Saturday, February 11, 2012

RIP Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston in 2009 (AP/Evan Evangelisti)

Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

Whitney Houston, "The Greatest Love of All"

I almost cannot believe this news, but this afternoon, but singer and actress Whitney Houston was found dead in her room at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California.  One of the finest and most talented singers of her or any generation, with an extraordinarily powerful voice grounded in the gospel tradition, Whitney Houston could have sung almost any kind of music, but primarily made her mark in rhythm & blues and pop. (Yet as she showed on the many times she sang the "Star-Spangled Banner," she could make it sound like you'd never heard it before, and later sang with a 35-piece gospel choir on The Preacher's Wife: Original Soundtrack Album.) The Newark-born daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, the cousin of icon Dionne Warwick, and the goddaughter of the musical goddess Aretha Franklin, this beautiful and poised singer, blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime vocal instrument, debuted her first album, the eponymous Whitney Houston in February 1985, and the hits came right away.  They continued well into the 1990s, with perhaps her apogee being her rendition of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love Young," from the popular movie The Bodyguard, whose soundtrack won a Grammy award, one of numerous awards Whitney collected over the years.

Whitney Houston, turning out Chaka Khan's hit "I'm Every Woman" (one of my favorite songs of hers)

I have listened to her music since her debut in 1985, and I rushed out to buy her first and subsequents not long after they appeared. Without question her many LPs and CDs have formed part of the soundtrack of my adult life. I'm even old enough to recall staying up to catch her on Byron Allen's old late night show, so enthralled was I by her music and her.  It's hard to put into words how sorrowful her decline over the last 15 years has been to witness, and how saddened I am by today's new. It was clear by 2001 how bad off she was, but I remember how when C and watched her reality show with her then-husband, Bobby Brown, there was no doubt that she had hit rock-bottom, and perhaps was even on the rock and rocks as the cameras rolled. Yet in 2009 it appeared that Whitney Houston had turned things around, but the struggles that she faced are never easy to win and, whatever happened today, it was clear that her many trials had taken their toll.  It is so very tragic, and so inadequate are these words, but as she sang, I will always love her music and her. RIP, Whitney Houston.

Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"

Here, apparently and tragically, is her last performance, last night, at Kelly Price's pre-Grammy party.

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