Saturday, February 11, 2012

RIP, Whitney...

I just found out Whitney Houston passed away.

Whitney Houston is dead.  I don't know why…it doesn't even matter why, now one of the greatest voices OF THE 20th CENTURY is gone.  I am very, very, very sad. As a singer, one who is both a voice teacher and a professional, this hurts me in a place that I cannot describe. Whitney was a singer's singer; an awesome talent who knew how to use her voice well. She was the singer for all of us.  

She was presented as a pop star, not a Black singer; and after a while, many black people were really pissed off with her because of it.  It was the age old dumbness, i.e. the "not-black-enough-syndrome". Because her music did not reflect the heavy R&B/funk/soul roots of her own heritage, she was booed at the 1989 soultrain awards.  From my vantage point, she spent the rest of her career working to regain her "black card" from her public. Stupid.  Not business wise, but... I'm so frickin' tired of black people having to prove that they're black to other black people.  It makes no sense.  You may not like what the person does, the views they have, the way they speak, or the music they sing; but that does not make anyone any less of african descent than the day they were born.

Whitney Houston was a role model for every girl who wanted to sing.  "The Greatest Love of All" was sung by me and my choir when I was a child and in high school because of how she sang it, not the original singer, George Benson.  "One Moment in Time" was and still is one of the great graduation songs.  Singing the national anthem at the super bowl during the first Gulf War was one of the most moving versions ever sung and did something that in my humble opinion was larger than just her singing it.  

Whitney, singing not in an evening gown, but in a white jogging suit and a headband with red and blue trim, was fronting a classical orchestra singing like a modern version of Marion Anderson on the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Nobody protested her representing American ideals as the Daughters of the American Revolution did Marion in 1939.  Everyone WANTED Whitney to represent America in a time of war during the most American of sports -- Football.  African-Americans, through her, could now, officially feel as American as anybody else.  We were not other, we were a part. When she sang the high notes and flashed a smile that she got through this extremely difficult song to sing, and raised her hands high, we all raised our hands with her --- all meaning, ALL, EVERYONE --- no matter the race, creed, sex, color, ethnicity -- all of us.  We were all Americans at that point. We all cheered, we all cried, we all smiled. Together.

After all the drugs and the tragic vocal loss, this is how I'll remember Whitney. The great musical unifier. One of the greatest American voices of the century.


  1. As a 50-year old male, Whitney and I are two years apart in age. I agree with you Alison...Whitney was accused of not being Black enough. She was singing at a time when "nasty as you want to be" was becoming increasing popular by early 1980's hip-hop artists. So, you can say, Whitney was going against the grain.

    Whitney was singing at the same time Prince was breaking barriers with the sound of Minneapolis. As with Whitney, Prince's cut "Controversy", "Head", and "Dirty Mind" were embraced by non-Black audiences first. Growing up in the South (Tampa-Miami-Atlanta), Blacks liked hard core funk music or the Philadelphia sound of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, producers of the O-Jay's, Teddy Pendergrass, McFadden and Whitehead, Salsoul Orchestra, and MFSB.

    But back to Whitney...

    Whitney would make them all bow down when her cut, "Exhale", "Why Does it Hurt So Bad", both from the movie "Waiting to Exhale". Then, I remember being on the dance in San Francisco's Bank Exchange, all night dance club in the Transamerica building (you know the pyramid building everybody recognizes when they show the city of San Francisco). The cuts, "So Emotional" and "Love Will Save the Day" packed the dance floor where SF's rich and famous party. Yeah, that's when Blacks had to concede that Whitney was a mega-star that Blacks had better adjust their tastes in music because all of the world had accepted her.

    And, finally, "You Give Good Love" was the jam I liked the most.

    Au revoir, Ma Soeur Noire! Je t'aime!

    Rick Nappier