When the Whitney Houston album debuted in 1985, I was in the fifth grade. I remember hearing "You Give Good Love" on the radio over and over until I, too, was singing along with lyrics I didn't really understand. I became a true Whitney fan when "How will I know" hit the airwaves. Later, that year Whitney Houston was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money. Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Prince-this was the soundtrack of my junior high years. I wanted to be able to write like Prince, dance like Janet, and sing like Whitney. Whitney's clothes, her hair, her makeup...I wanted to be like Whitney Houston. I cried the first time I heard "The Greatest Love of All," because it was a song I needed during this time in my life. To this day, I get chills and tear up when I hear "The Greatest Love of All" which my band director also played at our last band banquet before we went to off to High School.
In between the hair bands (it is an unfortunate part of my life), Michael's perplexing image, Madonna and her controversy, I always managed to find comfort in Whitney Houston's music. I remember the Super Bowl XXV in 1991 when she sang "The Star Spangled Banner." I always thought how magical that moment was with her making a track suit look elegant, with all the flags in the audience, even the teams the Bills and the Giants were red, white, and blue. We were all so patriotic. I was watching that game with my late grandmother who had introduced the game of football to me. For one moment in time, this country forgot about race, about status, about Republican or Democrat, and for those three minutes or so mesmerized by her voice, we were all brothers and sisters. Yes, I use to have the single. I have the MP3 on my computer now.
The next year, I was graduating from high school. I remember one of my classmates singing "One Moment in Time" at awards day. You have to understand something about me and my classmates. We were the last class that had ever attended North or South Natchez High Schools which had been for years divided by race and were forced to combine at the end of our 9th grade year. Here, we were crying together as Whitney's song was dedicated to us.
My freshman year in college was ushered in with The Bodyguard. I think every girl in my dorm at some point during the year was singing "I will always love you." I think I played it 100 times after I dumped my first boyfriend. I will confess to singing along loudly in my dorm room. I'm surprised I was yelled at by the other girls. Waiting to Exhale was released a few weeks before the death of my step-father. "Count on Me" and "Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)" helped me get through those days, and I remembered thinking how beautiful Ms. Whitney was in the "Exhale" video.
The Preacher's Wife debuted as I was wrapping up my college career. "Step by Step" was the perfect song for me written by one of my favorites singer/songwriters Annie Lennox and performed by Whitney Houston. I remember playing it as I was getting dressed to graduate from college.
My Love is Your Love debuted as I was beginning my second year as a teacher, and my first year teaching junior high. You have no idea how often I would turn the volume up on "It's not right, but it's okay" as I would leave work thinking, I cannot take one more day of Junior High School.
Just this year, I was playing The Prince of Egypt for my seniors after we had finished the unit on the Ancient Middle East. I had to laugh a little as they asked me to let the credits roll so they could hear Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey sing "When You Believe."
I've seen the consequences of addiction. My father was an alcoholic. It is a difficult demon to conquer. It killed my father at 47. I'm not going to gloss over what happened to Whitney Houston. We all saw it. I recalled watching "Being Bobby Brown" and thinking how could that have happened. It's part of the reason I can't, and I don't really watch reality shows. It was a train wreck. Her life had become a train wreck. There were many contributors to that wreck-the music industry, the media, her fans, Bobby Brown, hanger-ons, but the conductor of the train was always Whitney herself. I believe for all of her beauty, for all of her poise and grace under pressure, and for all that natural God-given talent, she had lost the greatest gift of all-loving herself.
Yesterday, I found myself crying like a baby as they carried her coffin from the church to her voice singing "I will always love you." I never met Ms. Houston, but if I had, I would have liked to have said to her, thank you. When there were so few African-American women to admire on television, you were there. When I need a song to lighten my load, you were there. When I needed a smile on my face or a bit of encouragement, you were there. Thank you for using your gift to touch us. I wish you could have known how much you meant to all of us. I hope you have found the peace you so desperately could not find here. Thank you for being a part of the soundtrack of my life.
Until next time,