I don’t want to write this post. I don’t want to write about losing Whitney Houston. I’ve written recent RIP tribute posts for Etta James and Don Cornelius, but this loss cuts deeper. It’s too sad. There’s an ache of deep, disappointed sadness that has been over my shoulders like a shroud since Saturday.
Where were you, when you found out? I was standing backstage after the Texture on the Runway show in New York – a fabulous night out before the news hit. It was so hard to pose and smile and pretend to be happy, with news like that crushing your chest. I left shortly thereafter, en route to another fabulous event. Even as I was rushing through the crowd, I saw the sad faces. My friends told me afterwards that a few people were crying.
Some people feel silly about caring so deeply when a celebrity dies. I don’t. I get it. The feeling is about the loss of a person you’ve never met, sure. That doesn’t mean your grief is invalid. Even though you’ve never met them and didn’t actually know them, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t affect your life. Whitney Houston’s music was part of the soundtrack of our lives. Many of us can chart our formative years right along with her discography. For me, the Whitney album was of an era when I played with Barbie dolls and watched Casey Kasem’s countdown on television. I remember dancing along to I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and wishing I had her hair. Wishing I could look like that, and sing like that.
The Bodyguard soundtrack was one of the first albums I bought myself. We all loved Whitney in Waiting to Exhale. Her version of I’m Every Woman helped to bring that beautiful, uplifting song and message to a new generation of women. Whitney’s version of the Star Spangled Banner made me feel pride for a country I didn’t even live in at the time.
It still gives me chills. To this very day, that’s one of my favorite performances and you can see that Whitney knew she had nailed it. When she raises both hands in the air, there’s a pride and joy that’s so beautiful to behold.
That’s the Whitney I want to remember. That’s the Whitney that we all hoped would someday return to the spotlight.
I don’t want to write this post because I don’t want to admit that Whitney isn’t coming back. I hate that her performance in the remake of Sparkle – set to be released in August – will be a posthumous release, serving as a reminder of what we wish could have been.
When Michael Jackson died, I wrote a piece for Ebony.com titled Who Feels It,Knows It (which has since disappeared from the site but is referenced here). When MJ died there was deep pain there, but I can’t say that I was shocked. There was hurt, swaddled in a feeling of inevitability. Same with Amy Winehouse. There was a downward trajectory that the world witnessed and disseminated with inappropriate humor and a sense of offhand inevitability. An air of there-he/she-goes again, until they’re gone for the last time. “Who feels it knows it” says it best. Whitney knew it better than anyone else.
There’s a truly unpleasant callousness I’m seeing in comments online and in social media. I’ve been trying to avoid it at all costs, because it makes my temper rise. I came close to confronting some of the tweets I saw an acquaintance make, but decided against it – it isn’t worth it. I realize that my perspective isn’t going to change anyone else’s. The way I feel about Whitney Houston might be the way someone else felt about Heath Ledger or Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin or Judy Garland. But it seems that now, it’s seen as cool to be callous and acceptable to cast judgment about the path someone else walks along. I am not here to judge how Whitney Houston lived her life. What’s the point of that, now? Wouldn’t now be the ideal time for respect and appreciation of her undeniable talent? Compassion for those who knew her and loved her? Despite some of the uglier responses, there has also been an outpouring of love and appreciation, and real emotional honesty.
Since Whitney Houston’s death, I’ve been hearing from people I know and respect, who speak to how her music affected their lives. How her beauty and the message within her songs, inspired them to love themselves. I’ve heard from people who have suffered the same loss that her family is dealing with now, the particular pain of losing someone who had a history of struggling with addiction. If you’ve ever known or loved a person who deals daily with addiction, this cuts so close to home.
I can’t imagine what it feels like to be Cissy Houston right now. Or Bobbi Kristina. Or Bobby Brown. Or Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Kim Burrell, Monica, or Brandy – the famous friends and family who loved Whitney the most publicly. If we as fans are grieving this hard, how do you feel if she was a living, breathing part of your life?
There are some absolutely amazing tributes flowing forth in the wake of Whitney’s passing. Here are some of the best that I’ve read.
I thought Jennifer Hudson’s tribute at the Grammys was poignant and lovely, given the turnaround. But I agree with Luvvie – I’m holding out hope for a more substantial tribute. When the superstars who surrounded her in life are ready to sing again, here’s hoping they put together a fitting tribute to Whitney Houston and lift her up in song.
RIP, Whitney Houston. We will always love you.