Born in Chicago, raised for half of her childhood in the suburbs, and the rest in southern New Jersey, Holly has always been singing. From the time she was a baby in a buggy next to a stereo at a Sears store, she’s been humming along.
Music has been her home either at school, at church or at work. Her first memories of music are singing, “Go Tell It On The Mountain” at four years old in the Park Ridge Baptist Church Christmas concert. In high school, she landed the lead as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. “Being able to tell a story with music was a real awakening.” It was that experience that led her to pursue a degree in theatre in college.
But while taking a break from her studies, she landed a job at Busch Gardens’ Old Country in Williamsburg, VA, where she sang and danced in five shows a day, six days a week. “It was shear heaven to me.” Later, she traveled with a USO tour, “Razzmatazz,” through Busch Gardens and entertained the troops in Germany and the Sinai Peninsula. “What a thrill it was to see the world and give some joy to our troops stationed so far away.” Next she came back to the states and found herself performing in summer stock in New York playing the lead of Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls.
After finishing her degree in theatre and getting married to the love of her life, Mark McNeill, Holly began pursuing musical theatre, industrial films and “chick singer” gigs with bands. “I paid my dues playing in a variety of restaurants, clubs and dive bars.” It was good training. In between singing gigs, she began substitute teaching in area schools in NJ. It was that positive experience that led her think about teaching as a career further down the road.
Soon she was cast in another summer stock production of “The Odd Couple-female version” with Kaye Ballard and Sandy Dennis at the legendary Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. That led to her working with noted comedian, Shelley Berman in another Bucks County Playhouse production of “La Cage aux Folles.”
Holly moved back to Chicago and promptly discovered the exciting genre of cabaret. “Again, being able to tell a story through music was so exciting for me. I loved the freedom to create a piece of theatre that is transcended by songs from all over the musical spectrum. I still enjoy the intimacy of a cabaret setting where you are making direct contact with your audience.” Holly decided to return to school to get a masters degree and a teaching certificate so that she could teach high school students the successes and challenges of life in the theatre and perform in the summer. Soon she landed her dream job in a high school with a visual and performing arts academy.
In 2002, Holly gave birth to a bouncing, baby girl, Mary Brown McNeill. Soon after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after years before being told that some symptoms she had experienced were nothing serious. Now determined to fight this dreaded disease, Holly discovered a new purpose to her life and her music.
She found an MS expert at Rush MS Center in Chicago, Dr. Dusan Stefoski, who convinced her that if she got on the medication now, she “could be this good for 80 years.” “I took that as a challenge and now I’m making it happen.” With the help of her family, friends and faith, Holly has found a new purpose in mentoring to newly diagnosed MS patients or those who are frustrated with their progress. “I’ve also found a new inspiration for many of my songs that I’ve been singing for 20 years.
All of this inspired her to go into the studio to record many of the songs she has sung either in church, in the theater or in cabaret settings. HOPE, her newly debuted CD, is the culmination of nearly four years. Holly is pleased to offer much needed hope to the world.
Click here to preview and purchase the HOPE CD at cdbaby.com
Click her to connect with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Webpage.