On Friday night at B.B .King’s Blues Club in Manhattan, the legendary Jennifer Holliday proved once again why she is not going anywhere. Fresh off the release of her first album in 21 years, The Song Is You, the original Effie White remains a vocal prowess and looking younger at 53 than she did at 19. Opening withÂ ”I Ain’t Been Licked,” a song about survival, the Diana Ross song is fitting for Holliday who has weathered decades in the music industry. “You’ll never know how much this means to me,” said a humble Holliday to a loving audience.
The diva belted out song after song including 1983’s “I Am Love,” 1991’s “I’m on Your Side” and two classics fromÂ Etta James â€””At Last” and “Tell Mama.” While some singers struggle in between songs, Jennifer Holliday kept the audience entertained telling stories of singing at the Oscars for Barbra Streisand, her ups and downs with marriages and the early days of Dreamgirls. She was charismatic, funny and there wasn’t a dull moment in the over 90-minute set.
Of course Ms. Holliday belted out one of the most covered songs of all time, “And I Am Telling You,” like only she could. Holliday explained she didn’t know what love meant when she first sang the Grammy winning song at only 19. Now at 53, the song has new meaning for her. For many artists, singing their signature hit later in their career can be anticlimactic â€” they are clearly tired of the song and sometimes lazily turn the mic to the audience. Not Holliday. Her passion in “And Am I Telling You” is still jaw-dropping.
One would think “And I Am Telling You” was the best moment of the night, but no. Ms. Holliday managed to top her signature song with the heartbreaking “Love Me By Name,” which is on the new album. Sitting on a stool, Holliday finessed the melody, singing the haunting lyrics, “You’re surely not the first I’ve had / Who held me gently / Who took the sweet time to ask me about me.” By the time Holliday reached the end of her set, she brought the crowd to a frenzy as she repeatedly growled, “Love me by name!” And it was clear from the audience, Jennifer Holliday is certainly loved.