As I sit here the morning after Whitney Houston’s death, I want what has been streamed across the television screen, ‘Whitney Houston dead at 48,’ to be untrue. I’ve gone through the phases of “this has to be a joke” or a “bad dream,” but it is official, The Voice, Whitney Houston, has passed. There are so many words that can be said about the woman, the talent, the entertainer, mother, actress and inspiration for so many. One thing that will always be synonymous with her legacy is undeniable talent.
As shocking as her death is, I would be remiss if I didn’t say I feared this day. After years and years of rumors, trials with media, and a variety of issues, you might compare to what the late Michael Jackson went through, I had hoped and believed that Whitney Houston was on the much anticipated comeback I think everyone hoped to see. I was rooting for her; everyone was. Musically we saw a portion of that comeback in the form of “I Look To You,” what is now Houston’s final studio album. Led by the title track, featuring songs that captured her journey and return to music following “Whitney” (2003), “I Look To You” is, to date, Houston’s best selling debut on the Billboard 200. Moving over 305,000 copies in September of 2009, the album signified the return of The Voice, the affectionate term fans gave her over the years. That fall fans were able to embrace the return of The Voice at a emotional televised concert in Central Park (NY) for Good Morning America. Beaming during the series of performances and during her last interview with Robin Roberts on GMA, Houston expressed how “I Look To You” held true in her relationship with fans.
“I look to you. I look to you. You never left. You stayed. I love you,” Houston cried out during the performance, dedicating it to her mother Cissy Houston and fans.
Later that fall, Houston performed on the American Music Awards, returning to the stage where she had won over 20 awards in years past. That night, amidst being given the AMA International Artist Award, Whitney’s comeback was official.
In looking back, “I Look To You” was the album I longed for. It was an album that truly captured her journey. Songs like “Nothin’ But Love” and “A Song For You” truly captured a mature Houston after the proverbial storm. In the now apt “A Song For You,” originally recorded and written by Leon Russell, arranged by StarGate in 2009, Houston belts “and when my life is over, remember when we were together. We were alone and I was singing this song for you.”
What she sung in “A Song For You” is true, we were all alone, yet collectively, listening to The Voice. Whether it was “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “How Will I Know” or even “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay,” there was that connection to the voice, the music, and the message that resonated in our minds.
In watching CNN coverage of her death Saturday night the question many a journalist asked was “What is your favorite Whitney Houston song ?” With a discography that spans over two decades, that is a tough question to answer. It is noted that music is the soundtrack to life and in our lives there are just certain songs that come often at the ‘right’ time. What Whitney sang, maybe “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” or “Why Does It Hurt So Bad,” might have been timely for someone going through a break up. When she sang “All The Man I Need,” “Things You Say,” “My Love Is Your Love,” or “My Love,” those records were timely for someone in love. Finally when she sang songs like “When You Believe” with Mariah Carey, “One Moment In Time,” “Greatest Love of All,” or “I Will Always Love You” it resonated no matter where you were in your life.
Whitney Houston’s connection with fans was not strictly a music affair however as she took on the roles of Rachel Marron (The Bodyguard), Savannah Jackson (Waiting To Exhale), Julia Biggs (The Preacher’s Wife) and finally the inspirational and fabulous fairy godmother in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Through those roles Houston reached people with relatable stories and a clear talent in acting that made us forget she was “just a singer”. From the powerful diva singing “Queen of the Night,” “I Have Nothing” and “Run To You” while falling for her bodyguard, Frank Farmer, to Savannah Jackson waiting for the moment when she can finally “exhale,” Houston was one of the few who could sing and act and be respected for it.
While many can say Whitney touched them with those roles and her music, some might forget the fact that she put her experience and talent to good use behind the camera as well. In 2003, Houston executive produced the highly successful made for television movie ‘The Cheetah Girls’. Starring Raven Symone, Adrienne Bailon, Kiely Williams, Sabrina Bryan and Lynn Whitfield, The Cheetah Girls became a huge success with a soundtrack and additional made for television specials. Houston also produced The Princess Diaries in 2001 and in fact holds an executive producer credit on what is now to be her final film, Sparkle.
Due in theaters this August, Sparkle is also historic in that it will be her first feature film role in over ten years. Portraying Emma, the mother of a girl group consisting of three sisters, Houston wrapped the film just weeks before her death.
While I have to say that I look forward to ‘Sparkle,’ undoubtedly the film I think many a fan anticipated as being another milestone for Houston, with new music produced by R. Kelly, there is the subject of a Waiting to Exhale follow up. Like The Bodyguard, ‘Exhale’ came with a soundtrack packed with new music from Houston including “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” and “Why Does It Hurt So Bad”. Sadly, it appears we will not see or hear Houston in the follow up, based on Terry McMillan’s ‘Getting To Happy’. What we do have however is endless songs, movies, and specials that we can remember Whitney Houston for. Those things will never go away, just like the many collaborations she completed with Monica, Brandy, Deborah Cox, Mary J. Blige, Enrique Iglesias, Jermaine Jackson, Faith Evans, Kelly Price, Missy Elliott, Shirley Caesar, Kim Burrell, Stevie Wonder, CeCe Winans, Dionne Warwick, and more both on and off stage. That soundtrack, in varied forms, will continue to play for many a generation to come.
If you’ve read this far, you realize I have completely avoided all of the drama surrounding Houston’s life. I think at this point, it is more important we remember her for who she was as an entertainer than what theories there might be over her marriage to Bobby Brown, the drugs, how she died et’ al. I think Whitney Houston said it best in “A Song For You,” a song, like many others, that has played over and over this weekend:
“I’ve been so many places in my life and time. I’ve sung a lot of songs and made some bad rhymes. I’ve acted out my life on stages, with ten thousand people watching. But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you…. And when my life is over, remember when we were together. We were alone and I was singing this song for you.”
Rest In Peace Whitney Houston. The Voice.