A year of tragedy and triumph for Jennifer Hudson

CHICAGO (AP) -- In the year since three members of her family were killed in Chicago, Grammy and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson has found ways to heal and start a new life...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

CHICAGO (AP) — In the year since three members of her family were brutally killed in Chicago, Grammy and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson has found ways to heal and start a new life.

And it appears the 28-year-old is happy again.

The actress and singer has gushed over her role as a new mother. She has started going out again, including an appearance at a New York gala just days ago. And she’s poured herself into her work, from a gospel-tinged rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl months after the slayings to a “VH1 Divas” concert in New York last month.

Now she is set to return to Chicago in a few weeks to film an ABC prime-time special in which she’ll share memories of her childhood Christmases in her old neighborhood and the church where she started singing.

It will be a bittersweet journey as she films “Jennifer Hudson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which is scheduled to air in December.

A year ago, just as her career was really taking off with roles in movies like “Sex and the City” and “The Secret Life of Bees,” Hudson had to return home for the worst reason possible.

On Oct. 24, 2008, the bodies of her mother, Darnell Hudson Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, were found in the family’s home on the city’s South Side. The body of her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, was found days later in a sport utility vehicle on the city’s West Side, just over 10 miles away. All three had been shot.

Hudson has repeatedly declined to talk about publicly about the killings. She and her publicist declined interview requests from The Associated Press.

“She’s heartbroken,” said Bob Israel, 40, who was friends with Jason Hudson and lives near the Hudsons’ Chicago home. “They were a close-knit family.”

William Balfour, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson’s sister, Julia, was charged with first-degree murder in the killings. Prosecutors alleged Balfour killed them in a jealous rage because he was upset Julia Hudson was dating another man.

Balfour pleaded not guilty and remains jailed. Several calls to his public defender were not returned.

The following days were tumultuous for Jennifer Hudson, including a trip to the Cook County medical examiner’s office to identify King’s body.

A picture of the cherub-faced boy, nicknamed “Juice Box,” was posted on Hudson’s MySpace page after the killings and has remained there.

“I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” she wrote on her MySpace blog. “My sister and I take great comfort and strength from your love and concern.”

After the funeral and a star-studded memorial service, Hudson, who won her an Oscar in 2007 for her supporting role in “Dreamgirls,” spent the next few months away from the public eye.

By February, she had launched back into work, filming a video for “If This Isn’t Love,” followed by the Super Bowl performance and a Grammy win for best R&B album for her self-titled debut CD.

Hudson, who first gained fame as a finalist on “American Idol” in 2004, returned to Chicago last month to perform “Spotlight” for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“It feels good to be home,” Hudson told the crowd on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

The trip garnered the respect of many, including residents in Englewood, one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods where Hudson grew up.

“People look up to her,” said Aaron Wright, 38, who lives in Englewood. “Even in tragedy, you still come home and represent where you come from. For her to come back home, that gave everybody else strength.”

These days, Jennifer Hudson is focusing on her son, David, named after her fiance Daniel David Otunga.

Hudson recently talked with reporters about her son, saying she’s looking forward to seeing “who he becomes, who he takes after, what he decides to do, if he’ll sing.”

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