Jennifer landed her first big role on Broadway in 1979. At age 19, she landed a part the same day she auditioned for the Broadway production of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. Her performance in that musical earned her a 1981 Drama Desk nomination. Her next role, which she began to act at 21, was the role for which she became best known: the role of Effie Melody White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. Jennifer originated the role of Effie and remained with the show for nearly four years after its December 20, 1981 opening. Her performance in the role was widely acclaimed, particularly in her iconic performance of the musical number that ends Act I, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
Among the acclaim was Holliday's sweep of awards in 1982, including the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, a Grammy award for her recorded version of the song, and Drama Desk and Theater World awards for her acting performance. Holliday also performed in the touring company of Sing, Mahalia, Sing in 1985. In 1998 Holliday was featured on the album "My Favorite Broadway Ladies" notice as one of "The Queens of Broadway."
Holliday received a Doctor of Music honoris causa from Berklee College of Music, Boston in 2000. In 2001 she was presenter for the tap dance show "21 Below" at Town Hall in NYC and also headlined Equity Cares/Broadway Fights Aids' "Nothing Like a Dame" show at the St. James Theatre where she was accompanied by teenage tap dance sensation Michela Marino Lerman and Hannah Leah Dunn.
Jennifer Holliday possesses a versatile vocal range of Dramatic Contralto and Soprano style. She is also known for her signature and powerful growl belting. Holliday blew everyone away in 1982 Tony Awards performance of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," for which she received a standing ovation. More of her power was seen at her appearance in a 1987 Gospel Sessions, where she did an earth shaking rendition of "His Eye is on the Sparrow."