On January 13, Tony- and Grammy-winning singer and Broadway actress Jennifer Holliday was listed alongside country singers Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood and early millennium rock group 3 Doors Down as performers at a welcoming event for the President-elect next Thursday, Jan. 19.
Donald Trump’s (and later the singer’s) publicists had confirmed that Holliday, whose career dates back to the early 1980s with her stints in the Broadway musicals Your Arms Too Short to Box with God and Dreamgirls and her #1 R&B hit single from the latter, “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going,” would be performing at the event to be held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the eve of Trump’s inauguration.
On January 14, it was announced that she is NOT going to be singing at the event. In an apparent about-face amidst a backlash that was about as venomous as they can get on social media, Holliday owed her change of heart to a “lapse in judgment” and the concerns expressed by her “gay fans,” who were among the most vocal in their opposition to Holliday’s planned performance.
As anyone with a pulse and a functioning brain might expect, the backlash triggered by the earlier announcement was swift and brutal, with people on both sides of the Trump spectrum lighting up social media about Holliday, who is black and female (and heavily supported by the gay community), performing for a man whose upcoming administration purports to set each of those groups back several decades in societal change.
On the one hand, Trump’s haters (and there are many who fall in that category) skewered Holliday for being a “traitor” or simply for being woefully unaware of what messages her performance would send to the very communities that Trump’s 16-month presidential campaign, um…offended.
On the other hand, people (I’ll take the odds that they’re Trump’s supporters) denounced Holliday’s attackers for their venom, calling them ignorant and hypocritical for spewing the very “hate” that they attribute to Trump and his followers.
Indeed, Trump’s surprising win on Nov. 8 has been met with visceral reaction from both sides, but particularly from the more than half of voters whose ballots were cast for his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The communities who stand to gain the least from his election, namely minorities, women and LGBT (not to mention the rust-belt, middle-American, working class poor – but I’ll leave them out of this since they don’t yet believe it and Jennifer Holliday is not part of that group), have been stridently vocal in their opposition of the man who will be No. 45.
So it stands to reason that an entertainer such as Holliday, who herself voted for Clinton (by her own admission) and who represents at least three of those groups either by definition (her birth) or by default (her fan association), would “get it” when met with the backlash that occurred after Friday’s announcement of her planned performance…or at least not be surprised by the outcry.
Apparently that wasn’t initially the case.
Holliday initially didn’t believe that performing at the Jan. 19 event labeled the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” for the next president was really a performance for Trump. Instead it was a performance “for the people,” as comments attributed to her in a New York Times interview yesterday suggested.
Ms. Holliday, who just finished a stint on January 8 as a replacement “Shug Avery” in the Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple, said in the interview that people “hate her now” and that “there’s no more freedom of speech.”
This writer, for one, disagrees with her. I (at least) certainly didn’t “hate” her for her initial decision or for the change of heart that followed, and I do believe there is still “freedom of speech.” People often confuse the expression of anger at someone’s actions or political position (not that Holliday’s now-cancelled performance reflects hers, remember, she voted for Clinton) as indicating a lack of freedom of speech. No, freedom of speech means you get to perform at said concert, sing whatever the heck you want AND people get to express their reactions to it, freely and without punishment from their government.
But that’s an argument for a different day.
Back to my main point.
Jennifer Holliday is an immensely talented performer who would have been adding color to an otherwise non-diverse Trump-related event now featuring only three white male musical acts. She would have been the only female and the only African-American slated for this pre-inaugural welcome concert on the National Mall – for the 45th president of a nation which prides itself on its diversity.
We don’t know all the circumstances or motivation behind her initial decision to do the concert (although the internet had already decided for us that it was money and publicity for an otherwise “dead” career). We do know from her statement this morning (Jan. 14) her motivation for cancelling it.
Be that as it may (or may not be), several former presidents – including democrats and a republican, all of whom staunchly opposed Donald Trump’s ascension and several for whom Holliday has performed – will be at the actual inauguration on Jan. 20. That includes Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. It also includes Bill Clinton and the former First Lady Hillary Clinton, both of whom reportedly were in attendance at Holliday’s last Color Purple performance.
And it includes President Barack Obama, who of course has to be there as part of the official transition of power.
That same outgoing president would likely have endorsed and even applauded Jennifer Holliday’s initial decision to perform, just as he endorsed a highly publicized (and criticized) meeting this week between comedian and TV/radio personality Steve Harvey and the incoming president to start a discussion about “improving conditions in the inner cities.” It’s the right and noble thing to do for a U. S. president who has called for a peaceful transition and represents all Americans, not just those who opposed Trump.
The outgoing president would also quickly remind us that there was a time when no one would have even dreamed that there’d be a black president or that a black woman would be allowed to perform on the National Mall in a Washington, DC. Those days are now gone and – up until this morning’s announcement – we would have been watching the culmination of both events in the coming days.
That is, until the change of heart by Holliday, who – if one is to take social media seriously – had a right to be concerned about the impact her decision to perform might have had on her career, a career that has included some stellar moments and now maybe at least one (or two) dubious decisions.
But Trump’s haters should probably have backed off Holliday in what Trump’s supporters have now likened to “bullying” tactics (and Trump’s supporters who are likely offended by the reversal should now do the same, albeit for different reasons). There are already much bigger fish to fry in an administration that includes the likes of Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, and Rick Perry among others whose conservative social agendas will likely set America back several decades. The transition of power to those people in the next few days will have much farther reaching impact than Jennifer Holliday’s performance at a pre-inaugural event that would likely have been forgotten as soon as Trump repeats “so help me God” during the Oath of Office given the next day.
Should Jennifer Holliday have backed out of the event? Some will likely call it bad form, especially if in doing so she only meant to placate a few vocal and irate fans with too much time on their social media-addicted hands.
However, let there be no misunderstanding about it: Holliday’s “lapse in judgment” in initially agreeing to perform at an event called the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” was not going to be just a show “for the people.” It would also have been a performance for Donald Trump…or at least heavily viewed as such.
Whether Holliday initially believed it or not.