Julia Nixon has enjoyed a long and enviable career.
The rhythm and blues/soul singer understudied, then took over the lead role of Effie – first performed by Jennifer Holiday – in the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls.”
“It was a great roller coaster ride,” said Nixon, a D.C. resident with roots in the South. “That started it all.”
After relocating to the area a few decades ago, she performed in the touring company of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” and received the 2007 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical “Caroline, or Change.”
Exciting as the performance and honor were, Nixon admitted she took comedy courses “to lighten up” after the “so-heavy and serious show.”
The singer won’t have to worry about the tone when she appears Oct. 5 at AMP at Strathmore as part of a tour, performing the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The Dave Ylvisaker Dozen will accompany her.
Over a period of several decades, Bacharach and David wrote such hits as “Magic Moments,” “Walk on By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Alfie,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “The Look of Love,” “What the World Needs Now,” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”
Bacharach discovered Dionne Warwick, who went on to record several of the team’s songs.
They also wrote “Promises, Promises,” a 1968 Broadway musical with a book by Neil Simon. Based on Billy Wilder’s comedy-drama film “The Apartment,” the show starred Jerry Orbach, and aside from the title song, introduced “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”
Publicity from Strathmore declared that “the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David left an indelible mark on pop history – with their dramatic chords, jazz voicings, and endless pop strut.”
Nixon gained local fame performing in the ensemble group Julia and Company, the resident group of the popular D.C. nightclub Mr. Henry’s, where she still has a monthly Saturday showcase.
Her other credits include performance at Radio City Music Hall, the White House, the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, as well as international radio, television, and personal appearances. She forged performance associations with Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Kenny G., and Richard Pryor.
After releasing several hit records in Europe, the contralto has a new track, “Survive (LIVIN’),” which she said reflects someone who has undergone life’s struggles.
Nixon is divorced, but has a son also in show business. She also lost her voice before one performance of “Dreamgirls,” after her father suffered a heart attack, and had to undergo special treatment.
“The whole Motown-soul [thing] really resonates with me,” said Nixon, “but vocalizing classical music kept me singing, and gives my voice longevity.”
Many factors contributed to Nixon’s success – her voice, family heritage – both her parents sang – and training at the North Carolina School of the Arts.
There was one other.
“It’s a story that’s hard to believe, but is really true,” Nixon said. “I was working as domestic for two white women down South – women active in the civil rights movement. I saw they had records of Leontyne Price, the opera singer, and Dionne Warwick. I had never been in a white home with albums of black people.”
She began to “mimic” the sounds of both in the bathroom, which had the best acoustics. One of her employers rushed over and said: “You need voice lessons.”
“She made arrangements right then and there,” said Nixon.
The singer remembers fondly that her two employers came up to New York to see her in “Dreamgirls.”
Now Nixon is looking ahead to the AMP concert. “I’m a Bachaholic,” she said. “When I sing their songs, the audience is also singing, their heads swaying. I love that.”
The concert takes place on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m., at AMP at Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Ave., 4th floor, North Bethesda. For more information, call 301-581-5100 or visit their website at www.ampbystrathmore.com.