Monday, February 13, 2012


Whitney Houston, who died on February 11, 2012 at the tender age of 48, has sold more than 170 million albums, singles and videos worldwide. She also won 2 Emmy Awards, 6 Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards add to this list BET Awards, Soul Train Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Essence Awards and People Choice Awards and you have one of the most recognized artist in America. Guinness World Records  lists Whitney Houston as "the most awarded female artist of all time," with a "total of 425 career awards as of 2010." An impressive music career, one which people would sell their soul to have a small portion of that kind of recognition. A talent recognized all over the world. A mother, a daughter, a sister, a commercial icon. She was all things commercial, perfection in her image but in the end Whitney Houston was mortal, fallible, flawed and known to be a bit of an uber- Diva. Truth of the matter is, she was a Newark, New Jersey Hood-Rat ..... and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. This part of her life is the REAL story we need to see and talk about because the fabricated Clive Davis version, in the end, creates and makes Whitney Houston a tragic character, the Diva who fell from "commercial grace", the artist who couldn't keep it together, the woman who was bright in the light and dark in the privacy of her home the thing of tabloid falter. Disconnected from her roots in image but straight up hardcore in urban attitude and spirit, Whitney Houston carried the burden to be most unlike herself  to the World than being what I call real. They sold a fabricated STANDARD when she existed at a "standard" from the beginning. Although her voice was never a debate, this short haired, nappy-headed, under-weight, runway model wannabe with an occasional PK (Preacher Kid) vs Street Kid complex was always just under the surface of the woman who would be one of the most copied female icons globally. But that don't sell units or at least not back in the days of the 80's. Bottom line, Whitney Houston's death only perpetuate the reality of the modern artist. Extension through dollars and a manipulated sense to connect with an image created by an industry that respects the individual's right to self-implode. Whitney Houston represented, like many other artist, the typical trajectory of modern fame; See, Want, Take, Have and then Loose. Move on.

I am waiting for the millions of condolences to roll through and they will be well deserved but the Realist wants to know one single thing. How? How did Whitney Houston die? That fact will punctuate the true legacy of the icon. We know she struggled with addiction, and emotional issues, stress and weight issues which plays havoc on heart health, fowl play (which is unlikely but the Illuminati conspirators will have a field day with the idea), this is what we wait for and hope for the best that her passing is a natural death. Our recent experience of Michael Jackson's murder under the influence of drug addiction, Amy Winehouse with her drug and alcohol addiction, Don Cornelius' suicide, who wants to hear that their idol died because they were weak in spirit? I know what my expectations are. I pray that I am wrong.

Freely we throw spiritual blessings and good journey to Whitney Houston's raised soul. We want to hope that it ascends to Heaven in the loving arms and blissful hands of her Lord and Savior. Personally, I am a bit ambivalent since from personal experience, the Diva, at her height, had spread far and wide her personal brand of praise upon the "Little People" (her words not mine). Although within her tight circles she may have been nice and gentle, there are quite a few disgruntle fans that are existing in a current state of, "Oh well-itis." Those in the know, from the streets of Newark to the boulevards of Beverly Hills know that life with Whitney always came with a touch of ugly and depending on what side of the touch, you either stayed and took it or you had to go and leave her be. The time spent with Bobby Brown only added to the circus that was called the "Whitney and Bobby Show" and we still watched hoping that something would give and the authenticity of her character would surface for the public to connect with. The part that was Hood Real, the personality that the common person, the Little People could relate to, the physical presence where her own person would connect to People, speaking freely without being edited or chased by paparazzi. We got a little bit with Wendy Williams jabbing at her "truth" but it wasn't enough. We never were exposed to the real Whitney, never revealed the packaged wholesome bread and butter of Good, Bad and Ugly. Basically, we never knew Whitney Houston's story, only that which was meticulously controlled, pre-written or re-written.

We were all blessed to have witnessed the natural talent that was Whitney Houston. She loved sharing her gift with the World. The interesting thing about talent shared, is that it is often no different than a simple conversation. There is that "investment" of the listener, that story, the message you begin to tell to enter the psyche of others, the something that can be connected to, the emotion, the emoting, the resolve that we share the same experience. That is the challenge and essence of "talent". If people can't connect with it, the response will be clear; often immediate. Even so much as to faking acceptance until you can move it along for the next story more interesting. We call this "choice". You choose to connect and ultimately share back either in gratitude, applaud, inspiration or equal talent and or conversation in return.The sharing can come from many perspectives, many levels but in the end, the "outcome" is positive because you are invested in the relationship; which is the core of our humanity and the return on our investment. I say all of this to say, or even ask, one thing, "Did we really have that conversation with Whitney Houston?"

Whitney Houston's talent was her connection but it was never her complete or true story? There was always a question about how much of her music was the story of Whitney Houston's life, the "real" Whitney and how much of it was tailored "imagery". For years I watched her development from the girl from the Hood to Diva. Barbie Doll. The hair, the makeup, the dresses and jewelery, it all fit, it was all appropriate for the image but knowing the story NOW and the music THEN, can we really extrapolate from the many songs, some small essence of the woman? Artist like Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton, Etta James, Phyllis Hyman, Amy Winehouse, James Brown, Rick James, Billie Holiday, Teena Marie all infused their lives into their music. There was no separation. More so for recently passed Michael Jackson, his life an open book for the extreme range of emotions a human being can experience or endure spiritually and social consciously. We knew his pain and his joy from innocence to adulthood because he detailed it like a blind man expressing sound with soul; the essence of R&B. So in his passing, the loss was deep, soulfully lost. The World knew the totality of the loss because we lived Michael and he the people in return. When you listen to any one of the aforementioned artists, at any point of your life, at any point of their life, you related, you emoted, you knew them from pure and shared experience. With Whitney Houston, the connection is external in relationship. The connection between "her" story and "her" music is only surface. Yes her music pulled from the emotion, even inspired to lift oneself up and have courage to live your life with purpose, but was that the Whitney's story or a fraction of the whole? The World around her was everything but internal sharing, unless you knew her personally and or intimately. 

In conversation regarding uber-hyped entertainers and musicians like Whitney Houston, I often ask, how can you say you "love" someone if you didn't know them? It's meant as a , "snap out of it" moment. Her music was great but the constant reminder that her music and person weren't one and the same was hard for people to accept. Still can't. Her music wasn't self created, or self-inspired or self produced. There were others, many "others" in the planning and the Mega machine that is part of the music industry that created the icon known as The Diva; Whitney Houston for 30 years made sure that that image was unshakeable. So unshakeable that in her death, they stand to profit more from the death of the icon than she would have alive. How's that for legacy? This, for me, is where the deviation from artist and person came into play. The simplicity of her character was made complex only because much of what we knew about Whitney, her connection to her church (New Hope Baptist), the fact that she loved HipHop and Rap, the party girl, wearing a good pair of jeans, gossiping and being Church folk-like, etc., we never really saw, The True Whitney Houston. She was a product of Newark, New Jersey and not the  Land of Make Believe. So much of THIS artistry never surfaced and again I ask, how much was this by choice? How much was perpetually her internal/external struggle? There is nothing wrong with being regal, grand or royal but there isn't anything wrong with being common, plain and or "real". People would like to comment, postmortem, how her addiction was a major factor of Whitney Houston's demise or the circles and choices she made, but I believe the catalyst of being un-Whitney had more to do with her conflict of character/image. Take away the existence of "self" and you have no choice but to exist as "other". Thus my lack of shock when she married Bobby Brown. Who else can you be with except someone who is most like "you", to fill the void removed or re-build the "diminished you". I mean just how do you live a double identity on a global stage and keep your sanity being the music industry's Black Barbie doll or the musical voice of the "Post-Civil Rights Movement? Standing on a train platform during rush hour daily is a struggle enough for most so imagine being just that for 30 plus years without pause. How do you live a life of royalty when you know deep down you want to throw back a rum and coke with a side order of sticky-finger ribs, mac and cheese, fried chicken and potato salad. 

I caught an episode on the reality show, Being Bobby Brown where Whitney Houston had gone through one of her "self fulfilling" tirades where she yelled at a group of common people, "Do you know who I am?" Truth of the matter was, they knew who Whitney Houston was but not THAT woman. She wasn't the Whitney Houston created by the World to know but the Hood Rat that was "real" and it wasn't as bad as Reality TV made it out to be. I actually like it. Not so much the ignorance factor but the "real" factor of a woman who could get angry, who could yell, scream, throw things and needing a cigarette and a drink to calm down afterwards. There was no shock and awe at all. Whitney Houston was a human being with personality with a unique perspective, character and opinions. All this, we never heard from the Diva by design. Newark locals knew but the World was absent from the introduction on day one. As those who "thought" they knew Houston's stage media persona with their fantasy connections to the singer, they say that she always knew where she came from but did the World REALLY want to see that? Did they really want to see, hear or even know The Hood Girl from Newark, New Jersey with the voice of an angle and an attitude of Mike Tyson? I doubt that image could sell, "Saving All My Love for You".

Although times have changed in the industry where artist of a particular vain, can and will break out and just "be" themselves (i.e. Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey) and others that took control of their images from the beginning (Madonna, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj). With that change was also a change in music, style, message and in some cases their audience. Early in Whitney's career the fans and critics questioned if she could make that transition. They questioned why Whitney wasn't crossing over into what they all knew were her roots. There seemed to be an absence of Gospel, R&B even a scant degree of HipHop, Jazz and Soul. Her music was inspirationally "safe". As commercially neat and clean as you can get without being "corny" we all knew Whitney was far from CORNY, she was cool people as a regular Hood girl. She was fun as well as deep. This we never got. So when the dark side (which really wasn't dark, just edited) became public, one would hope that a transition of image and clarity, artistic truth and conviction would dominate her comeback. Unfortunately as she began to re-build her career, the machine that is Clive Davis gave us more of the same. I was sadden and even more so, disappointed. 

As the media industry try to find blame and fault to a life that left the World "too soon" highlighting talking points like Bobby Brown, Robin Crawford, her hometown; Newark, New Jersey, the music industry and Clive Davis, her Faith in Christ or the lack thereof when the truth of the matter is, it was all of those things and none of them at the same time. No matter what the catalyst was, be it fate, cosmic design, karma or the act of God, this was who, what, how and why Whitney Houston was to "be", a reality not "too short" or "too long". Thus ends this lesson of life.

Did we love Whitney Houston as an artist? Yes. Do we feel sad for the loss of another icon? Most definitely. Did we know Whitney Houston? Not really. We knew her commercially, we even knew some of her demons but in the end, we never connected to the real artist through her story, no more and no less than we connect with a random person sharing the train seat next to you. The experience is only as personal as the ride to the last stop.


afan said...

Well said. Thank you for writing this.

the poet Shazza said...

There are many who would disagree and or call me anything but fair and balance in my personal observation, then again, few if any have had the personal experience of knowing, meeting and or association.