BITTERSWEET MEMORIES OF A BELOVED DIVA
On February 11, 2012, barely 24 hours after returning from the Mobile Beat Las Vegas show, I got a text message from a buddy of mine “Breaking News: Whitney Houston found dead.” I quickly jumped on the internet to see what was happening and it was confirmed, so I did what most were doing at that point…texting, tweeting and commenting on Facebook about Whitney’s death. As I did, I thought back to the first time I saw Whitney back in the 80’s when “How Will I Know” showed up on “Dial MTV”.
Now I was full on into hard rock bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Night Ranger, and yes, I can admit, a lot of pop bands too; however R&B and soul was not my taste. But there was just something about the song and video that drew me in. Fast forward a few years to my own wedding, and what song did we pick to play before the ceremony began…you guessed it “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard soundtrack.
Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey to gospel singer Cissy Houston. Throw in her cousins Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick, Godmother Darlene Love and honorary Aunt Aretha Franklin, whom she first met in a recording studio, and with a pedigree like that Whitney was destined to sing. She started out in a gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark and quickly became a featured soloist. As a teenager, she spent time touring with her mother and performing in the nightclubs Cissy was booked in. At age 15 Whitney sang backup for Chaka Khan on “I’m Every Woman” a song she would cover herself in the ‘90s for The Bodyguard.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE LIFT OFF
The early ‘80s saw Houston focus on modeling, where she graced the covers of Seventeen, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, until she was signed to a recording contract by Clive Davis from Arista Records. In February 1985, with production help from Jermaine Jackson, Houston’s debut album Whitney Houston was released with the lead single “You Give Good Love” peaking at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow up singles “Saving All My Love” and “How Will I Know” both hit number 1 on the Hot 100 and the video for “How Will I Know” was so popular it made Whitney the first African-American female artist put into heavy rotation on MTV. The final single from her debut, “Greatest Love of All,” would also reach number 1, staying there for three weeks, and giving her three number 1 singles from her debut album. The album was the number 1 album of the year on the 1986 Billboard, charts making her the first female artist to earn that honor. All told, her debut album has sold 25 million copies worldwide.
Her sophomore release, Whitney was released in 1987, and the hits continued with four reaching the number one spot on the Hot 100. In 1988, Whitney was a featured performer at a concert honoring the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. She sang to an audience of 72,000 live, in London’s Wembley Stadium, and probably more than 1 billion tuning in to the broadcast of the concert aimed at raising awareness of apartheid. On another world-wide stage, Whitney’s “One Moment in Time” was the theme song for NBC’s Summer Olympics coverage and went on to reach number 5 on the charts.
With American forces at war in the Persian Gulf, Whitney’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV was so powerful that it was released as a single and reached the top 20 on the Hot 100 chart, making her the only singer ever to turn our national anthem into a pop hit. The performance still ranks as number 1 on a list of the 25 most memorable music moments in NFL history. The song was re-released following the September 11 attacks, where it peaked at number 6.
In 1992 Whitney married long-time boyfriend Bobby Brown, and also co-starred with Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, playing a pop star who is stalked by a crazy fan and hires a bodyguard to protect her. The film was wildly successful despite mixed reviews, buoyed, no doubt, by the soundtrack and the single which would go on to become her signature song, “I Will Always Love You.” The song was number 1 on the Hot 100 charts for a record-breaking 14 weeks, and the album sold over one million copies during the week of Christmas 1992 alone. Whitney continued to act in popular movies such as Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington, and as the Fairy Godmother in a made-for-television remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Her last movie, Sparkle, is set for release in August 2012.
MEMORIES OF WHITNEY
I have chosen not to write about the later years of Whitney’s life, her troubles with the law, drugs, divorce, personal and professional issues; enough has been written and broadcast about that. Rather than focus on the negative, I asked some fellow DJs to share their thoughts and memories of Whitney.
Larry Williams, DJ, Mobile Beat speaker and author of Customer Service A to Z writes, “I vividly remember the first time I heard Whitney Houston. The song was ‘You Give Good Love.’ I was so immediately mesmerized by the track, I remember calling several friends and telling them about this new singer that I was convinced was going to be a huge star. A couple of days later, the video debuted on MTV. To this day, what I saw and heard was a ‘star quality’ that is rarely seen in new artists! The attraction was three-fold. She had an incredible voice, she was beautiful and she could act! The world would later come to realize these qualities in every facet of her career.
“I really enjoyed her unexpected vocal style and range. She was always known for never singing the same song the same way. This very animated vocal style was likely inherent from her Gospel roots. So when it was announced she would sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the upcoming Super Bowl, there were many people, including myself, who were wondering what her rendition would be like. At its core, music is defined by its melody. But occasionally, some songs and artists are defined by their social impact. This was never more apparent than when Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem at the beginning of Super Bowl XXV in 1991. With America on the front lines of the Persian Gulf War, her rendition brought the country together in pride and solidarity.”
“It is very sad to see an icon go so soon,” writes Josh Yawn, author of Hosting for DJs and the host of DJ Crash Course. “Far too much talent wasted. Before her fall, she was a great role model, and I have vivid memories of her hosting the Kids Choice Awards for Nickelodeon several years in a row. But my strongest memories will always be how inescapable her music was during her prime. My prayers are with her family.”
Whitney Houston will live on through her music, her movies and music videos. At the peak of her career, she had something about her that drew you in; no matter what kind of music you preferred, you just had to watch and listen. That is how I prefer to remember Whitney, not for her scandal plagued final years but as the fresh young singer asking “How Will I Know,” and for how I felt at my wedding when her signature song “I Will Always Love You” played to start the ceremony. Farewell Whitney, and thank you for sharing your gifts with us.
Filed Under: Exclusive Online News and Content, Issues from 2012, Music, Profiles
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