Whitney Houston, the incredibly talented American pop star who came, saw and rocked the stage like no other, flies away on the wings of fame and, of course, controversy
A diva of excellent quality, no doubt.
Whitney Houston, American soul singer, left the nursery early to have a date with music. It was the roller coaster whirlwind that took away her innocence and transformed her into a shimmering diva. With a body made for the stage, gangling arms and incredible vocal cords that did music right, Whitney, as she is popularly known by her fans across the world, often set the stage and the hearts of her listeners on fire.
But after decades of chart topping singles and monster hit albums that found international appeal and frenzy, the magic in her music froze. Whitney found fame, fortune and, eventually, a free fall from the giddy height of superstars. But for some of her timeless music creations, which remain cupid’s anthems, Whitney’s life has been over for some years. Her eventual death at the Beverly Hills Hotel, United States, US, on February 11, has brought focus on a career that tried unsuccessfully to bring back the sparkle.
Best known for I Will Always Love You, her 1992 incredible delivery of Dolly Parton’s classic, Whitney had a life painted on a canvas of fame. Her stirring voice, a powerful range machine, made waves and opened diplomatic doors. In 1990, at the age of 27, Whitney met with President George Bush senior at the Oval office.
From 1983, when she signed her first music contract with Arista Records, Whitney held the world spellbound by her stage artistry, beauty and musical prowess. Some of her monster hits include Saving All My Love, All the Man That I Need, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, One Moment in Time, among others.
Also an actor, Whitney appeared in movies like The Bodyguard (1992), Waiting to Exhale (1995), and The Preacher’s Wife (1996). Her role in The Bodyguard made her $10 million richer.
Whitney’s mezzo-soprano voice has been described in superlatives. She was third in MTV’s list of 22 Greatest Voice and sixth on COVE magazine’s list of 100 Best Pop Vocalists. Rolling Stone, an entertainment magazine in the US lists her as the 34th of the 100 greatest signers of all time. “Her voice is a mammoth, coruscating cry: Few vocalists could get away with opening a song with 45 unaccompanied seconds of singing but Houston’s power hose version of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ is a tour de force,” the magazine wrote about her.
For her talent and prowess, Whitney garnered 415 awards in her career. On her shelf lie 30 Billboard Music awards, two Emmy awards and six Grammy awards, among others. According to the Guinness World Book of Records, Whitney remains the most awarded female act of all time.
However, the decline into oblivion started with illegal but free contact with cocaine and marijuana. The habit, reportedly nurtured by her marriage with Bobby Brown, a hip-hop artiste, literally sent her glowing career to the undertakers. In no time, her effervescent and intriguing personae was reduced to dishevelled cameo appearances on down town stages. In 2000, wraps of marijuana were discovered by security agents in Whitney and Brown’s luggage at Hawaii airport in the US. After that event, rumours of substance and alcohol abuse would not go away from the couple, though they continued to deny it. During an interview with Diane Sawyer in 2002, Whitney defended herself. “First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. Okay? We don’t do crack. We don’t do that. Crack is wack,” she said.
In 2009, two years after her divorce, however, Whitney admitted to marijuana abuse on Oprah Winfrey’s Show. She told her audience how Brown, “laced marijuana with rock cocaine. It was an everyday thing…I wasn’t happy by that point in time. I was losing myself.”
Whitney made frantic attempts to clutch back at her life. Several visits to rehabilitation centres and spot interviews to shore up her career fell down flat. With time, she lost her vigour and her grasp on her voice and the microphone slipped. Gone was the sun-kissed girl who loved her voice and the message it preached, and in her place was a worn out woman whose dreams were mugged by drug and alcohol abuse.
In 2009, however, fate smiled on her when she recorded I Look To You, her seventh and last album. It was a significant success, considering that it was Whitney’s first album to be number one on Billboard 200 since 1987. But Whitney’s personal life continued on a downward hill. Shabby, unkempt and without her renowned poise, Whitney was back in a rehabilitation centre again last year, as an outpatient. She remained so until she was found submerged in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills Hotel room on the eve of the 2012 Grammy awards.
In spite of her personal challenges and limitations, Whitney’s personality and the life she brought to stage performance would remain for a long time. The mother of one was billed to attend a pre-award gala before her shocking death. Clive Davis, musician and a long-time friend who organised the event was stunned. At the Grammy pre-award party, he declared, “Whitney was a beautiful person and a talent beyond compare. She graced this stage with her regal performance and gave so many memorable performances here over the years.”
Mariah Carey, another artiste who had shared the stage with Whitney, says the world will always remember her as a fantastic musician. “Heartbroken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend. She will never be forgotten as one of the greatest voices to ever grace the earth,” Carey said.
While the world mourns Whitney, Tony Benneth a friend of hers who also had drug problems, added a twist to the condolences. “First it was Michael Jackson, then Amy Winehouse, now the magnificent Whitney Houston. I’d like every gentleman and lady in this room to campaign to legalise drugs. Let’s legalise drugs like they did in Amsterdam. No one’s hiding or sneaking around the corners to get it. They go to a doctor to get it.” That way, Benneth believes that drug intake may be less perilous. Would that approach save other people from self-destructing? The answer remains only in the realm of conjectures that appears coming a little too late for Whitney.