At 3:55pm on the eve of the 54th annual Grammy awards ceremony, Whitney Houston was found in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton and pronounced dead at just 48 years old. The cause of death is yet to be determined, but media and fans around the world are taking a hard look at her tumultuous marriage to Bobbi Brown and turning to her recent struggles with drug abuse for answers.
Whitney Houston was a girly, twinkling, smiling twenty two years old when her self-titled first album set the record as the biggest selling debut album by a solo artist. The album yielded three #1 hit singles (“How Will I Know”, “Greatest Love of All”, and “Saving All My Love For You”) and scored her a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her soaring interpretation of “Saving All My Love For You”. After the release of her second album, “Whitney” (and four more #1 hit singles), she became the only solo artist in history to have seven consecutive #1 hit singles. Whitney Houston’s fame was launched to a whole new level with her performance in the film ‘The Bodyguard’. The soundtrack won a Grammy for Album of the Year, and her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” became the number one selling U.S. single of all time solidifying her place in history as a legend (www.whitneyhouston.com) of pop, rhythm and blues, and gospel. Her list of accomplishments and honours is infinite. And why? Because of the way she sang. Because Whitney Houston made any female alive in the last 25 years want to sing into a hairbrush and sound just like her.
I was nine or ten years old when I fell in love with Whitney Houston’s voice. It didn’t matter what she sang, the songs were great because she sang them. The best Christmas present I ever received was when my parents gave me a small, pink Panasonic boom box and Whitney Houston’s first album—the one with the orange cover, a poised and mature looking Whitney Houston draped in a creamy one-shouldered dress. She was the beginning and end, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen or heard. The cassette was on constant rotation until it was so warped and worn out it wouldn’t play anymore; evidently, a person can love a thing to death. The second best Christmas present I ever received was when my sister bought me the CD to replace the cassette.
Whitney Houston’s voice was powerful, feminine, and technically flawless. She sang with conviction, emotion and a fearlessness that made her live performances legendary (watch the video clip below). Reconciling the artist she was at her peak with the 48 year old artist she evolved into is not easy for any of us. Singers who have had long careers are continually compared to earlier versions of themselves. Growing old is natural, so is it fair for fans to be disappointed when a 48 year old Whitney Houston no longer sings like the Whitney Houston we fell in love with 20 years ago? I don’t know. What I do know is that artists want their music to stay relevant, and that, in Whitney Houston’s case, her talent will ALWAYS be relevant.
Endless statistics and accolades are a testament to her extraordinary and most unusual talent; endless rumours about her drug use are a testament to the very human woman struggling to cope with addiction and to find her way through the burden of stardom. Our loss is heaven’s gain: sing loud, Ms. Houston, we want to be able to hear you from down here.