(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
Vocal powerhouse Jennifer Hudson grew up in Chicago in the '80s and '90s, but it was a piece of classic '70s disco that first made her want to put her talents to use as a professional performer.
"When I heard 'Got To Be Real' [by Cheryl Lynn] it just grabbed me," says Hudson. "That was the song that made me think, 'Oh God — that's what I want to do.' I'd mark off a little stage on the floor and hold my hairbrush microphone and jump up and down. I'd lose it."
A solid disco beat can still move her, but Hudson also cites gospel music as a major influence, having sung often in the church in her childhood with an extended family of talented vocalists.
Hudson got the chance to make her own music career real in 2004 when she delivered several knockout performances as a contestant on "American Idol." Her breakout role in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls followed in 2006, and two years later she took home Best R&B Album honors for her self-titled debut at the 51st GRAMMY Awards [link to show page].
With plans underway for her third studio album, Hudson reigns as one of the most gifted and affecting performers of her generation. Here are six recordings from the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame that continue to make her want to reach for the microphone — hairbrush or otherwise.
"I have a hard time remembering what I was doing the first time I heard a lot of the Whitney songs because I went crazy for everything she did. That first album really had an effect on me. 'Saving All My Love For You,' 'How Will I Know,' 'Greatest Love Of All' — just saying the names of the songs makes me want to cry all over again. I do remember that 'Greatest Love Of All' was a total game changer for me. It was a song that had a very different kind of power. It didn't make you want to dance like my other favorites had done — this one captivated you. It put you into a trance. You started listening to that song and the world around you went silent.
"Whitney had that effect right from the start. There's a time to dance, and there's a time to listen, and Whitney had a voice that you had to listen to. The thing that has always amazed me is that her music is so powerful, and yet it's so soothing. In some ways it's perfect ear candy, but it can also move you to tears."
"When it is time to dance, this is the [song]. I think everybody has the experience with music that certain songs are powerful enough to take you right back to a certain time and place. There are songs you appreciate for the music, but there are songs you just feel are like old friends — you've got some history with them. For me, hearing Patti LaBelle and the group singing 'Lady Marmalade' takes me right back to the times when I was first getting so excited about music. This is the kind of song that just made me jump up and want to be a part of what was going on.
"I also remember being impressed by the look and the image of LaBelle too, which I didn't really know about until I'd already been familiar with the song. [They were] so much fun, and so expressive. I wish things were a little more like that now. Sometimes it feels like everything's been done. You think somebody has a new look and it turns out LaBelle [were] already there.
"Oh Happy Day"
Edwin Hawkins Singers
"I started out singing in church choruses, and even before I was singing I was sitting [on] my grandmother's lap while she was singing the chorus on Sunday or at choir rehearsal. My whole family sang — my grandmother was the youngest of 11 siblings and they all sang together as a group. I remember they'd do these warm-ups where they'd go around and everybody in the family had to sing their name: 'My name is Jennifer Hudson, how do you do?'
"I always loved that feeling of being surrounded by music and family, and that's a feeling I get from 'Oh Happy Day,' which is kind of funny because for all the singing we did in church, I don't think we sang that song. Once I heard it though, I couldn't get enough of it. It's one of those great pieces of music that's a real church song, but it gets you there just like any great up-tempo pop song. It gives you that great feeling of energy and makes you smile. It does what the title tells you it does — makes your day a happier one."
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Simon & Garfunkel
"I just absolutely love this song, and have from the first time I heard it. But for a long time what I was familiar with was the Aretha Franklin version. A friend finally introduced me to the Simon & Garfunkel original. Their recording is so perfect and so heavenly — every time I hear it I either want to sing along with the whole thing, or just say, 'Hallelujah.' The sound is so pure and the arrangement is so beautiful, it just sends you away. Then, when you really listen to the words, it's beautiful on a whole different level. What does everyone want in life but a bridge over troubled water?
"This is the kind of song that makes me wonder: When it was being written and recorded, did they have a sense of how amazing and timeless this was? Did they know from the start it was a masterpiece? I think we musicians know when we've done the best we can do, and that's a great feeling. But I wonder if there's an extra awareness when you create something that's just going to last forever. This song is definitely in that category."
"The Way We Were"
"I don't remember my first time hearing Barbra Streisand. I just think I was always aware that she was the top — that she's as good as you can get as a singer and a performer.
"The first time I really became aware of just how special a talent she had was when I actually had to get it together to sing a couple of her songs at one of Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY [Galas]. It was a tribute for her, and two days before the show Clive asked me to sing 'People' and 'The Way We Were.' I had to take on these two gigantic signature songs — songs that aren't easy to deliver — and sing them with her sitting right in front of me. Are you kidding me? I almost lost my mind.
"She makes the first few lines of 'People' sound so easy, but melodically it's very difficult to get it just right. To this day I want to sing that over again and get it right — a little more right. I think I must have spoken to her after I sang, but I was so terrified I don't remember a thing. I think she was smiling, but I don't know. I love her. I'd sing for her again if I could — but maybe not one of her songs."
(Jennifer Hudson won her first career GRAMMY in 2008 for Best R&B Album for Jennifer Hudson. As an actress, her role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls earned her numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. A day after the death of Whitney Houston on Feb. 11, 2012, Hudson performed "I Will Always Love You" as a special tribute on the 54th GRAMMY Awards telecast.)
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)
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