In the era of modern pop music, a bona fide hit from a Broadway musical is fairly rare. That makes it all the sweeter that "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" became a smash when it was released to promote the long-running musical Dreamgirls in 1982.
The road to Dreamgirls was a long one for its creators. Writer Tom Eyen and songwriter Harry Krieger, two mainstays of off-Off-Broadway theatre, had refined their concept of a musical loosely based on Diana Ross and The Supremes throughout the mid-to-late '70s. The project started to build momentum when director Michael Bennett, fresh off helming A Chorus Line, came aboard the project.
"And I Am Telling You" was the result of narrative trial and error during the show's development process. Jennifer Holliday, who originated the Dreamettes' original lead singer Effie from the earliest workshops, quit the project at least twice, feeling her character didn't get her proper due. That all changed when the song came to pass, replacing a dramatic death scene for Effie at the end of Act I with a defiant torch song protesting her firing from the group.
"I think that it keys into everyone's feeling of betrayal, and saying 'I won't take it anymore,'" Krieger said in an interview when Dreamgirls headed to the West End in 2016. "Everyone understands what it's like to have something that you thought was yours be taken away from you."
Critics praised Dreamgirls when it opened at the Imperial Theatre in 1981, but were particularly rapturous toward Holliday's standout number. "It's a good thing that Act I of Dreamgirls ends soon thereafter [the song]," The New York Times wrote. "If the curtain didn't fall, the audience would probably cheer Jennifer Holliday until dawn." Eyen's book and Holliday's performance were among six of the Tony Awards the show earned in June 1982; less than two months later, "I Am Telling You" reached No. 1 on Billboard's R&B chart and peaked at No. 22 on the Hot 100. It also won Holliday a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Though Holliday endured trials throughout her career, including severe bouts of depression, by the 2000s she was back on top with a string of Top 10 dance hits, including some covers of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." And, of course, the song was introduced to a whole new generation when Dreamgirls was adapted into a film, for which American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, taking on the role of Effie and sending "And I Am Telling You" back into the Top 20 of Billboard's R&B survey.