African-American History Month: Whitney Houston
I had a totally different plan for this morning’s blog post. However, in lieu of breaking events, I felt compelled to write about an inspiring black artist, Ms. Whitney Houston.
Whitney celebrated her 18th birthday on the day I was born. So it is quite surreal to be writing this memorial, knowing that my entire ’80s experience was a soundtrack written by her. Even my favorite scene in Coming to America is the cover Eddie Murphy’s character Randy Watson botches of “Greatest Love of All”. There are pictures somewhere, I’m sure, of my cousin and I jumping around my aunt’s living room in tutus and pink wigs singing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. The face of American pop is forever changed because of her amazing voice, and there are an insane amount of artists who owe their careers to her. And although the last decade of her life was tumultuous, to the extent that my 10-year old son had no idea who she was, she defined the ’80s and ’90s and set the standard for greatness so that the Beyonces and Adeles of the world could even have a shot at the limelight.
While The Bodyguard (1992) was not an astounding movie, the soundtrack soared with hits. One of my favorite Whitney songs came from that film (and no, it is not “I Will Always Love You”). “Queen of the Night” was my jam for like six months. I still have the cassette tape of the soundtrack…although it will most likely not play because I wore the thing out. Her subsequent movies always had an amazing touch of her grace on the soundtracks: The Preacher’s Wife (1996) and Waiting to Exhale (1995) all have classics I still have on my iPod.
Not ironically, Whitney (and Mariah) songs are the graveyard for most singers entering into competitions because incredible vocalists like her are difficult to imitate. If you happen to pull it off, it sounds like karaoke; and when you tank it…well, you tank hard. Yet, singers aspire to do precisely that–because if you can effectively sing a Whitney song, well, you’ve arrived. Jennifer Hudson did a beautiful job at last night’s Grammy Awards Tribute; she was able to sing it well and make it her own, instead of attempting to sing it the way Whitney did. Because let’s be honest: there is no one who really can.
And that’s what we loved about her: that she was refreshingly original with a voice that couldn’t be mimicked or copied. When one of her songs played, the voice was unmistakable, and your heart swelled with warmth and joy. She sang pop songs with a gospel feel: her ballads made you wave your hand in the air and sway; her dance tracks had you all but shouting in the aisles. She was a breath of fresh air in the darkest of times and everything we celebrated at the best of times. Her death is truly a loss of not only a remarkable voice and incredible talent, but a beautiful spirit, unfortunately tragically taken too early from our lives.