Whenever I look at a portrait of Whitney Houston, I’m immediately taken back by a swell and swirl of the emotions. Through everything that has been hefted upon her legacy, both at the time of her demise and long after, there is no doubt that she is one of the top singers ever in the history of the music industry.
Musically, Whitney was raised to be The Chosen One. She was reared at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, her voice crafted by mother Cissy Houston, Aunt Dionne Warwick and a menagerie of famous legendary singers that included the likes of Aretha Franklin.
Her accolades far outnumber the salacious media reports that stalked her every living minute when she was at the pinnacle of success. But in her absence, I am pained with the inherent tragedy of it all.
I am a bit more selfish in my remembrance than most. Houston was the primary export of the Garden State in the opinion of many who grew up in New Jersey under similar circumstances.
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I grew up in Trenton, a 60-mile drive from Newark. Also, like Newark at the time, Trenton was still rebuilding from the riots that struck both locales during the civil rights tumult of the late ’60s. Crime, poverty, and drug use were prevalent if not normal. It was the faith and sweat of the elders that got many of us through.
But for every rail-thin black girl with a powerful voice and dreams of stardom, and quite a few impressionable black boys fixated upon her beauty, Whitney Houston was an idol before mainstream America told the world she was.
Music is historically important, embedded into the minds and hearts of black people since before the holocaust of the Middle Passage, before the rise of Nubia and the rise of civilizations yet discovered. Music and rhythm were more than just entertainment for black people. It was everything. It is with this intimate connection to the genetic, artistic and spiritual legacy of Whitney’s beautiful gift that I pen this.
All At Once 1987
In the 2017 documentary Can I Be Me, I’m reminded of how many of her countrymen, a great deal of them black, salivated at the idea of tearing her down. Do you recall when she was booed at the 1989 Soul Train Awards for selling out for white audiences?
As was later revealed, it tore a hole in her heart that never healed. She was a black girl from the hood shined up and polished to be the All-American girl, which meant no room for error or to breath. Yet some American black people being as near-sighted and reactionary as they sometimes are, failed to make the connection. They didn’t care that she didn’t have a say in what she sang at the time.
Whitney Houston’s official music video for ‘Run To You’. Click to listen to Whitney Houston on Spotify: http://smarturl.it/WhitneyHSpotify?IQ… As featured on Whitney: The Greatest Hits. Click to buy the track or album via iTunes: http://smarturl.it/WhitneyGreatestHit… Google Play: http://smarturl.it/RTYGPlay?IQid=Whit… Amazon: http://smarturl.it/WGHAmazon?IQid=Whi…
I look at how people like Wendy Williams, Charlamagne Tha God and Howard Stern were allowed to guide the narrative of who Whitney was. And recent revelations show not one of those individuals had any room to clown anybody about anything, least of all drug addiction.
Yet, the world ridiculed her for the mistakes that her trauma pushed her into making, which caused more trauma, which caused her to repeat those mistakes.
Whitney’s first international hit! I remember seeing her for the first time on TV and I said, “that woman is gonna be HUGE one day”! She really was. She’s up there with Michael Jackson and Madonna. She became a major part of the 80s generation and beyond.
Happy Birthday, Whitney Houston. You are sorely missed.
Her life spiraled into a dark abyss created by the sheer gravity of our apparent disdain for her. And that is the saddest part of it all. This isn’t about claims of molestation or Bobby Brown-blaming, but simply a moment of recollection for an all-time favorite.