Home Featured Bittersweet Memories: Reflecting On the Incomparable Whitney Houston

Bittersweet Memories: Reflecting On the Incomparable Whitney Houston

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Damn

I felt this one. More than the passing of any other entertainer or celebrity, Whitney Houston’s death resonated with me in a way I never would have imagined possible. I started and stopped this post three different times, each time trying to figure out exactly what it was about Whitney that made her, for me, so special. What I’ve come to realize is that her life and her constant struggle to remain a part of our lives in the face of serious substance abuse and addiction issues has mirrored my own family’s struggle to remain a part of each other’s lives in the face of similar issues. In that way her death for me, means a whole lot more.

I was born in the early 80’s and by the time I was old enough to understand and appreciate music, the two biggest artists on the planet were Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I can remember my mom and I stopping what we were doing to rock out together whenever I Wanna Dance With Somebody came on the radio and I remember coming home and singing Greatest Love of All after learning the words during a lesson on music in my kindergarten class. So it was then. Whitney was everywhere and wherever her music intersected with our lives, we danced and we sang and we laughed; together as a family, we enjoyed her amazing, once in a generation talent.

These are some of the only memories I have of my mom. I told you, my childhood spanned the 80’s and 90’s, and like many of our families during that time, we weren’t able to escape those decades without becoming intimately aware of just how damaging addiction can be. It forced us apart, created a schism in our togetherness and we were a family no more. And as we disintegrated, so too did Whitney. Despite releasing a debut album with three number one singles, and following that up with an album that spawned four number one singles, combining for an unprecedented seven straight number one singles, despite continuing to release consistently quality music, and despite conquering Hollywood in The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale, Whitney too struggled with her demons. Over the years those demons began to show themselves more and more and the vibrant, powerful, joyful Whitney we once knew became this shell of a woman whose struggles were worn on her face and heard in her voice. These struggles were so acutely hurtful and recognizable to those of us who loved her that many of us struggled to find an accurate emotional response.  So as we often do, instead of dealing with it, we resorted to levity. We laughed when she told Diane Sawyer that if she was addicted to anything it was to making love. We laughed when she said “crack is wack.” We laughed when our favorite comedians joked that she looked “crackish” and we laughed when it all came to a head on Being Bobby Brown. We laughed because it hurt. It hurt because Whitney wasn’t just another singer who fell on hard times, she wasn’t just another example of the corrupting nature of fame; she was like family. Too confused to grasp why we cared so much or too embarrassed to admit we loved this stranger like she was our own – we instead made light of her misfortune turning this once beautiful example of natural talent into a grotesque side-show.



Deep down inside we all wish for comebacks. We wish for comebacks because time is supposed to heal. I always believed that my family would make a comeback; that time would eventually heal the fissures and fractures that had held us apart. I believed that I’d again one day dance with my mom, or belt out with her a duet of I will Always Love You. I dreamed that time would redeem all that was sacrificed on the alter of addiction. And I believed that Whitney would make a comeback. I believed that time would refill her burned lungs with that beautiful air that always seemed to flow with such effortless pitch and melody. I thought that time would eventually return the beautiful brown glow to her now dark, sunken gray eyes. But it did not. There was no comeback. The last breath she breathed didn’t flow through the same set of lungs that brought air that bellowed out into the atmosphere  during a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner or at the end of The Bodyguard. Time didn’t return to Whitney the voice that has at some point brought a tear to the eye of everyone who’s ever heard it.

See Also:  Kissing. I Effin' Love It.

Whitney is gone, and in her death I’m reminded of the fact that the things we lose in life, be it, joy, or hope, or talent, or love, we sometimes never again find. Whitney’s death reminds me that redemption is not always an earthly endeavor. For all of us, everyone we’ve met and ever will meet, everyone we’ve known and loved and everyone we’ve not known, but loved nonetheless, time will eventually run out and sometimes, as in the case of the incomparable Whitney Houston, time ran out a lot sooner than we’d imagined. I’d love to end this by encouraging you, no … imploring you to reconcile with anyone you’ve loved and lost. I’d love to leave by telling you how you should pursue love at all costs, and cherish those you care for while they’re still with us … but I’m not going to do that. Not because you shouldn’t, but because sometimes, that’s just not how life goes. Sometimes people just die and the only thing they leave, the only thing from them we take with us are our bittersweet memories.

And on that note, I’ll leave you all with my favorite Whitney track of all time. Cliché I know, but beautiful nonetheless. Feel free to share your favorite Whitney songs and moments below. Feel free to discuss last night’s horrible Grammy Awards or anything you’d like. This is a somber way to start a Monday, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. You all can do as you wish in the comments section.

stay low and keep firing ...

 

Comment(45)

  1. I never thought that this would hurt me, but all I see when I look at Whitney is my mom. they are the same age and favor a lot. this is such a painful time for anyone who enjoyed her music. I honestly don't know how you were able to write the length you did. Kudos. I didn't want these bittersweet memories. She was supposed to get & stay clean, see her grandbabies & die of old age. this is some really painful shit. I pray for her daughter. If this is hurting us like this, imagine how she feels.

  2. Great post. All I can really say is that her death caught me off guard. As a marker of black history month & tribute to Whitney Houston, the Pastor played a Gospel song/video of hers yesterday, and I almost shed a tear. The world lost a huge talent, and her circumstances of late had been rather unfortunate.

    One thing that some people have pointed out is how judgmental people are until the subjects of their ridicule pass away. That is also unfortunate. And hypocritical. One day, they'll be posting about how MJ, Whitney or some other star is the scum of the earth, laughable, etc., and the next day it's "Your work meant so much to me; I'll never forget you!" Smh.

  3. Thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel Most! Whitney meant so much to me growing up that she is permanently ingrained in the memories of my childhood. The first album I ever bought was The Bodyguard soundtrack, every school talent show I would sing the latest Whitney track, but most of all I loved and admired her like a member of my family. And for the life of me, I didn't know why until now. We truly were all rooting for her. My prayers are with her daughter who was hospitalized earlier today, no doubt due to the trauma of this all.
    A true legend, may she find the peace now that she couldn't find in her life. RIP Whitney Houston

  4. And I don't even know if I can pick just one fav song but top 3: I Have Nothing, I Believe In You and Me, I Wanna Dance With Somebody

  5. Heartbroken! Two words, ICONIC LEGEND!!! I remember "You Give Good Love" as her first major hit…she was like a big sister via music to me! My heart goes out to her family….Whitney, we will ALWAYS love YOU…..

  6. It’s really sad that Whitney died so young I always hoped she would make a full recovery and sing again or at least drop one more album. Addiction is real people don’t realize how hard it is to quit drugs especially if you’re not around a group of people who are practicing the same lifestyle. I wish people understood that just because a person has done drugs doesn’t mean that their death shouldn’t be mourned or people shouldn’t feel a little sadness. I really feel bad for her daughter I hope Sissy and Bobby can come together and help Bobby Christina keep it together.

    1. "Addiction is real people don’t realize how hard it is to quit drugs especially if you’re not around a group of people who are practicing the same lifestyle. I wish people understood that just because a person has done drugs doesn’t mean that their death shouldn’t be mourned or people shouldn’t feel a little sadness."

      +10

      People can be so cruel and judegemental

  7. Now that damn Grammy tribute. People kill me how fast they were to knock BET when they only had 24 hours to do a MJ tribute and it wasn’t to their standards, yet when people critiqued the Grammys everyone was like “ you ppl are never satisfied they only had 24 hours”. I wasn’t expecting a 10 min tribute but I though at least J Hud would sing the whole song. J Hud still did a good job.

    Also who let homeboy in that was wearing the pink du- rag, sunglasses and black suit in the front row of the audience. LMAO 0_0

  8. I wish part of Don Cornelius tribute included a soul train line.

    Nikki, I don’t know what to say about her performance, I couldn’t understand what she was singing/rapping most of the show, her whole Roman devil act looked a little odd on the Grammy stage, and I think it wouldn’t have looked so weird at something like the MTV awards. Can’t knock her hustle she almost closed out the Grammy’s and performed at the superbowl. I just hope she doesn’t get lost trying to be so different and trying to reach out to a larger audience that she forgets her core audience or tries to be so different that the new audience doesn’t get it. She low key swagger jacking Lady GaGa.

    Congrats to Adele she deserved every ward she won, very talented.

  9. You know Whitney had some good love songs. My favorite Whitney songs are
    1. Saving all my love for you- I love when it’s played on the smooth Jazz station
    2. I’m your baby tonight
    3. I wanna dance with somebody….actually just add most of them to this list!
    Her death was shocking and really took me off guard. I was upset to see people saying disrespectful and inappropriate things about her life when the woman hadn’t even expired that long. To be completely real though, most of those comments I saw didn’t come from the black community. I think that maybe some from other cultures really can’t appreciate what Whitney meant in the workworld of music (especially for black artists) just like I would expect people from or community wouldn’t really fathom the significance of the death of a heavy metal artist.
    On another note, her death also made me think of familial relationships. Bobbi Kristina is dealing with one of the worst losses one can deal with, yet because of her parents lives and the culture of the media, she can’t mourn in private. It’s really sad that people have to be such critics of others lives even when they have left this earth. I’m sure that girl doesn’t care to see or hear the reminders of her mother’s dark moments, she just needs to mourn her mother in peace. Unfortunately she won’t get that sure to the fact that other people aren’t respectful of solemnity. So sad. I really feel for Bobbi Kristina

  10. I notice that I thought about Aaliyah, trying to decide if I should consider her my favorite singer, and then I did and then literally a fw seconds later I saw on t.v. she died. And then the other day I was thinking about Whitney and I was like, you know what yeah. She IS better than my favorite singer. Now she's dead. I don't really care all that much it's not like I knew her. It's just when you hear a name all the time you place a certain level of importance on that person. She's a musician. She was gone when her voice gave out. Care about Whitney when she's dead? No one thought to send her random flowers because they loved her and her music so much, why fake like her death has that much of impact on everyday life.

  11. Every Friday back in 1988, my brother, my sister and I would watch the top 20 videos on Video Soul on BET. For about a year, the top spot went back and forth between LL Cool J's "I'm Bad", and Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody". My brother and I would root for LL, with my sister cheering on Whitney. Good times.

    Whitney is the best pop/R&B singer of all time, and the only person that can challenge that title is Mariah Carey. You know you're a good singer when you can do a dance song like "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", and make an upbeat song almost sound like a ballad. Her influence spread throughout other mediums, from Jackson Height's own Randy Watson singing "The Greatest Love of All" at the Black Awareness Rally, to Homer Simpson kicking people in the stomach to the tune of "I Will Always Love You", to Martin and Bruh-Man selling Whitty Huton t-shirts at the concert.

    Favorite song: Back in the day, I was known for being able to put together a mean baby-making music CD, and her best song for that was "You Give Good Love".

    RIP Whitney.

  12. picking a fave song of whitney's is just as impossible as picking 1 MJ song.

    it hasn't set in yet. that in such a short period of time, we've lost such a big part of our childhoods.

    whitney was dominant on the soundtrack of my life and this loss will be felt for ages to come.

    but i am so grateful for the gift that was her voice and the musical legacy she leaves behind.
    My recent post motherhood: reasons why i couldn’t do it alone

  13. I don't know why, but Whitney's death hit me harder than Michael's. My bestie called (woke me up) to tell me the news, and it really upset me. When I told my hubs he just said, "Babe, you know what she's been going through – she's finally free." But I still miss her, in a way I've never missed a celebrity no matter how young or accomplished.

    I was holding it together well until this morning when they played her rendition of "I Love the Lord" on the radio. *sigh* I shed some tears. I rememberd my father, and how that was one of his favorite songs.

  14. WONDERFUL POST! That is a horrible feeling, hoping for that comeback/reconciliation etc. and it never happens. I too am feeling a sadness that I didn't feel when MJ died. I was very sad when Amy Winehouse died and I was a huge fan of hers as well but Whitney, I GREW UP with her… mannnnn I love Whitney and always have.

    I've been telling ppl all weekend, Whitney was MY Beyonce growing up. I wanted to sing like her and dance like Janet Jackson. I remember singing her songs in the kitchen and I remember being sad when I found out she had a miscarriage. She meant a lot to me as she got older because I remember her taking Brandy under her wing and just being so supportive of other black female singers. I tweeted about her earlier in the year while I was watching "Waiting to Exhale" and recalled how damn beautiful she was. And while some participated in making her a laughing stock, I recall not watching "Being Bobby Brown." I guess I didn't realize I had a low tolerance for foolishness before RHOA and BBW.

    I'm so sorry that she didn't make that huge comeback and lived on to die of old age w/o this media circus. The only consolation we really have is her extraordinary music. My faves:

    You Give Good Love, How Will I Know, Just the Lonely Talking, I'm Your Baby Tonight, I Have Nothing

  15. This was a very poignant writeup, Mr. Spradley. I do understand how grieving a celebrity's death can add another layer when their life mirrors someone in your own family… or a loved one in your life. It really makes you think of their mortality… and your own. And if they're gone, it triggers the raw feelings felt when you first realized of their death.

    Like any iconic star, it was immensely difficult to pick just one favorite song of hers when asked, but I ended up choosing, "Run To You." Her voice was something that can never be matched and it will be one that will ring in my ears for years to come. Probably forever…

  16. I only watched snippets of the Grammys but I thought it was commendable that LL opened up w/ a prayer. Regardless of the stars' in attendance personal beliefs, mostly everyone bowed their head in a respectful gesture to Whitney's memory

    That being said, I feel like we expect far too much out of these awards shows when it comes to paying tribute to such icons. On my timeline alone (I don't even follow that many people), there were complaints about Etta James and Don Cornelius being left out of the "in memoriam" collage; despite Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt already paying tribute to her earlier in the show

    2nd, the BET awards had actually 3 days where they could've drastically changed their line up to pay homage to MJ. I mean, not to throw salt, but let's be 100; the BET awards have wayyyyyy more leeway to do bait and switches than the Grammys do. The Grammys didn't even have a full 24 hrs to re-configure an already tightly-planned show. People were throwing out names of artists they'd wanna see do a Whitney tribute w/in a day of finding out she'd passed. Like really? -_- I could be in the minority, but I think it's unrealistic of us as fans/viewers to expect people who knew Whitney as a sister/personal friend/musical colleague to be able to just jump on stage and belt out notes w/out even acknowledging their grief. Kelly Rowland put it quite matter of factly at the Clive Davis party when she was saying like "how dare she cry, when Whitney leaves behind a daughter who just lost her mother and best friend."

    I bought her last CD, I Look To You, and she had some really dope collabs on there. But 1 of my favorite Whitney songs and videos is Run to You. That whole Bodyguard album is like the Thriller of movie soundtracks. But Run to You just has a special something to me

  17. I know first hand what drugs do to families. I wish I didn't know where you were coming from.

    Whitney wasn't my parent or relative, but she was my "teacher". I can sing…well. For those of us who grew up in the 80s/90s and couldn't afford a vocal coach, Whitney was our main gifted, trusted, and committed teacher. We studied and replicated her inflections, breathing patterns, vibrato…all of it. Whitney was the model we followed to know how to sing…how to emote. We learned to do what we do because of what she did…and I couldn't thank her enough. Singers are really feeling this one…really really feeling this one.

    Hands down, my fav original Whitney tune is "You Give Good Love"…and my fav remake is her Richard Smallwood cover, "I Love The Lord".

    1. Oh, and though I believe their relationship may have been toxic, Bobby Brown is not at fault for Whitney's addiction. You don't connect with "Bobby Browns" without already having issues of your own. I believe her vice intensified after the birth of her daughter but her struggle didn't begin with Bobby.

      I pray that folks accusations toward him…and the heartbreak and pressure he's feeling watching his daughter suffer…doesn't send him spiraling out of control. I pray that he has a lot of support right now. He's gonna need it.

      1. Yes, you are correct in saying that we can only account for ourselves. However, when in a marriage you account for yourself and your partner. You become a unit.
        Guess people are coming to this conclusion because they saw such a dramatic change in her for the worst. It was public knowledge that he was struggling with issues himself prior to meeting her and some can't help but think that in efforts to save him, she lost herself.
        If that hadn't been the case, I'm sure there would have been obvious signs of severe vices prior to Bobby.

        1. You say, "You don't connect with "Bobby Browns" without already having issues of your own. I believe her vice intensified after the birth of her daughter but her struggle didn't begin with Bobby."

          Maybe her issue was that she was willing to loved to a fault Sacrifice career, health, and even life to make it work because it was no longer "she," but "we". That's deep. I believe her very strength became her vice in this situation. She admitted her drug of choice was simply him. Maybe she resorted to drugs deal or numb herself to the complexities of having a biopolar partner and didn't realize the cost would be so great.
          People go to different lengths to preserve what they cherish.
          Ironically, the song, " I will always love," speaks of the responsiblity of letting go of someone you had/have the potential to hurt.

        2. My Mom was a tabloid junky back in the day…not that I believe thats a completely valid source, but Whitney's "partying" reportedly began before Bobby Brown. I specifically remember my Mom being agitated by people blaming Bobby when her addiction became apparent. Based on my Mom's knowledge of who she dated and what they were involved (based on tabloid reports, lol), Whitney was no innocent little princess…and she said that herself in interviews. We don't know what turned the "partying" into a lifestyle or everyday addiction.

          But, I think they, the partnership…the we or us…shares equal blame for whatever transpired during their marriage. Neither of them knew when or what to let go of.

  18. Its crazy: When I was younger, the air waves were dominated by Whitney Houston. Her consistency for dropping quality material is beyond sick. She was real and her voice spectacular. She made musical motion picture. Anthems! A true talent gone too soon man…

  19. Great post!!!! I cant watch the video before i start crying at my desk but yes she was talented and my childhood in the 80’s will always be cherished with memories of her great music and her voice and beautiful spirit.

  20. This is a good writeup Most.

    I didn't realize how many Whitney songs I actually knew until this happened. I'm not much of a singer but when I pulled up her VEVO, I could sing more of her songs than I realized. Guess her music just gets into you. Some of my favorites are "I Have Nothing," "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," "Run to You," and her collab with Cece, "Count on Me."

  21. Hands down I cannot count on one hand how many Whitney songs were part of my household…. My parents having house parties and playing music wee into the night, Whitney was indeed apart of it. "I Love the Lord" to this day still gives me chills and to witness my parents renew their vows on their 30th Anniversary and my mother dedicated "All the Man That I Need" to my father, there was not one person in the room who didn't sing along…. Even in my personal life, her music and her voice spoke volumes to me… May she RIP and definitely keep her loved ones in mind in this time of bereavement.

  22. I was really confused this morning like wait… I already commented on this post. LOL!

    I listed my favorite Whitney songs on my blog but I did want to comment here about the Grammy tribute–I hate how people are never satisfied. I am not a huge Jennifer Hudson fan but I think she did a superb job. days later clearly tons of folks are still reeling with emotion. I don' t think the Grammy's shouldve altered their entire lineup to throw together a tribute full of stars. One, maybe folks aren't ready to perform their full out best, and out of respect for grieving–LET THEM. also, if it was thrown together and done sh*tty everyone wouldve complained.

    I wouldve been pleased with a video montage of her various live performances, including the two Most featured in the other post here.
    My recent post I Will Always Love You…

  23. when I was a kid, I dressed up every Halloween as Rachel (circa Bodyguard) in a gray dress with a microphone. I would knock on doors and sing I Will Always Love You instead of saying Trick or Treat. I devoted a Whitney song to every junior high and high school crush I had. I would take her 45s, hold up a tape recorder to record the song, and then listen to it on my Walkman on my way to school. From "How Will I Know" to "So Emotional" to "Just the Lonely" to "Until you Come Back" I have a puppy love story that corresponds to the melody of her voice. She understood me in a way that made her more than my icon, she was my replacement mother, my absent sister, my best friend, the crooner who sung me to sleep. She knew how to capture what my heart longed to hear and how to vocalize the words that never came. I remember being in foster homes, reading her unofficial biography (paperback with a pink cover) and thinking that one day I was going to make it. I was going to be an all star singer. I would plan my acceptance speech in a juvenile hand, always remembering to thank her thinking I would look down to her shining face.
    Her death is like losing a part of my childhood, I just can't believe she's gone.
    My recent post Welcome to the Jungle

  24. That album cover is forever etched in my mind. I used to take that record out and play it over and over again as a little girl. For some reason, I feel what LL is saying about losing a family member.

    She was a talented artist.

    Tragedy is hitting our community hard….it seems as if no one is getting old anymore and dying peacefully….sad.

  25. I can honestly say that I'm a professional singer because of inspiration from Whitney. I was a shy as a little girl. Too shy to sing solo in public. I was in the choir because of the security of having other people around me. Whenever there were auditions for soloist I would never speak up. Until one day I came to choir rehearsal early before anyone else arrived (so I thought). I stood on the stage pretending to be Whitney and sang "Saving all my Love for You" loud and proud. The choir director and other choir members had quietly come in behind me and applauded when I finished. They wouldn't let me say no to singing solo from then on. I have been blessed to see both Whitney and MJ in concert. When MJ passed I allowed his life to inspire me to write new songs and perform. I'm receiving that inspiration at this moment as well. RIP Whitney. Thanks for sharing your gift.

    1. This is a cute story, lol. You're song choice was hilarious! How you gonna sing a side chick anthem in the church house?! LMBO!

  26. Black America should be insulted to be led to believe that Whitney Houston took her own life…

    That SB National Anthem was epic.

    SSTTE

  27. She seemed so down to earth. She would put you in your place in a hot second and in the same breath tell you Jesus loves you…I loved that she never forget where she came from and wouldn't hesitate to let you know. I loved how she would sing at a drop of a dime and smile the whole time. It was almost as if she was glowing.

    When I first got the news one of my bffs sent me a text saying "Whitney Houston died" first thing I did was check twitter to see if it was joke or if one of the news sites could corroborate the story, when it did…my heart sank. I had to take a seat…I couldn't believe it, I still can't believe it. I didn't know I would react this way to a celebrity's death…before I knew it, tears started to roll down my cheeks and next thing I knew I was sobbing on the floor calling my mom.

    Despite a few things, I had a great childhood and music was prominent in my life…still is. I remember writing her lyrics down (along with Madonna and others) so I can sing along with them. I remember falling in love with Kevin Costner's character in The Bodygaurd. No one can tell me he wasn't fine in that movie lol.

    1. The Waiting to Exhale Soundtrack? That is THE best soundtracks, from beginning to end. I remember having to sneak off to listen to that cd when it first came out because of TLC's "This is how it works". Why does it hurt so bad helped me get through a failed relationship in high school.

      I really just can't believe it. I was looking forward to her return, her movies and just seeing more of her. Her music has touched my heart in so many ways…I don't think I will accept this anytime soon.

      *sighs*

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