Whitney Houston passed away in February 2012 at the young age of 48. She was a world renowned singer, actress, tabloid fodder, etc. Her untimely death caused all her fans to universally…shrug. Like Amy Winehouse before her, there wasn’t really much surprise.
I have a close friend who learned to lip-sync watching Whitney videos. I asked if he was okay with her passing. He sighed, “I lost interest when she became crack-head Whitney.”
Personally, I remember watching her videos on Mtv, I liked some of her songs, thought she butchered other songs, saw Waiting to Exhale in the theatre, owned the soundtrack and loved the clip from The Soup of her shouting, “Kiss my ass!” That was how deep I got with Whitney.
I was surprised by the news. I had to host the Flabby Hoffman Cavalcade at Stage Bar (formerly Memories) in Chicago 45 minutes after it was announced. I didn’t do any Whitney jokes, but I did sing an accapella version of “Saving All My Love For You” as a tribute and to great applause.
I could argue that Whitney had everything. Whitney Houston had an amazing voice, great vocal talent, decent acting skills, beautiful looks, an amazing career, money, etc. She also had an apparent drug problem. I am left to ask: What went wrong?
The simple answer is Bobby Brown. However, I don’t like simple explanations, and if he was truly that bad why did she let him in?
Whitney was introduced to the world of music by her mother, Cissy Houston. Cissy sang back up for Aretha Franklin, was friends with Dionne Warwicke and even had her own (failed) solo career. Whitney had many offers for recording contracts, but Cissy put them off either for “the right one” or to wait until she was eighteen.
Once she became legal, then entered Clive Davis. Clive orchestrated her career in the 80’s. He decided which song to release first (“You Give Good Love” to establish an R&B/soul edge), what her music videos would look like, how she would sing the songs, what her album would look like (almost resulting in a bathing suit photo as a front cover), etc. Whitney would show up, do as told and reap the success.
Around the end of the decade (and after a break up with Eddie Murphy), Whitney met Bobby Brown. Rumors swirled about plastic surgery, infidelity, drug abuse, etc. In the 90s, she enjoyed her most commercial and critical success during a well hidden emotional hell.
I see a sad theme of a very talented woman who allowed others to tell her what to do; her mother, Clive Davis, Bobby Brown, etc.
Her 2003 single “Try it on My Own” sings of independence, but Whitney sounds asleep singing it. Her vocal chops carry it over, but at the core, the song is hollow.
With Whitney’s release of her album I Turn To You, the years of drama and drug abuse had caught up to her. Her once powerful voice had been damaged. Her vocal range had been severely limited and the commercialism of phoning it in was even more apparent. She meant well but just couldn’t do it.
I believe in heaven Whitney has her voice back.