Two years later…still missing Whitney!
“When I heard Aretha, I could feel her emotional delivery so clearly. It came from down deep within. That’s what I wanted to do.”—Whitney Houston
For every girl that ever wanted to sing one iota of a note, Whitney was the reference. This five foot, ten inch tall woman of undeniable, yet under-exaggerated beauty made pitch-challenged singers champion her songs in karaoke bars where the expectation of being a songtress had no merit; and, divas-in-training (sometimes, very much needed training) belted out her tunes as if they had written the words, lyrics, and gone through the breakups, ecstasy, and infatuation so often sang about by our Pop Queen. I’m certain Whitney listened to ill-attempted arrangements of her music disguised as flattery and cringed with every sour note–there simply will never be a singer like Whitney Houston again, but I am certain every faulty imitation of this level of mastery always brought a smile to the heart of the woman with the angelic voice. For most of us, she really was the fairy God mother she played in an updated version of Cinderalla featuring another of her young protegees, Brandy Norwood. Whitney Houston was a gifted singer that was undeniably human, but one thing she left younger girls with from Cinderalla is that every dream is “Possible.” I will always love you, Whitney Houston.
While it has been extremely difficult to forget the blots in Whitney’s life—her mistakes and less-than-diva experiences, what is even greater to forget are the number of times Whitney captivated audiences as she carefully crafted an often heard radio song into a once-in-a-lifetime, in-the-moment, brand-new, live rendition of absolute splendor. I recall watching her in an Arista Records tribute to her mentor, Mr. Clive Davis, a couple years ago. Whitney was wearing a gold sequined gown and her hair was similar to the hairstyle made famous by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. While on stage, Whitney held her trademarked hand cloth in one hand (used to wipe the pouring sweat manifested from the delivery of the singer’s voracity) and with the other, she expressed the song like a rhythmic gymnast. Occasionally she would touch the bodice and other parts of her gown, causing the sequins to conflict with one another. As she opened her mouth to sing, viewers could sense that the venue was already consumed with its expectation of a ‘Whitney performance,’ and by the end of the song , “I Will Always Love You”, listeners were bursting with emotion and standing on their feet in resounding, thunderous and long-lasting applause that still didn’t seem to fully express how well Whitney had just performed. In her usual cross-legged fashion, Ms. Houston bowed and looked out into the audience, acknowledged the musicians on stage, and returned her appreciation with her cap-toothed smile that always made her eyes close like half moons.
Like so many of the greats before her, Whitney Houston had a way of singing and speaking just enough of our favorite songs to make the listeners of these live performances feel as she had just been asked to sing personally in front of each of us in a small room, even if thousands of people were in tow. Because she was so confident in her singing abilities though, she could sing on command. What felt like an impromptu and personal request performance, sounded like a well rehearsed and creatively rearranged song. Places she may have wanted to embellish or run or riff in the studio recording were now vocally manicured to leave a different imprint in our minds and hearts. Whitney was simply one of a kind!
From the very first performance or recorded song I ever heard or saw, Whitney Houston never appeared to be an amateur in a very fickle industry; I never sensed she ever got butterflies. Whenever she walked out, whether wearing an original gown that accentuated her body perfectly or a pair of form fitting pants or leggins with an accompanying upper ensemble, or her favorite jeans, she always appeared to be in control, captivating, and an “old pro.” When she spoke to the audience in her Tina Turner-like quickness and airiness, her messages always seemed to come across as if she was quoting from Jennifer Hudson’s song, “I Got This.” And, since she was so comfortable, I was never worried that she would not survive show business. For example, I remember watching one of the award shows and Dionne Warwick was a presenter. As she read the nominees she was calm and cool, but when Dionne Warwick pulled up the cover of the winning envelope and it revealed Whitney Houston had won, Dionne Warwick jumped up and down like a someone that had just won a sweepstakes and exclaimed the winner to be, “my cousin Whitney Houston!” It was in that moment that I understood why the hype of the music industry never seemed to unsettle Whitney Houston’s nerves. In addition, she had a renowned gospel-singing mother, Ms. Cissy Houston, and the Queen of Soul, Ms. Aretha Franklin, Whitney’s God mother. On one album she even managed to have the song writing genius of Bebe Winans, Stevie Wonder (with whom she also sang a duet), Babyface, and Luther Vandross! Absolutely, the “cool” she exhibited was because she had always learned from the best.
“Heaven” is a place each of us has been many times while listening to or after listening to a Whitney Houston song. Although that feeling of euphoria is how we’ve all imagined heaven will be, none of us are knocking on heaven’s door for an expedited trip, but throught Whitney’s voice we get there every time. Today and forever we mourn the loss of people who have categorically used their lives and gifts to create some of the best moments in the lives of millions. From our political martyrs like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy to our beloved artists like Michael Jackson and the recently transitioned, Ms. Etta James, death is a state that will inherit each of us. There are scores of people that passed at the same time as Ms. Houston and countless others will pass after; and, in death’s hour and in the mourning time, the most we can ask for is that the heavens hold open their doors to make room for each of us. There are so many lessons to be learned from the public life, and in our private moments we should reflect on what we’ve put on display for others to see and judge.
We have but “One Moment in Time” to leave our footprints in the sand, but when heaven calls, ready or not, we have to go. Here is a salute to the woman that made me and all other little girls want to be glamorous, dance the night away, and sing un-apologetically without ever worrying about decibels. Thank you, Ms. Whitney Houston. Now, she is heaven’s novice.
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