When I heard the news yesterday, I couldn’t believe it. I was in utter disbelief and shock. I checked online to see if I was misinformed and was relieved when I read there were false reports and that Whitney was upset that people would report such things. I relayed this to my source and felt relief for about a second. She told me to tune into CNN. It was confirmed by her reps that Whitney Houston was dead. She was found in her hotel room and they were not able to revive her. To be honest, I don’t usually care when celebrities die as cold and heartless as that may sound. I don’t actually “know” them so I am emotionally disconnected. A long time ago when Kurt Cobain died, I was not affected. I couldn’t understand why so many vigils were held, why so many people were devastated at the loss. When Michael Jackson died, as awful and sad as it was, I didn’t cry. I for sure felt that the world lost easily one of the most influential men in music, but was not moved to tears. Again, I didn’t understand the candlelight vigil’s and the tears for someone who most people didn’t actually know. I can now say, I now understand a bit better. To say that I haven’t shed tears for the loss of Whitney Houston in the past 24 hours, would be a lie.
It was 1985 when first heard “Saving all my love for you” by Whitney Houston. It was the first song that I ever loved and memorized as a little girl. I was 9 years old and my brother had a mix tape of hit songs and that is where I first heard it. I used to sneak into his room and take the tape and listen to it in my room and sing wholeheartedly into my microphone (which was actually my hairbrush). I would sing it over and over again as long as I had the tape in my possession. Rewinding, replaying. Rewinding and then replaying again. This is when you actually had to rewind a tape and hope it stopped at the right place to be at the beginning of your song. At one point, I had listened to this incredible song so often that you could see in the colour of tape was a different shade behind the little plastic window so I knew exactly where I needed to stop it to avoid having to fast forward the boring un-meaningful song. Boy at 9 years old I was way before my time in matters of the heart. For me to be able to sing “Saving all my love for you” with such passion, I literally felt the words and felt that once I found the right man, I would save all of my love for him. Not until I was a little bit older did I realize that Whitney was the other woman in the song:
“My friends try and tell me, find a man of my own but each time I try, I just break down and cry
Cause I’d rather be home feeling blue, so I’m saving all my love for you”
It didn’t matter though, it was still one hell of a ballad. She sang it beautifully and I instantly became a forever fan.
Of course I loved the other songs that were on the radio from the album, like “How Will I Know?” which I could dance as well as sing to and I can’t forget the beautiful “Greatest Love of All” – which we all know thanks to Whitney, is inside of all of us. In a time where Madonna was getting huge and every girl my age seemed to be wearing multiple bracelets, lace gloves, fishnets, bleaching their hair and rolling around singing “Like a Virgin” – I was happy singing my powerful Whitney love ballads. Sometimes, I would dress up in my favourite dress, as I got older and had evening gowns, or the equivalent to as glamourous I could muster, I would dress up, sing or lipsync to my stuffed animals the best I could. Editor’s Note: lots of love to Madonna for being an incredibly inventive & creative contributor to the music industry as there is no escaping or trying to deny her impact on, well, everyone.
A couple of years later, in 1987, Whitney came out with a new album which meant a bunch of new songs that provided the soundtrack to my tweens. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (who loves me) which was perfectly upbeat and fun and totally what I wanted – to dance with somebody who loves me. Then we got back to reality: “Didn’t We Almost Have it All”, “So Emotional” and of course, “Where do Broken Hearts go?”. I needed to feel my music and these songs provided that for me. I felt so emotional singing my heart out to them to my reflection in the mirror and I felt I knew everything about love at the tender age of 11.
In 1990 – she released “I’m Your Baby Tonight” which brought me “All the Man That I Need”. Other than “My Name is Not Susan” there was a new Whitney song on the radio. I remember the exact moment I heard it, I was working in a dog kennel cleaning up outside and it came on. I loved it instantly. Here we go again, Whitney with another amazing song that I can sing into my hairbrush microphone to was all I could think. Wait a minute though, it sounded a bit different from the Whitney I was used to, but it was still unbelievable. It turns out, it wasn’t Whitney at all, it was a new artist named Mariah Carey and the song was “Vision of Love”. I was beside myself. How was it possible that someone sounded so similar to Whitney? At the end of the day, I was now a Mariah Carey fan as well.
In 1992, I was in grade 11 and 16 years old when The Bodyguard movie came out starring Kevin Costner & Whitney Houston. I remember in the theatre I almost fainted at the power and magnitude of the scene where Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) takes the bullet for the one he loves but couldn’t be with. I couldn’t lose him, not on my shift. Not only a powerful love story there was the song. Oh that song. I Will Always Love You. Wow. Possibly the most powerful love ballad of all time. Placed perfectly in the movie where Rachel Marron is on the plane, about to leave Kevin Costner. The song starts as the plane is about to take off, acapella. She stops the plane, the melody starts as she runs off the plane straight into his arms. It doesn’t get more romantic than that. If you knew me then, if you were in my class or a close friend, I am sure you remember. That year all I listened to was The Bodyguard soundtrack. I was tortured over Jeff Maher (don’t worry, he was well aware as were you) and listened to “I Will Always Love You” more times than it played on the radio. The soundtrack also blessed all of us with “Run to You” and “I Have Nothing” which easily defines Grade 11 for me.
In 1995, Waiting to Exhale was her second movie and again, provided her angelic voice to the soundtrack. Exhale (shoop shoop), Why Does It Hurt So Bad and a duet with CeCe Winans called “Count on Me” which was a friendship anthem that should have gotten just as much play, if not more, as Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” from the movie Beaches. Again, Whitney’s music provided the soundtrack to my life which in 1995 was quite challenging back then.
In 1996, The Preacher’s Wife came out and I loved the song from that movie immediately. Big surprise, another ballad showcasing her incredible talent. I loved the song so much that in those challenging years there were two different occasions where I had the choice to use my last $20 to buy music that I loved or food to eat. The decision was not a difficult one. The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack was the second time, the first was Celine Dion’s “Live in Paris” for the song “To Love You More” – this was when you could buy singles, but not in electronic format of course you just had to be lucky enough for it to be available and neither song was as a single. Bottom line, I didn’t need to eat, I needed Whitney.
In 1998 I had come a far way and was in my second year of college. The first year was consumed with “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion from Titanic which I blared in the hallways of Residence. Second year I lived off campus and would commute with a friend and listen to my “My Love is Your Love” Whitney album in her car – everyday. God I loved Lucy for that. “Heartbreak Hotel”, “My Love is Your Love” and “It’s Not Right but It’s Ok” got me through second year of college. However, there was musical genius on that album as well. The most magical event from this album was the duet “When You Believe” with Mariah Carey. The two most powerful voices of all time, singing together on what some may call a super ballad. It had everything I would imagine a super ballad would have. It was perfection. They sang it together for the first time ever on The Oprah Show and I would have given my left arm to have been in that room. Imagine hearing these two voices in such a small venue:
In 2002, “Just Whitney” gave me “Try it On My Own”….not a commercial success but her voice could still do no wrong.
In 2009 I counted down for her “I Look To You” album. It was promoted well. I think we were all rooting for the Whitney we all knew and loved. I personally couldn’t wait for the return of “The Voice”. The first single she released was “I Look To You” which was written by R. Kelly and a perfect return for her. “Million Dollar Bill” was the second single and my favourite which spoke volumes of where she had been and where she was going was “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”. Whitney was back.
Fast forward 3 years I would never imagine that I would be here….talking about Whitney Houston because she is gone. She is no longer here. It hasn’t really set in yet. It doesn’t even seem real. It is tragic, she battled addiction and she tried to fix herself. She went to rehab. She left her idiot husband. She wanted to be better and just couldn’t get there. I can only hope now she has found the peace that she couldn’t find in her waking life.
My biggest regret is that I will never be able to see her live. To hear her unbelievable talent in person. To think that we will never see another performance, hear another new song, see her accept another award…is sad. The more I write and remember of what this woman brought into my life, it wasn’t just music. She was a huge part of so many experiences throughout my life, my growth and it is no wonder that I am absolutely beside myself with the death of this magnificent artist. Let’s put it this way, if Oprah is the one who I claim to have helped raise me in my formative years, it would be fair to say Whitney provided the soundtrack for some of my most precious memories. I remember so much of my life with each and every note she sang.
Thank you Whitney, I will miss you and always love you. In memory of you, tonight I will put on a gown, blast your music and sing and dance with you into my hairbrush because I know now you will be watching.