I must, in the interest of full disclosure, admit that I was never much of a Whitney Houston fan. I found her lovestruck ballads and bouncy dance pop a little too polished and a little too perfect. Hers was a sound, I felt, far too focused on studio magic and not nearly focused enough on what was compelling about her music.
Because as sterile as I found her music, I always recognized that Houston’s voice, that voice capable of communicating so much, was nothing short of spectacular.
Houston, 48, was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room this past Saturday. Her cause of death has not been released.
A once-in-a-generation talent, Houston was a rare combination of natural aptitude and emotional intelligence. She was not only capable of spectacular runs and the tenderest of tones, but she understood exactly how to use every vocal tool to its fullest potential.
It’s funny, I don’t remember any game details from Super Bowl XXV, but I remember Houston’s now-legendary rendition of the national anthem.
I don’t remember any of the other guests on the Late Show With David Letterman one night in 1985, but I remember the still relatively unknown Houston bringing down the house, and I don’t remember who won a single Soul Train Music Award in 1987, but I remember Houston holding her own in a quartet that included Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick.
A singer, any singer, with that sort of power, the power to engage an admitted non-fan and leave him with something memorable, is truly special. I’m grateful for those memories.
I’ve always preached the importance of separating the art from the artist, of paying more attention to performance than personal life.
Houston sometimes made that difficult to do. Not only did she allow the mayhem and meltdowns that were her personal life to make good television, but there were periods in her life when hard living took its toll on her performances. It was frustrating to see those gifts squandered.
In the end, which certainly came too soon, Houston won’t be remembered for her personal problems. The drugs and discord will be forgotten. They always are. What will remain are those performances. A great voice has been silenced but those songs and records and performances will remain.
Maybe I was a fan after all.