When it comes to Broadway and musicals that showcase soul music and R&B in particular, the pickings are pretty slim. That’s why when the musical Dreamgirls–loosely based on the early start of Motown and the musical group The Supremes—opened on Broadway in late 1981, accolades were waiting in the wings. The musical was nominated for thirteen Tony awards and folks couldn’t stop talking about newcomer Jennifer Holliday’s show-stopping performance as Effie White, and her rendition of the song “And I Am Telling You,” which was released as a single in 1982.
The song marks the end of Act One in the play and is a piercing cry of pain where Effie White tells her lover Curtis how she feels as she leaves all traces of her pride and ego at his feet. Belted out in a fury of depth and crumbling bravado, Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You” leaves detectable goose bumps when you listen.
Six years ago when the movie version of Dreamgirls hit theaters, audiences were impressed with the stellar cast that included Eddie Murphy, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Hudson as Effie White. Hudson’s rendition of “And I Am Telling You” was released as a single, peaking at #14 on the R&B charts and bringing attention to Hudson as a rising star. But, before Hudson, Jennifer Holliday’s version topped charts and brought a new audience to the world of Broadway. Holliday won the 1983 Grammy award for Best R&B Vocal Performance for the song, and the song became a top 40 on the Billboard charts. In a recent interview with Anthony Cardno, when asked what it was like to be part of the first production of Dreamgirls with stars Loretta Devine and Sheryl Lee Ralph, Holliday shared:
“Nothing had been done like this at the time and of course I was young and you know you’re making something happen. You don’t know you’re making a hit that’s going to be around for generations to come, making history, that sort of thing. None of that came to mind. It was a lot of hard work…and boom! I was the star really overnight…a lot of it was just so much that I’m still sorting through it after 30 years.”
Holliday continues to perform the hit song even today at 51 years old, and returned to her role of Effie White this year in an off-Broadway production of Dreamgirls. As the song celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it’s prophetic chorus rings true as we know that the song will remain a classic for years to come and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a music writer based in Maryland. Her bylines have appeared on SoulBounce.com, Honey Magazine, ForHarriet.com, and other print and digital spaces. Visit her website at KhadijahOnline.com.