“If I close my eyes,” Jennifer Hudson says, closing her eyes, “I can almost remember what it was like, what I was like, 15 years ago. I was at home in Chicago, still in high school, singing in church, living with my family.” She opens her bright brown eyes again, stares straight at me to answer my question. “But generally, no, it feels like another Jennifer life. I don’t look the same. I’m a mother now. So many things have changed. I sometimes think the only constant is my voice. That hasn’t gone away.”
In those 15 years, Hudson has lived more than a few American dreams and nightmares. Having taken her chances at manufactured fame on Simon Cowell’s American Idol (she was a losing finalist in series 3) she discovered it for real with her unforgettable debut acting performance in Dreamgirls, in which she played spurned Motown diva Effie White, stealing the show from Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx and winning a best supporting actress Oscar. She followed that with a Grammy award-winning album that saw her bracketed, naturally, with Aretha and Whitney. The talk then was that she had an old soul voice, a seen-it-all voice (the authentic sound of a “religious, transcendent experience” Oprah Winfrey said). As it turned out, she hadn’t seen anything yet.
In October 2008, while on tour, Hudson received a call from her sister Julia that changed the narrative of her life forever. Hudson had been trying to reach her mother by text that morning and was worried that she did not get a reply (they contacted each other first thing every morning when she was on the road, so the silence was odd). The silence was explained by Julia’s hysterical call that told her their mother, Darnell, and brother, Jason, had been shot and murdered at home, and that Julia’s seven-year-old son, Julian, was missing.
Hudson later recalled in the trial of her former brother-in-law, William Balfour, that she had gone straight back to Chicago and holed up with her sister in a hotel room, holding each other and waiting for news. After three days, Julian’s body was discovered in the back of a stolen pick-up truck. Balfour was eventually convicted of the three murders in 2012 and received three life sentences.
Hudson is still finding ways to talk about those years. “I have definitely seen the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows,” she says. “You don’t know how strong you are until you are placed in that kind of moment.” She pauses. “I don’t really know what else to say.”
Her mother had been the secretary of the local church, where Hudson had led the gospel solos in the choir. Was her religious faith a help to her? “It was the ultimate help to me,” she says. “We always said: ‘If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it.’ There would be no point in faith if it wasn’t tested. My mother always told me no matter how negative your life seems to be, you must always look for a positive. That is what I believe a woman of faith should do.”
In hudson’s early years her father was mostly absent from the family and she shared a bed with her mother until she was 16. There is a kind of primal scream of human separation that her voice seems created for. It was there already in her extraordinary performance of Dreamgirls’s signature lament – “And I am telling you I’m not going” – and it is there throughout her second album, on tracks like “I Remember Me”. Her third album, JHUD, which is released in September, includes a song that she has written in her mother’s memory called “Moan”. The lyric runs: “My momma taught me everything I know, and I will take it everywhere I go, if you think you’ve seen it all, just keep on living, live long”.
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SOURCE: The Guardian