WHITNEY HOUSTON: 1963 – 2012

Tribute by Teryl Warren


There are some things that are so unimaginable that, no matter what evidence is produced to support the truth, they are simply beyond belief.  For many of us, the headline “Whitney Houston Dead at 48” was one of them.  How is it possible that a smile that once shone so brightly could fade away into eternal darkness, that a voice that soared so high could be forever stilled, and that a life force that was so powerful for so many years, could leave us forever?

In the days and weeks since the death of Whitney Houston, fans, critics and journalists around the world have debated the cause, the tragedy and the inevitability of the superstar’s demise.  But, for those of us who “didn’t see it coming,” it’s possible that, there is not only comfort in the wake of her passing, but meaning in it, as well

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey.  As fans around the world know, she would go on to find success as an actress, a producer, a model and, of course, a singer.  She was one of the world’s best-selling music artists, and in 2009, she was named the most-awarded female act of all-time by the Guinness World Records.  It is rare to find a music-lover who had a radio between 1985 and 2005 who can’t name a Whitney Houston hit – and, in many cases, sing one note-for-note.  There have been many favorites: “You Give Good Love,” “My Love is Your Love,” “The Greatest Love of All” and, of course, “I Will Always Love You.”

But when someone passes away, a reading of their resume is not what’s appropriate, or even desired.  The songs, the films, the tours and the awards – those were all the things that Whitney Houston did.  What eloquent words can now be said about the person that Whitney was?

Those who knew Whitney Houston personally paid tribute to her in song, and they spoke lovingly of her at her funeral.  But, interestingly, those who never met Whitney Houston knew something of her, as well.  We knew her because in so many ways, she was transparent – even when she tried to shield herself from the public’s scrutinizing glare.

There was a glow to Whitney Houston that radiated from within and was delivered to us gently through her smile.  There was a light spirit that shimmered brightly from her eyes.  There was a softness that oozed from her natural speaking voice – like an intimate secret her soul whispered to any other soul that would listen.  And even in song, Whitney – who famously “left it all on stage” with every performance – gave us an insight into the woman she really was:


As we see in her music video, to her peers like Valerie Simpson and Chaka Khan, she was a sister.  To the burgeoning young group TLC, she was a mentor. To Cissy Houston, she was a daughter.  Radiant and pregnant, she was a mother.  And to the host of young girls and teens who rounded out the cast of this video, she was an icon.

Whitney Houston was every woman – fierce, flawed, striking and, at times, struggling.  If we’re totally honest, each of us can find something in her that we see in ourselves – like it or not.  She may have been a perfect diva, but she was an imperfect woman.  If we marvel at her talent, then we must marvel at her courage to admit her mistakes and confront her demons while the entire world watched.

Yes, Whitney fell. But she got back up.  And her resilience is at least as worthy of remembrance as any of her recordings.

After careful study of her life, we can add one more role Whitney played to her resume: that of a teacher.  She showed the world both sides of stardom: the glory of the seemingly limitless highs and the despair of the relentless, bottomless lows.  She shined the spotlight on the industry’s greed and the public’s voracity. In revealing herself, she taught us about ourselves.  So, were we listening?  Did we learn?

Nearly every power vocalist who has come since her rise to stardom has been dubbed “the new Whitney Houston.”  None has compared to her in voice, and it’s probable that none would want to take up the personal and professional crosses that she bore.  And , at the end of the day, that’s just as it should be.  Because, while Whitney Houston may have been every woman, there will never be another Whitney Houston.

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