Yesterday, Whitney Elizabeth Houston would have turned 50. If you know her music, then you understand why she was called “The Voice.” She was the most awarded female artist of all time according to Guinness World Records, and also had one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. I didn’t personally know Whitney Houston, but my heart ached after her passing as if I did. In a way, I guess, I did know her. She was a fixture in my household. I know her music. I followed her rise to fame, saw her battle here inner demons, and witnessed her strive to rebuild her life.
She gave us the wonderful gift of music. Music can lift your spirits when you’re low, express your happiness, and when you feel like no one understands; there is always that one song that states exactly how you feel. Whitney Houston voice evoked so many emotions in me. I guess that’s why she made me dream of becoming a singer. When I was a little girl, I proudly told people, “When I grow up, I want to be a singer just like Whitney Houston!” Although, it never came into fruition because that wasn’t one of my God-given talents, I later chose the medium of film to touch people.
My father had her all of her records and I would make requests for him to play her songs. I loved “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” “How Will I Know” and “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Whitney Houston gave me a boost in my self-esteem that I will never forget. I was always taller than everyone in my class, including the boys, and was teased about my lanky figure. When I saw Whitney Houston on Television, I saw a beautiful, tall, slender, graceful, black woman. She was the epitome of a talented and beautiful woman. I’d stare at her photos in awe, and tell myself that I’m going to look like her when I grow up. I figured, she’s tall and everyone loves her, so everyone would love me too. She wasn’t just a pretty face. She had a universal appeal. Everyone listened to her music and she surpassed racial boundaries. She was simply, Whitney Houston, the beautiful singer with a voice that was surreal (this a cappella rendition is a beautiful example). She had a undeniable musical genius that captivated music maven, Clive Davis, and her fans across the globe.
When “The Bodyguard” came out, I would constantly watch MTV and VH1 hoping for her music video to be played. Children today, don’t know the struggle of not having YouTube. One day, my mother surprised me with The Bodyguard soundtrack on cassette tape. I played “I Will Always Love You” for a month before I listened to any other song on the album. I would play that song and just press rewind since it was the first song on the tape. I’m surprised the tape didn’t pop.
Her voice fascinated me. The notes that she could hit were incredible. I know how hard it was, because I unsuccessfully tried to replicate it. She would sing the most complicated high pitch notes, seamlessly. On the other hand, I had to catch my breath to complete the same note. I eventually ventured to other songs and loved “Run to You” “I Have Nothing” “I’m Every Woman” and “Queen of the Night.” I never liked gospel music but her rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” gave me comfort. She was a queen to me. I would sing all her songs and would call Arista Records and ask if I could get her address so I could send her a demo tape. Yes, I was a little obsessed, but it never escalated into stalking (I was a child).
A year later, her decline as a result to drugs started to become apparent. I was in denial. I remember reading in the newspapers that she was late to her concerts for no apparent reason. As an 8-year-old child, I didn’t understand the change in her behavior. This wasn’t the Whitney that I adored. She was graceful, polite, and humble; not the rude, moody, and tardy performer that I read about. Rumors started to circulate about her drug addiction and it made me angry. I’d tell myself that people were just jealous of her.
As I got older, I realized that the rumors were true. I will admit that I was disappointed. My enthusiasm started to wane, and I stopped following her through the media. It wasn’t because I didn’t love her anymore; it was because I didn’t want to see her that way. I didn’t want my memory of her tainted by this new unfit portrayal of my queen. It broke my heart to see her emaciated on the cover of tabloids when I was on the checkout line at the grocery store. I hated that people called her a crack-head. The younger generation never witnessed her greatness. They only saw the Whitney who was an addict married to an abusive husband on their horrible reality TV show. People quickly forgot the Whitney that the world loved. That woman was no longer visible, but I knew she was trapped somewhere beneath all of her inner demons. I was always rooting for her to recover and regain her throne. I wanted to yell out, “That’s not Whitney!” I wanted the whole world to see her as who she really was, again.
When she left Bobby Brown my heart was lifted with hope. I hated that it took her so long, and he had her throughout her prime, but better late than never. Unlike many people, I understood that her recovery would not be easy. The pressure to achieve the level of success that she had at the pinnacle of her career (sold over 200 million albums worldwide) was unrealistic in an era where even great albums barely reach platinum status. The music industry is not what it once was. This must have been disheartening for her. Dealing with her voice not being the same from her drug use was also a heavy cross for her to bear.
With the 2010 release of her comeback album “I Look To You” that debuted at #1, and her 2012 role in the remake of “Sparkle,” she was reclaiming herself. She looked healthy, beautiful, and seemed happy. I had a renewed hope for her and was excited that her life seemed to be getting better.
Hearing about her death was an absolute shock. I was in disbelief. I cried and watched her funeral online. I mourned her like I’ve met her before. I constantly watched her videos on YouTube. I would have late night “Whitney binges” and watch her performances up to 3 AM. I watched all the concerts that I always wished I could have attended. I became even more enthralled with her seeing her live ad-libs. The fluidity of her voice was breathtaking. Her poise. Her smile. The energy of her fans during her sold out concerts. What a treasure she was.
What Whitney Houston revealed was the complexity that we all share. She was flawed. She was human. I think the perfection of her voice and beauty seemed to often make us forget that. I am happy that she was able to share her story about her trials and tribulations in her Oprah Winfrey interview before her untimely passing. Her story revealed how the pressures and demands of being a celebrity can facilitate to his or her’s demise. Whitney Houston is a testament that one’s greatness does not exempt us from life’s perils. The beauty about Whitney Houston is that when she fell, she got back up again. In the end, she may not have won, but her perseverance to move forward was admirable. All of us have our struggles, except celebrities have the misfortune of dealing with it within the public eye. Most of all, we must not forget that drugs does not encompass who a person is – it only destroys it. I refuse to remember Whitney Houston as anything less than the queen she was.
Thank you, Whitney, for sharing yourself with the world. You broke so many boundaries, and paved the way for so many. You will never be forgotten, and have touched more people than you will ever know. I am grateful for the time that you blessed this earth with your gifts and timeless music. I always wanted to meet you to tell you how much you meant to me, and how your music brought me so much joy, but this dedication will have to do. I remember who you were, and will never not let your struggles overshadow the light in you that shined so bright. I can truly say that there will never be another Whitney Houston. I hope you’re rejoicing in paradise.
I leave you all with videos of how I will always remember Whitney Houston. I hope that you will remember her this way too.
Performing “I Will Always Love You” in Chile.
Performing “Saving All My Love” for the troops.
“Run To You” music video.