Whitney Houston, veteran popular music singer, is dead at 48. She apparently died at a Beverly Hills hotel room, the day she was supposed to appear at an annual pre-Grammy Awards party thrown by her longtime mentor Clive Davis, a veteran music business executive who signed her to Arista Records back in the 1980s. Like many African-American singers, Houston came from a church background, hailing from Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Cissy Houston, was a well-known gospel music performer for decades and a backup singer for Elvis Presley. Singer Dionne Warwick, though closer to her mother in age, was a cousin. Houston leaves behind a grown daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
Starting with her self-titled debut album in 1985, Houston was a crossover R&B performer with top-notch pop appeal, easily handling up-tempo records and ballads with a seemingly casual ease. “Saving All My Love for You”, “The Greatest Love of All”, “I Want to Dance with Somebody who Loves Me”, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” and more solidified her as a performer with worldwide acclaim.
She was a genuine talent, before the frivolous instant-stardom (e.g., reality TV shows) and premature legend-anointing (e.g., American Idol) of today. This author remembers the negative press and gossip: the pop-sellout comments, the non-dancing knock, dating-women rumors.
Her marriage to singer Bobby Brown seemed ill-fated from the get-go. Brown, while at the top of his career as a new-jack-swing crooner in the 80s and early 90s, already had a reputation for street trouble, including run-ins with police, and multiple out-of-wedlock children. Many speculated that the heretofore clean-cut pop princess was searching for ‘hood credibility in her relationship with Brown.
Whether that was the case or not, she was clearly devoted to her man, despite his very public misadventures that put him on par with any rapper. Her featured role on the mid 2000s-reality show Being Bobby Brown revealed mutually odd behavior on both their parts.
This author always hoped that once she got out of the marriage to Brown (the couple divorced in 2007) she'd get back to some state of normalcy. It's messed up. Who knows what the autopsy will show? Hotels are notorious for accommodating the indulgences of the powerful and connected. The substance issues presumably took a toll, even when people get clean there is often future complications. In this author’s observation from afar, it wasn't good for her to be alone in these tumultuous years. Sobriety is a day by day affair. Yours truly had such a crush on Whitney back in her early career years.
Houston's ‘hip-hop’ repertoire was scanty. Her update of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” was given a house-music backdrop. One of her first genuinely credible nods to hip-hop styled production was on “My Love is Your Love”, produced and co-written by Wyclef Jean.
She had a once-promising film career—interviews in recent years with Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey revealed that Houston’s embrace of substance abuse possibly derailed her momentum in that regard. Back in the 1980s she had a guest-appearance as herself on the Ricky Schroeder sitcom Silver Spoons. Her lead role in 1992’s The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner was a gamble that paid off. The movie’s plot had a certain art-imitating-life quality—in the film she played a popular singer that recently embarked on a film career. The soundtrack featuring her remake of “I Will Always Love You” became an all-time best seller.
The film rendering of the Terry McMillan novel Waiting to Exhale followed in 1995, and was a dual hit at the box office as well as for its soundtrack. The Preacher’s Wife, featuring Denzel Washington as her co-lead, came in 1996 to a more modest box-office draw but also featured a hit soundtrack. A role as a fairy godmother in the TV-movie musical Cinderella followed in 1997. Houston also served as a producer for the telefilm, and accrued a handful of producer credits for TV features and films like The Cheetah Girls and Princess Diaries. 2012 was poised to be a comeback year for her acting career. She filmed the Sparkle remake mostly here in Detroit in 2011. This author tried to be an extra but couldn't make it
This author never got to see her perform live. Those of us in Generation X, ‘hip-hop’ can say she was the Aretha of our generation. With the pending Grammys show, this author’s hope is that they do something simple in tribute, such as a moment of silence. Her music, her presence, and most certainly, her voice, will be missed dearly.