Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly series showcasing an album, single, music video or performance of a bygone era and its personal and/or cultural significance.
“I thought I’d reached the end,” Jennifer Hudson sings on her would-be classic “You Pulled Me Through,” an evocative tear-jerker which found harrowing new meaning after the 2008 murder of her family. “You held me / And I held on,” she later wails, filtering hardship through the support of unconditional love. But when her mother and brother were mowed down (and seven-year-old nephew abducted and then later killed) by her sister’s estranged husband William Balfour on the morning of Oct. 24, the song (written by Dianne Warren and found on Hudson’s self-titled LP) shifted from being a shimmering love-struck ballad to a grim love-torn eulogy.
Hudson hid away from the public eye for many months following the tragedy and reemerged at the 2009 Grammy Awards to deliver one of the most emotional and iconic performances in the show’s history. An a cappella intro, the stormy, teary-eyed performance witnessed Hudson at her most vulnerable ⎯⎯ the glitter and glamor fell away and she displayed her scars for the whole world to see. “You gave my faith back / Faith was so hard to find / You gave me my life back / You were my lifeline,” she sings through vocal cracks and tears welling up in her eyes. But she stood her ground for that moment in time, ostensibly frozen and lingering now for nearly 10 years. “The love that you gave me is love that has saved me / Your strength is what made me strong.”
Hudson is a magnificent gift, bestowed with towering, potent vocal chords and the ability to move mountains. Even more, her strength displayed in only four minutes is as astonishing as it is empowering. “Your love saved my life,” she determines, resilient and commanding. The crowd, unsurprisingly, erupts into a much-earned standing ovation. Brava, Hudson, brava!