I distinctly remember sitting in my rickety high chair at the age of about two or three giggling uncontrollably as I watched my mother jazzercising around in her neon pink leotard, and equally pink lipstick, to “How Will I Know.” I also remember belting “I Will Always Love You” when I could still hit the high notes, my parents smiling, wide-eyed, desperately trying to hide their wincing. And I remember calling my mother, who still wears that same shade of neon pink lipstick, to tell her the news. (more after the jump…)
She picked up the phone and said, “I already heard. It’s so weird, like someone in the family died.” She felt the same way when Barry White, Luther Vandross and, more recently, Don Cornelius passed. My mother is a child of the 60s and 70s and for her, Whitney represented true talent and poise rarely seen today.
Whitney Houston died on February 11 at just 48 years old. The cause of her death is unknown at this point but people haven’t hesitated to offer up their assumptions. One thing is for certain – another hit has been dealt to the shrinking ranks of artists left with untouched voices.
Whitney had talent in her blood. Her father was entertainment executive John Russell Houston Jr., her aunt gospel singer Cissy Houston, cousins singers Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick and Godmother Aretha Franklin. Whitney won over 400 awards in her lifetime recognizing her music, film and humanitarian efforts. But, in my opinion, what makes her story so tangible is that she learned how to sing from her mother. For someone like me, who learned how to cook, bake, sew and MacGyver broken stuff from my mom, this was the most inspiring aspect of Whitney.
From her honey-haired beginnings in her debut single with Teddy Pendergrass, “Hold Me,” to her spunky “How Will I Know” (fun fact- Janet Jackson was originally slotted to record the song but passed on it), Whitney was destined for fame. She is credited as the breakthrough artist for women of color on MTV, echoing the effect Michael Jackson had on the industry in the 80s. After a strong stretch of success, the world watched her tumble into an unrecognizable shadow of her former self.
Whether her toxic marriage to former New Edition singer Bobbie Brown was to blame remains a hot debate. Without getting all sappy and philosophical, the true shame in all this is that during the years that followed, the spectacle created from the media coverage of her off-color persona may have helped kindle her downfall.
There aren’t many main stream talents capable of carrying a tune unaided by a computer. But the ones that still have some power behind their voices (Celine Dion, Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys among others) have credited Whitney as one of their main influences. I can only hope that Whitney will continue to inspire you ladies for generations to come. Whitney – you will be missed.
“God gave me a voice to sing with, and when you have that, what other gimmick is there?”