XXXVII. Whitney Houston

Dear Whitney,

I have to admit it. When I first learned about your comeback, I chuckled. When I caught the last 10 minutes of your GMA performance a few weeks ago, I shook my head. Your trademark seemed to be missing.

I couldn’t understand why you would comeback with anything less than what you brought when your voice was known as a national treasure. I knew I wouldn’t purchase the album. I didn’t want to hear it. No, I’d rather listen to some of my favorites of yours, including “I Have Nothing” and “You Give Good Love.” You know, back when your voice in song brought tears to eyes and joy to hearts.

Whitney sits down with Oprah.

Whitney sits down with Oprah.

But there you were, sounding like a shell of yourself. It reminded me of Ali fighting in the 80s, and I couldn’t understand why you’d do such a thing. I had no interest in you singing. I just wondered what had happened to your voice.

Still, I had to tune into Oprah the last two days to see what all the hubbub was about concerning this interview you had with her, and I’m glad I did.

You spoke with candor about your experiences, especially your marriage to Bobby. You talked about him slapping you and spitting on you in front of Bobbi Kristina. You talked about hitting Bobby over the head a few times with objects. You talked about you all’s use of cocaine and marijuana. You talked about the day you left.

You opened up about many of the things that were rumored throughout the last 20 years, and gave them a perspective — your perspective — most of us couldn’t understand. Some people don’t get why you did it. Sure, it was cathartic, but why tell the world candidly about your life and your addictions. Yet, I feel as though we learned a lot about your plight, lessons we can apply in our own walks.

See, I had wondered how your marriage to Bobby lasted so long with all of the surrounding circumstances. Hearing you speak about your commitment to your marital vows, despite your flaws and your ex-husband’s many mishaps, made some of it make sense. If anything, we could understand why you tried so hard for 14 years of marriage.

But what stuck with me more than anything is your reliance on your faith. It was evident throughout two hours of interviews. It’s something I never knew. You harped on it and made it evident that the reason you believe you’ve come through your struggles is because of your belief in God.

That’s where this new album thing starts to make sense. Even without your signature voice there are a few powerful messages hidden within a couple of the tracks, especially the title track “I Look To You” and “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” You discussed them in detail with Oprah, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to listen after hearing your story. You can hear your struggle within those songs.

And while they don’t hold the power of your earlier work, they’re still great markers for you and for those of us who will turn an ear to your voice again. They are reminders many of us need in good and bad times, ones that many of us people don’t hear often in music today. With your album debuting No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the message you delivered will hit home for plenty.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for being as open as you were with Oprah. Without your honesty, I probably would have continued dismissing you in the manner I have for the last several years. Now, I know better and I’m glad I tuned in.

Wishing your voice still had its once undeniable power,

Damon

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22 responses to “XXXVII. Whitney Houston

  1. I didn’t watch the interview but I saw some clips and it seemed like it was an insightful interview.

    I am a huge Whitney fan but like you, I will stick to listening to her older music because I just was not feeling this new album. I’d rather cherish the memory of what her voice used to be than taint it with relatively weak vocals and lyrics (for some of the songs) that came off as trying to be a bit too “hip”.

    I was disappointed the most by the fact that the album did not have one of those powerful love ballads. A great ballad is Whitney’s trademark, it is one of the reasons she came to be one of my favorite artists. *cues up “I Will Always Love You”*

  2. I’m heated that I didn’t get to see the second part of the interview yesterday.

    The first one was soo insightful, when she spoke of the passionate love they shared, I immediately thought of Chris and Rihanna.

    Anywho, her voice sounds way different- it’s a bit raspier. I was never a cd buyer or devout follower of hers but I wish her the best.

  3. At different points in the interview, I found myself thinking “I can’t believe she just admitted to that…” but then I’d think, “I totally understand…”

    I don’t know how much talking about it she’s done, but if you hold stuff like that in, it can feel so good to get it out that you don’t stop once you start.

    I give her props for going there. She could’ve said “I don’t want to talk about it” and nobody would really be able to fault her.

    Meanwhile, I just keep thinking back to her last album “Just Whitney” when she was trying to move into the new millenium and it just didn’t work. I appreciate her not trying to do that again, but while I’d LOVE another album like “The Bodyguard” or “I’m Your Baby Tonight”… I’d settle for another “My Love is Your Love”

    So I’ma let her do this one, and cross my fingers for the next go ’round.

    • “I don’t know how much talking about it she’s done, but if you hold stuff like that in, it can feel so good to get it out that you don’t stop once you start.

      I give her props for going there. She could’ve said “I don’t want to talk about it” and nobody would really be able to fault her.”

      @ASmith: Great points. I also appreciated when she basically said “Now that I have discussed these things I refuse to answer these same questions publicly again.” I think that Oprah is the only one she really felt comfortable with opening up that much about her life, including the things she did. She had a lot to say about Bobby but she also put herself out there. There’s always two sides to every story & I’m sure Bobby’s perspective is completely different but she seemed to be as honest as she felt comfortable being…especially when she said “There are worse things that occurred that are better left unsaid.” I thought the stuff she admitted to was bad enough, so I’m sure the stuff she left out is better left unsaid.

      Sidebar: Didn’t Bobbi Kristina look pretty & all grown up?

    • @asmith: idk… I don’t think she should drop another album. I think there’s a good message in this one, but she doesn’t have her voice. It’s not worth it.

      I’m just glad I watched the entire interview, because it puts it all in perspective. See, I wondered why she came back because she has no need for the money and has no voice… there’s a message there, I guess.

      • @damon: I think a gospel album would be great. Her voice is not the same but I still think she could tear up (in the good sense) some gospel. I love The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack. 😉

  4. Morning, y’all.

    @damon: Great letter. I agree with you that what stuck out the most to me was her undeniable faith in God. I was happy to hear that she recognized she couldn’t do it on her own and she now knows from where her help & strength come. I could also appreciate her saying that she must fight and pray her way through the temptations each day to turn back to drugs. I thought that was real and very much like many of us that have to work through issues and resist temptations; this is often done with prayer and by faith.

    Like you & the commenters above, I will definitely keep listening to her older stuff, the voice that we first fell in love with. I have the I Look To You Album and like you stated, the songs aren’t comparable to her earlier stuff but the messages in them are strong & powerful. One of my favorites is the upbeat & catchy “Million Dollar Bill” song which Alicia Keys did for her. A song I don’t like is her cover of “Song For You.”

    btw…I also thought she looked amazing. I loved her dress & pumps.

  5. ‘The Bodyguard’ is hands down her best work. I’ve always been a Whitney fan and her voice was so powerful that it demanded attention every single time. I think the reason why I haven’t picked up her new album is because none of the tracks sound strong. It’s sounds like she’s trying too hard and she’s lost some of her signature sound. I will forever remember her powerhouse songs like ‘I Have Nothing’, ‘I Will Always Love You’, ‘I’m Every Woman’, ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’, and ‘All The Man I Need’, just to name a few. That’s the Whitney that I want to remember. That’s the Whitney that I got into an argument with a guy at school about when he was walking around talking about how Jennifer Lopez was the most beautiful woman in the business and I emphatically said ‘nu uhhhh….Whitney Houston is…’ lmao! I was always riding for Whitney, but she has sadly let me down within the last ten years or so. I know she’s only human and she’s prone to err, but my heart was broken to see her hit rock bottom like she did. I’m happy she’s back, happy and healthy, but right now I just can’t see myself getting into her new work…

    • “That’s the Whitney that I got into an argument with a guy at school about when he was walking around talking about how Jennifer Lopez was the most beautiful woman in the business and I emphatically said ‘nu uhhhh….Whitney Houston is…’ lmao!”

      @jlbd: She is very beautiful, especially now that she no longer looks scary thin like she did at MJ’s 30th anniversary celebration.

      • @Shawnta’

        I still think her beauty isn’t what it was. She was the epitome of beautiful when I was a young girl growing up and during my pre-teen years. She looks like she’s been through some thangs now….lol

        • @jlbd: I agree that she was more beautiful when she (& we) were younger but I still think she’s beautiful. She has been through some thangs and I agree, it’s evident.

    • @jlbd: I’m not saying it’s worth buying… but it’s worth the listen.

      • Yeah, I did listen to it online. There were a couple of songs that were cool, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend any money on it. *shrugs shoulders*

  6. after seeing whitney in central park i was counting down ’til this interview with oprah. i LOVE whitney and her story. her deep roots in faith also took me by suprise, but she’s a great example of the story of the ‘prodigal son.’ forgiveness, grace, mercy and 2nd chances are what she represents and reminds me that people can ALWAYS change for the better. the fact that she was so honest and shamelessly truthful, but still with tact, proved she needed to share her testimony. one thing cece winans always says is you can’t have a testimony unless you’ve endured a test.
    her voice will never be the same: she’s aging and she’s done cocaine. they both take a toll on anyone. but she looks absolutely amazing, and will hopefully be the breath of fresh air the R&B industry desperately needs.

  7. “you can’t have a testimony unless you’ve endured a test.”

    I think that is what makes this different… She doesn’t have her signature sound, but you can actually hear her struggle if you listen for it.

  8. I have loved Whitney ever since I discovered my moms “I’m Your Baby Tonight” cassette tape. When I recieved “The Bodyguard” soundtrack for Christmas when I was 11 years old, you couldn’t tell me that Whitney wasn’t my fairy godmother. I LOVED HER!!

    But then things changed. Her voice has always been #1 in my book, but as a person, she got the side eye multiple times from me. When I heard she was coming back out, I was excited, but then reluctant to hear her music, especially when I heard who would be producing it. I downloaded it first (I am not one to waste money, sorry Whit) and to be honest, i kind of hate it.

    But watching her on Oprah yesterday…man, it brought tears to me eyes. It made me want to love her music like I used to, especially in regards to what her songs stand for. So I’ve decided to give her album another try. And even if my feelings dont change about it, her voice is still #1 in my book.

  9. Oh and another thing: I love how she told Oprah, “I’m not doing this again. Those questions you asked me? I”m not answering those again. I’m done!”

    She doesn’t have to profit off her story. She just let it be known, and is leaving it at that. I love it!

  10. Her story is very real and I think what people need to hear. No one ever wakes up and decides “today I’ll become a junkie.” It is pain and escapism that push people to that point, regardless of race, class, etc. To me, she was addicted to the love of her husband and her resulting addiction to drugs was a by-product.

    She mentioned how after the Bodyguard she was at the peak of her fame and was running EVERYTHING. Then someone came along who she could give control of SOMETHING to (i.e. their relationship). She finally had a role where she could let someone else lead and put all of her trust in. I think this was fascinating.

    I also liked the parallels she gave to Michael Jackson. She mentioned how looking at him in 2001 was like looking at a mirror (at his 30th celebration at MSG they both looked frighteningly sickly). While MJ was never a complete junkie (his dependency came and went) and was on prescriptions, still I wonder why their lives turned out differently? For some reason her mother was able to intervene yet his family could not with him. She was able to “come back” and he was not.

    • “She finally had a role where she could let someone else lead and put all of her trust in. I think this was fascinating.”

      This had a weird dynamic, though, because as she said, she felt Bobby was jealous of her and knew he wasn’t what she was… and probably could never be that.

      That whole “Don’t call me Ms. Houston. Call me Mrs. Brown” bit seems as though it could have taken it’s toll on both of them in different ways. Interesting stuff, nonetheless.

  11. Definitely agree with you on this letter. Thank you for writing and putting the thoughts of many into words. I watched a bit of Whitney’s performance on GMA but never finished because for one, I was at work and therefore supposed to be working, but secondly, because I love Whitney and I could not stand to see her struggle vocally. It’s so tragic what years of drug abuse has done to her vocal chords.

    And like you said, her voice may not be as powerful now than it was before but I would have to say that her testimony of overcoming and being healed of HARD life experiences surpasses her the amazing performances of “The Star Spangled Banner”, “I Will Always Love You” or “You Give Love.” I think that her words and her stories of “being through it” will have an impact on people in this latter portion of her career more than her astounding vocals alone prior.

    Funny because as I write this comment “So Emotional” just came up on my iPod. She was and still is AMAZING. And I found myself completely applauding and rooting for Whitney by the end of the Oprah’s interview yesterday.

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