We will always love you
And a million voices rose in unison to sing to her. Thunder would not be loud enough to drown their cry. It was a pious act of sorrow and gratitude, of farewell and regret. The piercing pain was the perfect send-off to the queen of pop, who stirred our souls with her dazzlingly brilliant voice -- so passionate, so intense!
The whole world thrilled to the voice of Whitney Houston, to her vigour, to her zeal, as she tore her heart out, singing: "I will Always Love You". Mournfully, tearfully, we respond: "and we will always love you". Her premature death was sudden and tragic; but a peaceful ending to a painful and fatal drama.
It was a charmed life, nonetheless. Houston was born to music royalty, (Aug 9, 1963). Her mother is notable Gospel singer, Cissy Houston, her cousin, the famous Dionne Warwick and her godmother, the incomparable Aretha Franklin. No wonder she started singing alongside her mother, at age 5. By 11 she caught the attention of Clive Davis, head of Arista Records who was taken by the powerful voice of that fragile, beautiful child. Contracts were offered, but her mother held off until she finished her Catholic High School. She started modeling after she was discovered by a photographer, while singing with her mother at Carnegie Hall. She was one of the first women of colour to grace the cover of teen magazine Seventeen, and was featured in several other magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Young Miss.
Her charm, vivacity and girl-next-door looks made her one of the most sought after young beauties of her time, but singing was her passion. She continued to grow vocally, amazing fans with the depth and breadth of her renditions. She finally signed with Clive Davis in 1983, and released her debut album, "Whitney Houston", one year later. The music world was stunned. The New York Times called it: "an impressive showcase for an exceptional vocal talent". The album spawned 4 No1 singles, making her the first African-American female artist to earn such a distinction. The album itself sold 25 million copies, and won her the first of six Grammy Awards. It is listed in Rolling Stones' "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
Her second album "Whitney" debuted at No 1 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, and again she made history by being the first female artist, of any colour, to enter the albums' chart at No. 1 in the US, the UK and a dozen other countries, breaking the record previously shared by the Beatles and the Bee Gees. In 1986-87, she was the highest earning African-American woman overall, and the third highest entertainer after Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy.
There was more to Houston than beauty of voice and face. Houston possessed an even more beautiful heart. To her applies the cliché, "beautiful inside and out". She was a fervent supporter of Nelson Mandela, and joined other musicians in London to celebrate the imprisoned Mandela's 70th birthday, raising over $1 million for charities. Houston continued to bring awareness to the terrors of apartheid.
In 1989, Houston formed "The Whitney Houston Foundation for Children", a non- profit organization that has raised funds for the homeless, the sick, the hungry children worldwide.
It was indeed a charmed life, enchanted and enchanting. Then in walked Rhythm and Blues bad-boy Bobbi Brown. Our Catholic-raised, Gospel-singing, clean cut girl's life turned topsy-turvy.
Movie offers continued to pour in from the likes of Robert de Niro, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones, and Kevin Kostner, who had been waiting three years for her approval. The Bodyguard became an instant hit with the fans, despite mixed reviews. The sound- track album sold over one million copies within a week, the first album ever to achieve such a feat. In 2007, USA Today included it as one of the 25 most memorable movie moments of the last quarter century. It was also the first inter-racial Hollywood movie that never mentioned the colour difference. Miss Houston's mainstream appeal, rendered Americans colour-blind.
As for the single: "I Will Always Love You", already performed in the movie, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas", by its writer Dolly Parton, reached platinum status only when Houston tore our hearts and hers with her rendition. It became the best selling single by a female artist in history.
She continued to act, to sing, to tour, to record and to excel, but things had changed for our queen of pop. Living with Bobbi Brown, the perfect image of the legend began to change. To keep up with a husband she adored, she joined his bad habits of drug use. She lost weight, missed performances, behaved erratically. She spent nights of great sorrow and days of great torment. She finally found the courage to divorce Brown in 2007, and was granted custody of their daughter, Bobbi Cristina, but it was much harder to divorce drug addiction.
Whitney freely admitted herself three times to Drug Rehabilitation Centers, in7 years, but the road to recovery is long, hard and tedious. One small interval can lead to tragedy, and it did. She lost her first and last battle, like so many before her. She died in the bathtub, 11 February 2012 at age 48.
She sang the songs we all wished to sing; songs that reflected our lives, our struggles, our triumphs and most of all, our heartbreaks. The hour had come for the lovely dreams to fly away... too soon, too soon!
How small a part of time they share,
That are so wondrous, sweet and fair!
-- Edmund Waller (1606-1687)