I remember the first time I heard that incomparable voice. February 1985: I was 13 years old, in the 7th grade, attending IS 44 on 77th Street, living with my father on West 84th street in Manhattan. I remember so clearly because my relationship between my father and myself is based on music and films. My father is an actor and was one of “those Black guys” who did Black Theater, commercials, sit coms and had a pretty popular role on a leading soap opera so art was always paramount in my upbringing. He introduced me to jazz and I introduced him to hip hop.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I woke up to this angelic sound coming from the living room stereo. “Who’s That?!” I asked in confusion, thinking “my dad’s playing rhythm and blues that I like???”
“Here” he handed me the album cover.
Now something you must understand is that that act in and of itself was an unspoken language. It meant: I found a gem so check out how beautiful the cover art is. I gazed deeply scanning the photograph absorbing the colors and the beauty of the image. I thought “Wow this is the most Beautiful image I’ve ever seen.” I couldn’t stop looking at it. As a matter of fact, from that day on I would play the album at least once per day for the next year gazing into the photograph inspecting every element.
“What do you think?” he asked, “this is fresh” I responded. Or something like that. We enjoyed playing every song over and over examining the music, the vocals, the producers, and writers. He told me he picked it up because people were talking about it and he thought I might enjoy it but after hearing it I could listen to it but definitely could not have it. LOL.
My dad is the one who introduced me to stuff like Bob James, Michael Franks, & Bozz Scaggs. We’d listen to Tina Marie together. We’d discuss various artists and he’d teach me how to read the liner notes and credits and listen for different instruments. He’d show me the difference in personalities between musicians and how to listen for that difference in the way they played.
I introduced him to Run DMC, forced him to take me to see Krush Groove, & nearly drove him crazy practicing my b-girl moves in our living room. I influenced him to purchase a walkman for me so he didn’t have to stomach non-stop Madonna, Wham, Fat Boys, & the now infamous Roxanne series from the original Shanté through to all the subsequent beefs. He’d wake up to me on Saturdays practicing my fresh moves to Cindy Lauper, Reebie Jackson’s Centipede, & of course Chaka Khan “Lemme Rock You…”, I suppose the last straw was Sheena Easton or perhaps our never ending argument over Herbie Hancock. He Contended “How can he go from The Spook Who Sat by the Door soundtrack & all his jazz genius to this pop crap?!” “come on pops, get with the times.”
I’m mentioning all this because We sat and listened to the Whitney Houston album together at least once per week for about four months. I remember this so vividly not only because we agreed about a modern artist and also because I cherish those moments with my dad as a young lady. We still have maintained the same relationship but it’s over the phone and usually we argue about films, directors, and actors.
Autmn 1985, 8th grade I moved to Montclair, New Jersey to live with my Aunt and Uncle. My Aunt worked for the Mayor of East Orange and Whitney Houston was all the talk of the town because she was a Jerseyite who made it & going strong. In school our teachers asked us to watch Her appearance on the Ricky Schroder show. It was actually homework. (I cant front i was a Huge Whitney Houston fan: i had all her posters on my wall & i’d play her songs ad nauseum singing into the mirror). She did an Awsome job and I yes i did force my family to endure the episode and yes i taped it. Of course I’d play that tape again and again until my cousin couldn’t stand it and would bargain with me to play his Commodor 64.
By the time Whitney’s second album WHITNEY came out in 1987 I moved to Detroit to live with my Mom. My Mom and I have our own music relationship: similar to my father we’d listen to albums over and over together, however my Mom and I would dance around. I’d of course diligently read and analyze the album covers and credits. My Mom is the Motown expert! As the First Book Keeper for the company as a young lady while still in college and also hailing from the world famous Black Bottom section of Detroit she had lots of stories about why certain people were chosen for certain songs or were not allowed to sing on others, collaborations happened, as well as a host of other history that I find truly treasurable. Actually my entire family are Motown fans and supporters and as native Detroiters each one has a billion stories.
My Mom is the dancer, she took me to see THE WIZ on Broadway at least a hundred times as well as all of the other shows on Broadway in the 1970’s when Black Power was in style. My Mom was working with the PR team with the radio so not only did she always know all the celebrity gossip, most of her friends were in “The Industry”. Whatever star I was in love with she’d always know somebody working behind the scenes.
She’d tease me about my room fully covered in NEW EDITION and PRINCE posters. I’d tease her about crying while playing LUTHER VANDROSS and LIONEL RICHIE over and over and over and over and over and over and over.
She and I both loved WHITNEY HOUSTON. “That’s a Baaaaaaaad Sistah” she’d say every time “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” would come on Video Soul on BET.
I felt compelled to write about the Whitney Houston that inspired me as a young lady. Her music was fun and light and pop and loving and made me feel super girly. As I grew older I noticed her image and music became more “Urban”. I respect that she kept her family close and made sure they had some employment in her camp. I watched the Special Tributes with my Mom and we cried together. I feel saddened that she felt that much pain and needed numbing but I can honestly say that working in THE INDUSTRY I understand why. I am glad that her legacy includes an Unapologetic profession of Faith with a soundtrack I wish her Faith would have kept her here longer but The Creator knows better than us.
I am also happy that she reached back and helped support the next generation of R&B Divas. Whitney Houston made history selling records and chart topping. She is the Queen of POP! dispute if you wish. Here’s more Love than ever imaginable to her family and friends and Thank You Whitney for inspiring so many little girls especially this little girl who grew up to be a women who inspires little girls.
R.I.P. Whitney Houston ~ I Will Always Love You.