Too many of us—myself included—are guilty of making insensitive jokes about the demise of Whitney Houston, her frail frame, loss of one of pop’s purest voices, and battle with drugs.
But none of us are laughing now.
On Saturday, Houston’s publicist confirmed to the Associated Press that the award-winning “I Will Always Love You” singer died. She was 48. The timing of her death, the eve of the Grammys, the biggest music event of the year, makes the horrible news even more tragic. According to CNN, Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. PT at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The Beverly Hilton is the venue for the music industry’s most prestigious pre-Grammy party hosted by veteran executive Clive Davis, who discovered Houston.
In an industry flooded with novelty artists, who disappear after scoring one hit, Houston’s longevity was unquestioned when she released her debut single, the ballad “You Give Good Love” in February 1985. The song’s soothing opening ad-libs displayed her soulful roots while also celebrating her pop sensibilities.
Houston’s sound was distinct, and clearly separated her from the funk-laden stylings of the era’s other female R&B singers. Plus, she was a model who appeared in “Glamour” and “Cosmopolitan” magazines.
Houston’s sound made sense when considering her pedigree. She was the perfect melding of the styles of her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston; cousin, 1960s pop singer Dionne Warwick; and godmother, queen of soul Aretha Franklin.
Houston’s self-titled debut album topped the charts and was certified diamond. Her career was impenetrable throughout the release of several follow up albums, 1987’s “Whitney,” 1990’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” and 1992’s “The Bodyguard” soundtrack.
Houston’s fans were concerned when she married R&B bad boy Bobby Brown in 1992, but they professed their happiness.
By the late 1990s, Houston’s drug problems began to become tabloid fodder. In a 2002 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Houston admitted to her struggles, but maintained that she was doing fine.
The public received its first real glimpse of Houston behind-the-scenes in 2004 when she appeared on Brown’s reality series “Being Bobby Brown.” The bad publicity move depicted Houston as profane, combative, and delusional, seemingly supporting the behavior of someone on drugs.
Among the saddest indications of Houston’s fall was her 2009 comeback album, “I Look To You.” While the album received positive reviews, her live performances signaled that the damage to her voice was beyond repair.
Concertgoers stormed out of her 2010 “Nothing But Love World Tour” angry, complaining that Houston was not fit to sing live, and they demanded that their ticket costs be refunded.
On stage, Houston made light of her vocal struggles, and even seemed to be confident when doing so.
But the public scrutiny intensified, and was followed by additional stints in rehab.
While the cause of death has not yet been revealed, one can only wonder whether it was drug-related.
Anyone who remembers Houston’s early work and the impact it had on music can only be saddened by her death.
I extend condolences to her family and friends, especially her daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
Good bye Whitney. Thank you for all of your contribution to this world.