I don’t think I have the words to describe what Whitney Houston’s music accomplished when she opened her mouth and SANG, or to adequately describe where her lush vocals carried us. If you can listen to her without feeling you don’t need someone to run to, it’s not right but it’s okay: you may not be human.
My family didn’t have cable television at my parents’ house when Whitney Houston was released. My dad had a state-of-the-art (at that time) Realistic hifi in our den, and that’s where we played her records. I remember looking at the woman on the cover as I sat on a barstool in our kitchen. Thin, brown, with a head full of hair and a big smile – she reminded me of a Barbie come to life.
When Whitney Houston’s music swept WBLX and WABB and everywhere else on the planet, her songs became recital program staples and Star Search pieces. I couldn’t sing a note to save my life, but alone in my bedroom I’d close the door, turn on my Walkman, grab a hairbrush and lip sync in my dresser’s mirror. With her 80s-perfect gowns, big hair, and modeling credits, I think for girls my age (no matter what race) Whitney’s beauty, other-worldly talent and down-to-earth persona gave us something to aspire to, whether you wanted to be a singer, actress, model or something else entirely. Plus, she couldn’t dance; she was just a touch awkward, just like me. If I close my eyes when I hear You Give Good Love, I can imagine I’m six years old again, riding in my mom’s Toronado, too young for the love she sang about but definitely able to understand the emotion.
I’m not going to embellish her life and ignore or gloss over the fact that Whitney had very real problems. Real people – whether they are superstars or not – are often more and less than what our expectations hold them up to be. It is unbelievably tragic that for all the elegant control she had over her voice professionally, she struggled with exerting the same control personally. I watched the train wreck of an interview conducted by Diane Sawyer, and the Bravo dramedy she starred in with Bobby Brown. But I always hoped Whitney would pull herself together and triumph.
This is how I’ll remember her: no gimmicks, no ill-advised attempts at theatricality, just…Whitney.