself, a “traitor,” all kinds of things. It was very frightening and very alarming and overwhelming, as well, to see those kinds of things about you. It’d be different if I’m out there all the time trying to make headlines or something.
How did the process work, as far as withdrawing from the concert a day after the announcement?
I thought about it and, about 3 a.m., after someone sent me an email of an article from The Daily Beast from the gay community — I read that, and it really struck home with me.
The gay community has been so faithful and good to me. We share a bond because I really feel that there’d be no Jennifer Holliday or even a Dreamgirls lasting and being still relevant in this 21st century, some 35 years later, if it had not been for the gay community. Also, in the early ‘80s was the start of the HIV epidemic, at that time it had no name. But I was right in the middle of that with the gay community.
That [letter], because of the way they structured it, and to give me insight on what was really going on with them and their fears and their concerns about what their fate will be now, that got me right at the heart. Because I don’t want my name to be associated with heartbreak or sadness, thinking that I’m in support of something when I’m just thinking that I was just singing a song.
I had no reason to try to say, “OK, well, I’m making a point,” by singing. I just thought I was singing to have my voice lend hope and healing and love and that sort of thing.
Have you spoken with the Presidential Inaugural Committee since you made the decision not to perform?
I sent them a letter this morning, an email, and they acknowledged that they got it and that’s all they said. I don’t know what they’re going to do.
Now that you’ve been through the process, do you think accepting an invitation like that to perform is a political statement?
Well, I don’t feel like that, but I guess now that’s what will be the future of doing things like that. Now, when you sing or appear at things, it’s no longer just a performance. It means that you support or you believe what that person is standing for. So, I know that now.
You performed at Rep. John Lewis’ 75th birthday celebration in 2015. What do you make of Donald Trump’s tweets about him this weekend?
How could he say this to a man who sacrificed so much? Not just for African-Americans, but just for America, so that America could be better. I have a personal bond with Congressman Lewis; he loves my singing, I sang at his wife’s funeral by special request. I just couldn’t believe that.
I was like, “Is he serious by saying that he’s ‘all talk and no action’?” He’s already taken the action, the ultimate sacrifice, his blood there on the bridge. It’s like, “Really?”
I thought that was just very disrespectful and an insult to every person.
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