I remember when Whitney Houston’s My Love Is Your Love album released and my mother walked out of Sam Goody feeling liberated. She was going through a divorce, coming to terms with the fact that she’d be a single mother, and seeking any form of mediation that would alleviate the pain. Whitney Houston was her outlet.
With the singles “When You Believe” and “I Learned from the Best” topping the Billboard charts, her music was literally infused throughout our home. With “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” and “My Love Is Your Love” repeating on MTV and BET, I will never forget her fierce arm yanks emphasizing her opinion on disloyal relationships. But it was “Heartbreak Hotel” that stuck with me.
No one knew R&B like Whitney Houston. She understood the chords and followed them with her voice religiously. And just as the music seemed to be taking her over, she released with these powerful notes that almost seemed like a diatribe. Her vocal ranges were sharp and her lyrics were clear. She was the definition of fortified. She connected to every broken heart and every failed romantic with one song and picked them up, pushing them to appreciate life with her next. Her collaboration with R&B moguls Faith Evans and Kelly Price sent chills down the spines of listeners who felt cheated, led on, or simply hurt. It peaked American as well as European charts. But one track over, “My Love Is Your Love” deemed simply uplifting. Her duet with Mariah Carey in “When You Believe” was not only genius but thankful to their maker for giving them the opportunity to sing such a graceful song and contribute it to the Prince of Egyptfilm.
As portrayed in the film, “there can be miracles when you believe.” Houston was a firm believer in potential. Through her domestic tribulations and battle with crack cocaine, she rose to the top of the music industry as the “Prom Queen of Soul.” She went from giddy and colorful pop sensation with “How Will I Know” to maturing and heartfelt adult in the Bodyguard. She promoted the successful future of children in the “Greatest Love of All.” She provided a voice of support to women coping with relationship troubles in Waiting to Exhale. Her music became so universal that just her lilts in songs like “I Will Always Love You” and “I Have Nothing” is immediately recognized. She modeled, she donated, she led. Whitney Houston did it all.
When I have Whitney Houston in mind, she’s usually leaping and laughing with a bright smile in bright clothing. Other times, I see her cold black lipstick in a tall maxi dress as she sings “it’s not right but it’s okay. I’m gonna make it anyway,” her arms outspread and embracing the strong audience of women singing in agreement.
For Christmas, I gave my mother Houston’s 2009 comeback album I Look to You and her sound provided a bit of nostalgia for my sister and me. Her vocal trembles and the capacity of her notes liberated us as girls growing into women.
Her voice was as strong as her feelings toward independence but ex-husband and former R&B star Bobby Brown will miss her, her two children will miss her, and the rest of the Soul-appreciating world will miss her.