Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Remembering Whitney Houston

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

On Feb. 11 at 3:55 p.m., Whitney Houston was found dead in a bathtub inside her fourth-floor suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

For the millions around the world who adored her, those simple, tragic details of her passing remain impossible to shake. Fans are devastated, and a wave of shock poured over the entertainment industry, which had been expecting her triumphant comeback this year in the highly anticipated remake of “Sparkle.”

While the true cause of her death has not been revealed, the cause of her life was eloquently described by the stream of speakers and performers at the emotional “homegoing” held one week later at her childhood place of worship in Newark, N.J. As the New Hope Baptist service “brought the world to the black church,” as family and friends put it, Houston’s life as a daughter, mother, friend, cousin and entertainer was showcased by loved ones determined to celebrate her as a sensitive, joyful woman whose talent changed the world. A generous woman whose name adorns an elementary school in her native state, she was so beloved that flags flew at half-staff on the day she was laid to rest.

Las Vegas Black Image Magazine prides itself on showcasing the magnificent side of black life, and Houston’s positive impact on the world is an undeniable reality. Often, the world placed too great a focus on Houston’s private struggles; sensational headlines dimming a spotlight that should have been shining on the timelessness of such classic recordings as “I Will Always Love You,” “The Greatest Love of All,” “I Have Nothing” and “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.”

In death, Houston triumphed over the forces that would have her remembered for anything other than the game-changing pop icon who valued family and friendship above all. In life, could it be that this beautiful songbird’s wings simply grew tired?

In an interview with Black Image, jazz artist Gerald Albright, who toured with Houston for more than four years in the early 1990s, offered his insight on the woman known as “The Voice.”

“I was on tour with Whitney … shortly before she met (ex-husband) Bobby Brown. As members of her band, we rarely saw Whitney; she would hang out on tour with her family members and her entourage. We would see her at sound check, performances or when we had to catch a plane,” he said. “But when the band interacted with her, she was so sweet and passionate about showing us all attention. She had a great attitude, and it was really disheartening for me to learn of her death. I was in shock, I felt anger and pity.

“What people don’t realize about Whitney is that she grabbed stardom very fast. When (record executive) Clive Davis discovered her, he groomed her as this glamorous musical icon. That resulted in 170 million records being sold in her career. Going from being a regular Jersey girl — singing in the church — to the top singing diva on the planet, can put a lot of pressure on anyone. It causes exclusion from humanity. She couldn’t go to a mall, a club or a grocery store without bodyguards.”

As Albright sees it, a single anecdote perfectly captures the isolation that Houston experienced once she became one of the world’s most famous people.

“I remember being in Albuquerque, N.M. on tour with her, and witnessing how family-oriented she was. She allowed the whole band to bring their families along with them on tour, and acquired many tour buses to accommodate all the families,” he recalled. “While at the hotel, all of the band members and their families decided to go swimming, and we had a great time playing volleyball and other water games in the hotel pool. Whitney decided she wanted to join us and go swimming — to our surprise. All of us, plus the other hotel guests, had to stop swimming and leave the pool in order for her to get in. It was a real drag to not be able to swim with your friends, because it puts you in the public eye and everyone in the hotel would cause this big hoopla. That type of pressure is the same thing Michael Jackson had to contend with. It causes (the artist) to look away to find something else to lean on, because you don’t have people. Whitney really could have taken time off at one point, when she had millions in the bank, and spend some time out of the public eye — to relax. A person has to decide the best things for them to (maintain) the quality of life they want to live, and prepare for that.”

Longtime music executive Ken Wilson, who worked with Houston at Arista Records, and later as senior vice president of the J Records label founded by her mentor, Clive Davis, said that “people have pressures in any career they choose, and how they deal with the pressures of their industry is a personal choice.”

He added: “Contrary to what others might hear about as it relates to the professional relationship between Whitney and Clive Davis, they had a very special relationship, and he always spoke very highly of Whitney. He would always say, ‘She is one of the ultimate vocalists of all time.’ … She was a very kind person and always liked to have fun. She was very lighthearted and liked to make jokes. But Whitney was very serious about her music, and was a perfectionist. She was the kind of person who loved real hard, and Clive loved her as a daughter. … I have heard people indicate that he should have canceled his pre-Grammy party that took place on the same day as Whitney’s death. I don’t agree with that, because everything happened so last minute, and people flew in from all over the world to attend Clive’s party. I do think that maybe an adjustment should have been made, (with) a statement given to the media indicating that the party has been changed to one that celebrates the life of Whitney Houston.

“I think Whitney’s resurgence in the entertainment business is attributed to Clive playing a major role in her life as a friend and as her ‘industry father.’ I was shocked to hear about Whitney’s death, because she was looking healthy and had just completed ‘Sparkle.’ Whitney was someone I had the pleasure of knowing in the early stages of her career, and once again when she was established as a superstar.”

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