Written and published in CariVele Magazine for their special issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of Trinidad & Tobago’s independence
Any list of Trinidadians of distinction would be grossly incomplete if ever omitting Heather Headley. Easily one of the most driven and multi-talented of Trinidadian artists who have excelled abroad, she has already made history as a ground-breaking actress and singer – and she is not even yet 40.
Both in her adopted home of the US as well as in the UK, her peers have recognised her work as among the best in her field. And for Heather, the third time has always been the charm. At 25, in her third Broadway production, the powerhouse actress and singer picked up a Tony Award for the title role in Elton John and Time Rice’s Aida, plus a record contract along the way. At 35, she picked up her first Grammy. In between have been numerous other awards and nominations, including an Olivier Award nod for her West End debut as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. Though the Olivier went to Imelda Staunton (the Meryl Streep of British film and theatre), Headley’s riveting performing of “I Will Always Love You” brought the entire auditorium to its feet. After a strong showing in London, early reports indicate that a Headley-led cast of The Bodyguard is likely to transfer to Broadway in the spring of 2014.
Things didn’t begin in such a jetsetting fashion. Heather spent the first 14 years of her life enjoying an unpretentious upbringing in Barataria, growing richly in church and school environments which helped nurture her nascent musical talents in singing and piano. Life would change swiftly when her father Eric, a pastor, was offered a position in a church in Indiana. Despite adjustments that were at times difficult – and through which Headley credits her mother Hannah with being their rock – Heather’s talent continued to flourish in the US. Both a brain and a beauty, she enrolled at Ivy League institution Northwestern University (considering law before studying voice and communications) before withdrawing to pursue an acting career that was already taking off.
Just eight years after moving to the US as a teenager, she accepted a role in the Broadway-bound musical Ragtime. The big breaks weren’t far behind: she originated the role of Nala in the Broadway adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King, before taking up the role that would win her a Tony Award: the title role in Aida. Ten years later came her Grammy Award, with some of her greatest personal rewards coming in the interim. In 2003, Headley married, giving birth to a son six years later. Not long after becoming a mother, she also experienced one of her career highlights, singing a duet with Josh Groban at the 2009 inauguration of US President Barack Obama on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
For all the blessings Heather has received in her life, she is also concerned with giving back and helping youngsters get the opportunities to pursue their own dreams. In their hometown of Chicago, she and her husband work with a scholarship school for inner city children. Headley also has plans to build on her 2011 United Way fundraising concert in Trinidad with more formal programmes to develop budding local artists.
Singer, actress, wife, mother, daughter, sister and star, Heather Headley seems certain to excel at every role she takes on. Her gruelling West End schedule – and the likelihood of an equally gruelling Broadway schedule to follow – may slow some the planning of other nascent projects close to her heart, but certainly keeps her on track to continue as a down-to-earth Trini girl destined for international greatness.
HEATHER IN A NUTSHELL
- Born: 5 October, 1974
- Education: St. Vincent Anglican Girls School and St. George’s College (Trinidad & Tobago); Northrop High School and Northwestern University (USA)
- Height: 5’8”
- Spouse: former NFL player Brian Musso (married 2003)
- Children: one boy, John David (2009)
- 2000 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Aida);
- 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Aida);
- 2000 Sarah Siddons Award for Work in Chicago theatre;
- 2003 Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards for Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist (“He Is”) and Best R&B/Soul Album of the Year – Solo (This Is Who I Am)
- 2010 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album (Audience of One).
- 2003 Billboard Music Award for R&B/Hip-Hop New Artist of the Year;
- 2003 NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding New Artist and Outstanding Female Artist;
- 2003 Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist (“He Is”);
- 2004 Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (“I Wish I Wasn’t”);
- 2006 BET J/Centric for Cool Like That Award;
- 2010 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance (“Jesus Is Love”);
- 2010 Dove Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year, Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year (Audience of One), and Event Album of the Year for “Oh Happy Day”.
Also named as one of:
- People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”;
- Essence Magazine’s “30 Women To Watch”.
- 2002: This Is Who I Am (Certified: Gold)
- 2006: In My Mind (Certified: Gold)
- 2009: Audience of One
- 2012: Only One in the World
Also credited on:
- The Lion King on Broadway Cast Recording (1997);
- Return to Pride Rock (1998);
- Do Re Mi (1999 Encores! production with Nathan Lane, Randy Graff, and Brian Stokes Mitchell);
- Aida Original Broadway Cast Recording (1999);
- Golden Dreams (2001);
- Dreamgirls in Concert (2002 with Audra McDonald and Lillias White);
- Oh Happy Day (2009, with Al Green)