How Growing Up in Church Helped Jennifer Hudson Hold on to Her Faith

Photo from Jennifer Hudson’s Instagram

How Growing Up in Church Helped Jennifer Hudson Hold on to Her Faith

By Movieguide® Staff

Jennifer Hudson is known for her Emmy Award-winning vocals and her performances on the big screen in SING and the upcoming RESPECT, based on the life of Aretha Franklin.

Like Franklin, Hudson is a woman who was raised in church and uses her faith in many of her movie roles.

In 2013, Hudson reflected on her role in the faith-filled musical, BLACK NATIVITY

“Earlier this year I was in a church to film a movie, a historic church in Harlem with magnificent stained-glass windows and rows and rows of pews, with choir stalls and stacks of Bibles. Even though my own church was halfway across the country, I felt right at home,” Hudson wrote in 2013. 

Hudson said that faith and church were a staple of her childhood. 

“Church was at the center of my life growing up. My family went to a Baptist church on the South Side of Chicago, and I think we spent more time there than at our house,” Hudson said. “Monday nights we had Bible study, Tuesday nights were rehearsals for the adult choir, Wednesday nights the youth choir rehearsed (I sang in both choirs), Saturdays my mother folded and stapled bulletins, Sundays we were at both morning and evening services.”

She added: “We were always there. And more important, our church family was always there with us, helping us stay close to God in good times and bad.”

Movieguide® nominated BLACK NATIVITY for several Movieguide® awards. A portion of our review reads

BLACK NATIVITY is a moving, powerful story that extols God’s Grace, faith, and family. The cast does a wonderful job bringing their characters to life. The musical numbers are beautiful. The ones at the end are brilliantly integrated into the family’s story. Best of all, BLACK NATIVITY has an uplifting, inspiring message of Christian faith. Filled with Scripture, Gospel songs, worship, and prayer, BLACK NATIVITY makes a clarion call for reconciliation through forgiveness. There’s a threat of violence in one scene and a couple “d” obscenities, so MOVIEGUIDE® advises a light caution for BLACK NATIVITY.

Hudson expanded on her role in the movie and the memories of prayer and scripture reading instilled in her by her family. 

“The movie was BLACK NATIVITY, based on the Langston Hughes play. I had the part of a single mother about to be evicted from her Baltimore home,” Hudson said. “She’s beaten down by worries, especially about her teenage son. She’s had a falling out with her parents and hasn’t been back to New York City, where her dad’s a preacher, in years. Still, she sends her son up there to live with them, to be in a safe place away from her problems. That’s why we were here filming.”

She continued: “I know what it’s like to pray for my child. My son, David, Jr., named for his father, has been incredibly blessed in his four years, but I think any mother, no matter how old her kids are, understands what it’s like to have hopes and dreams and prayers for them.”

Hudson recalled how she would sing prayers with her family.  

“So many of the prayers I said as a girl were sung—and they still are. Our family was full of musicians. My uncle John was one of the lead musicians at church and directed the choir. My cousin Quentin could sit down at the piano and play any song ever written,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said that reading the Bible was another crucial practice of her family as church and prayer in her family.  

“We’d sing one of my grandmother’s favorite hymns, like ‘How Great Thou Art,’ or a gospel tune like ‘Be Grateful.’ The words filled my spirit as much as the music did,” Hudson said. “‘Be grateful,’ that gospel song goes, ‘because there’s someone else who’d love to be in your shoes. Be grateful, oh yeah, my God said he’d never, never forsake you.’ Be grateful in everything, at all times, like it says in the Bible. Like I heard in church.

“We marked up our Bibles, underlining key verses. We’d take them out and study them when the preacher preached. You’d find one of my mother’s carefully folded programs stuck between the leaves or an inscription inside for an anniversary, a birthday or a graduation,” Hudson said. “That was a Hudson family tradition. If you were celebrating a big milestone or heading off somewhere, you were given a Bible.”

The former AMERICAN IDOL contestant said that she continues to carry her Bible with her everywhere she goes. 

“My grandmother gave my uncle a Bible before he left to serve in Vietnam. When I went away to college my mother gave me my own Bible. It’s small, black, and the cover is worn to pieces, but you know the saying, the Bible that’s falling apart belongs to someone who isn’t,” Hudson said. 

“I had it with me when I was on AMERICAN IDOL and I’d pull it out of my purse whenever I needed inspiration or guidance. Sometimes the other contestants would tease me about it. ‘Jennifer, you wouldn’t cross the street without your Bible,’ they’d say. They were right,” she continued. 

Hudson shared that at the core of her family’s love for one another was a love for God. 

“That was how all of us felt in my family – my mother; my older brother, Jason; my older sister, Julia; and me. We had love, we had each other and we had God at the center of our lives,” Hudson said.