Whitney Elizabeth Houston
One of my sheroes died on Saturday. I could not just blog about it the day it happened. I could barely think; I was pretty numb at the news. I was in an elevator and a woman said, “you hear that Whitney Houston died? Isn’t that sad?”
It is beyond sad. For me, it was beyond comprehension, even after the valley we saw her fall into so publicly. Because she had clawed her way back. Put some weight on. Dropped a platinum album in 2009. Divorced Bobby Brown. Shot the remake of Sparkle. Toxicity seemed to be shrinking in her rear view. Until Grammys Eve 2012.
Whitney Houston is a primordial symbol for me; she spoke, she sang directly to my black girlhood in the ‘80s and my young Black womanhood in the ‘90s. She represents a certain pre-music industry innocence for me. I had no idea about the entertainment world’s disgusting underbelly or underhanded practices when Whitney came into my life; I just knew that when the radio played my favorite songs of hers, I’d better have a cassette tape ready to capture it.
When Whitney made her debut in 1985, I was in high school, but I was also 14—so I felt out of place. I was youngest in my class, and eventually, the only black girl in my senior class. Whitney’s voice embodied the clarity and control I longed for. Her image was so many things, and yet never offensive. She wore mini-dresses and gowns, but she also wore jeans and sneakers. She bared some skin with her tank tops, but there was always a custom leather jacket nearby. She was totally comfortable with her natural black girl beauty; her debut album cover confirmed this. When big weaves were all the rage, she showcased her short hair with a regal knowing that was undeniable. Her youth was never an excuse to be classless or undignified. This resonated deeply with me.
Whitney gave me all of these gifts before she even opened her mouth to sing a single note with that perfect, gleaming toothy smile. And then, she wielded her voice. That voice. The voice. Power and tenderness at her command. Exuberance, longing, surrender and strength all danced in time from this otherworldly voice. Melody and scale were completely at her mercy. You knew this about Whitney if you were a hardcore fan like me, like millions of us Black girls. We belted the hits with our friends until we were hoarse and choreographed the album cuts that didn’t have videos in the mirror.
But the world came to know it when she sang the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. From then on, all eyes truly were on Black America’s Sweetheart. Her pop megastardom was sealed. Her endearment from the mainstream was cemented. But Whitney would always belong to me, to Black America’s invisible sweethearts. By the time she starred in The Bodyguard, The Preacher’s Wife, and Waiting to Exhale, I was in the business and in awe of her consistency as times and sounds changed, as hip-hop and R&B upstarts encroached on her dominance. She wasn’t worried. She was Whitney Houston. She called Faith Evans, Wyclef Jean, and Rodney Jerkins. She co-produced and starred in Cinderella (1997) with Brandy, playing her fairy Godmother. Which wasn’t a stretch; as far as I’m concerned, she was mine, too.
This is why numbness gave way to tears flowing on Sunday. My big sister, my cheerleader, the knower and keeper of my secrets, was gone. Admittedly, I took my eye off Whitney for a while. I kept her in prayer, but I couldn’t watch her spiral. I boycotted Being Bobby Brown. Though she agreed to it, it felt like a spectacle that made her the butt of a cruel joke; one that should not have been played on someone who brought so many so much comfort and joy. I defended her whenever people would disparage her as she wrestled with and succumbed to addiction. And with her passing, I see a pitiful kind of coverage of her, rife with unflattering ‘final hours’ photos and intense focus on the worst years of her life. As if she weren’t one of the most glamorous women on the planet, with thousands of photos to prove it. As if this woman hadn’t made a billion dollars for her industry, touched billions of lives for the better, and hadn’t sold a staggering number of records—upwards of 200 million.
WHITNEY started the whole “million-in-first-week” thing with The Bodyguard Soundtrack back in 1992. She was the original singer-slash-model, posing for Wilhemina as a teenager and gracing Seventeen magazine with a teeny weeny afro as the magazine’s first black woman cover model in 1981. She holds the Guinness World’s Record for awards and is the most decorated entertainer of all time.
After all she gave, the least the media can do is show her R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Not that I wish this on either of these incredible artists, but were this about Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand, we’d never see an unflattering image of them in death, no matter what their indiscretions or demons were. She is an American treasure, not just a Black American one.
Whitney Houston dedicated most of her 48 years to taking us away from our sorrows, but is being eulogized publicly based on her own. This is wrong. So let this blog stand as an homage of admiration and gratitude to the first sweet, sassy Black girl to run the world.
My Top 6 Other Whitney Posts
Whitney by the numbers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitney_Houston
Must the party go on with a deceased Whitney upstairs? Commentary by Gene Dexter:
Best Friend, Assistant, and Creative Director Robyn Crawford Breaks Her Silence:
Somehow, I believe this assessment…Spiritual Healer Rebecca Marina on Whitney: http://rebeccamarina.com/2012/02/whitney-houston/
Dream Hampton on Whitney for EBONY: http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/whitney-houston-1963-2012
Tarana Burke on Whitney for SingABlackGirlsSong: http://singablackgirlssong.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/where-do-broken-hearts-go-2/