One of my first musical memories involves sitting on the living room floor in my childhood home as a with the 7″ of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ playing repeatedly on my little Radio Shack record player. I would sing my heart out, snapping along and mimicking the moves from the music video, pretending I was a famous singer living a glamourous life, with fancy earrings and my choice of dancefloor partners.
I don’t think there’s one of us who doesn’t know every lyric to ‘I Will Always Love You’ from The Bodyguard – I certainly do, but The Preacher’s Wife was more my speed and had a soundtrack that I became obsessed with during my early teen years when I had a penchant for gospel and still held vague dreams of becoming a diva myself.
Maybe ‘Exhale (Shoop Shoop)’ was more your speed, or perhaps it was the rock sensibilities present in ‘Queen of the Night’ or the intense longing of ‘All the Man that I Need’ – one of my personal favourites. Did you stick with Whitney into the late ’90s, as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’ filled the airwaves? I sure did.
Regardless of your general musical preferences, chances are that you not only have encountered many of Whitney’s hits, but you’ve loved them, learned all the lyrics and perhaps even belted a few out at karaoke. She was a diva in the true sense of the word, a voice which was clear as a bell and held its own with the greatest singers in history. Whitney Houston was, in a word, extraordinary.
Of course, these things are rarely that simple. With great success comes great opportunity and a great loneliness, one that drove Whitney down the same path of many before her. She fell in love with Bobby Brown and together, the road they forged was one of recklessness. Whitney turned to drugs and formed an addiction which would dictate the rest of her short life. While she later ended the relationship and attempted to overcome these setbacks on several occasions, her demons often seemed too much to bear and may indeed have been the cause of her untimely death.
Regardless of our tendency to lampoon celebrity culture for the amusement of private citizens, Whitney Houston was a tremendous talent – a descendant of great soul singers such as cousin Dionne Warwick, godmother Aretha Franklin and even her mother, Cissy Houston. She began her career as a church singer, eventually performing with her mother at clubs around New York City, where she was discovered by Arista Records chairman Clive Davis. From there, she skyrocketed. She was also the recipient of over 400 awards throughout her incredible career — the most of ever by a female singer.
There are no words to adequately describe the effect Whitney Houston’s passing will have on the music industry in particular and in popular culture at large. While in recent years, her career may have been fodder for gossip rags and comedic bits, the underlying truth is that it is terribly hard to watch someone self-destruct, and perhaps harder still to be the one doing the self-destructing when in the public eye. What began as an inspiring story of a wonderfully prolific singer finding due credit for her talent and hard work instead became a sadly uncomfortable tale of a woman who – as she herself admitted – was her own worst enemy.
At only 48, Whitney Houston leaves behind friends, family (in particular, 18-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina) and a multitude of fans who were touched by her art, both new and old. We can only hope that she has finally found the peace she so often lacked in this life.