Jennifer Holliday, the Tony-award winner who had agreed to perform at a concert for Trump’s inaugural, recanted after pushback from her fanbase. She was particularly moved by the pleas of her admirers within the LGBT community.
Holliday originally justified her acceptance of Trump’s invitation as part of a career-long non-partisan stance: She performed for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. and George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. As she told the New York Times, “I’m singing on the mall for the people. I don’t have a dog in this fight — I’m just a singer, and it’s a welcome concert for the people on the mall.” She said that she voted for Hillary Clinton, and that Trump’s staff was aware of that. “If someone wants me to sing a national anthem or something, we think about America, and we go.”
That was Friday. On Saturday, Holliday announced her reversal in a letter published by The Wrap. She was swayed by an op-ed in The Daily Beast, which called her decision to perform for Trump’s inauguration “heartbreaking to gay fans.” She addressed her letter to “my beloved LGBT community.”
She wrote, in part:
I was asked to sing a song for what was presented to me as the “Welcome Concert For The People”– in my mind I was reflecting on the past times of being asked to sing for presidents and I only focused on the phrase “For The People”… I thought, For America!
I was honestly just thinking that I wanted my voice to be a healing and unifying force for hope through music to help our deeply polarized country… Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
She cited the Daily Beast article, filled with information about Trump and Pence’s history of and plans for anti-LGBT legislation, as crucial to her decision-making process. Upon reading it, she wrote, “My only choice must now be to stand with the LGBT Community and to state unequivocally that I WILL NOT PERFORM FOR THE WELCOME CONCERT OR FOR ANY OF THE INAUGURATION FESTIVITIES!” She also expressed gratitude for the continued passion and support she receives from her LGBT fans: “I had no idea that I still meant so much to all of you.”
Holliday also utilized the President-elect’s favorite mode of communication to make her message clear: She retweeted an article from The Boston Globe that described Trump’s cabinet as a “who’s who of homophobia.” Her withdrawal was confirmed by her spokesperson, William Carpenter, in an email to the Times: “After she saw how hurt so many people were at the idea of her performing, she decided to pull out and not cause any extra anger or hurt.”
Holliday discussed her decision in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, referencing the connection she has felt to the LGBT community since originating the role of Effie in Dreamgirls on Broadway, for which she won a Tony in 1982:
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.
Holliday also spoke about Trump’s comments regarding civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). After Lewis gave an interview to NBC in which he said he did not believe Trump was a “legitimate” president due to Russian interference in the election and stated his intention to skip inauguration, Trump responded the following day by firing off some tweets accusing Lewis of taking no action to aid the “the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.”
Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement whose contributions to our country were recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, suffered a skull fracture when he marched to from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. As Trump might say: Sad!
Holliday performed at Lewis’ 75th birthday celebration in 2015. Asked by THR what she made of Trump’s tweets, she said, “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.”
“Is he serious by saying that he’s ‘all talk and no action’?” she went on. “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.”
While plenty of performers have flat-out refused Trump’s inauguration invitation—including Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake, and Elton John — and others, like the Rockettes, have been vocal about their opposition to a decision management made on their behalf, there are a handful of artists committed to participating in the weekend’s festivities. Among them are country artist Toby Keith and teenage America’s Got Talent singer Jackie Evancho, who will perform the national anthem.