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Whitney Houston, A Bright Star Gone Out

Saturday, February 11, 2012 - 08:45 PM

Pop Diva Whitney Houston (flickr user bronwyn (ECG)/flickr)

Whitney Houston's sudden death will not materially impact the music world, which does not lessen the tragedy of a great voice stilled too soon. But Houston was an emblem of a different time, when pop culture was not nearly as fragmented as it is in the digital age. Even Adele, expected to walk off with all the major Grammy awards on Sunday, has not had the pervasive reach that Whitney Houston had during her heyday in the late '80s and '90s.

Songs like "I Will Always Love You," "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," and "The Greatest Love of All" were unavoidable; they were part of our common culture. The sales figures that she (and the other top stars of those days) reached are unlikely to ever be approached again.

Houston's brand of pop was rooted in gospel, but burnished to a pop sheen that millions loved. Even those who didn't love that sound had to admit that her voice was an instrument worth ... well, singing about. 

Of course, the flip side of her enormous presence -- as both a singer and an actress -- was the fact that she fought her demons in public view too.  She was essentially out of music for many years, and has long since become a staple of oldies and easy listening radio formats. There are three teenagers in my house right now and none of them know who she is. But she was rumored to be in contention for a judging position on the hit TV series "The X Factor," and seemed like she might have finally put her much publicized drug problems behind her.

It's too soon to say that those problems proved too much to overcome, especially since we don't know the cause or even the location of her death as I write this. And presumably the Grammy writers and producers are frantically scrambling to come up with something for Sunday night's Grammy awards.

For the moment, it's enough to say that one of the brightest stars of what now seems an irrevocably bygone era has gone out.


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Comments [23]

genevieve la riva

Dear John,

This touched a chord. Not a follower of popular music then, even though in my twenties; Whitney Houston's voice was "unavoidable" for all the reasons you mention and I am so glad that share the experience of listening to her hits with millions of others. Her far-reaching fame was for all the right reasons and she will, in my mind, and for many of my generation, remain unsurpassed.
She was regal and the voice, unlike any other.
THank you so much for this piece!

Feb. 23 2012 03:11 PM

The musical tributes at he the home coming were amazing. The Winans Tomorrow was so beuatiful

Feb. 21 2012 09:08 AM

stop blaming mr brown. whitney was a grown woman and lead herself down the path to drug abuse. her death is her own doing. as Clint said, she became her own train wreck and ultimately paid the ultimate price herself. history does repeat itself.

Feb. 14 2012 11:52 AM

fuva-you said it all,re the clive davis BS. you are on the money, lady.

Feb. 13 2012 12:04 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

And it's shameful how the news media is scandalizing her last hours, for ratings.

And I've long been sick of Clive Davis' self-promotional, opportunistic, svengali b.s...

Feb. 12 2012 11:59 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

OK, I'm a HUGE Whitney fan. (How could one not be with that voice?) Have been for years. And while I was suspicious and disapproving of her marriage to Bobby Brown, the most he can be blamed for the actions of a grown woman is that he wasn't the positive influence we hope a spouse will be; Whitney had to own her own drug addiction...That said, I do believe she was under a tremendous amount of pressure coming from different directions, that she had to bear in the spotlight...Oh, how I wish she could have worked it out here in this world...I wish her eternal peace. God bless.

Feb. 12 2012 11:52 PM
GElopez from Queens NYC

I saw Whitney for the first time at a supper club on the West Side of New York City when I went to see her mother Sissy (spelling?) who introduced her to the audience and she sang for the first time to the public on that night. Her father was also there and both parents were very proud of the beautiful young young slender girl with the marvelous voice. I remember telling my boyfriend at the time, That girl is going to be great some day! And after that day Whitney became a great hit!

Love you Whitney for ever.

Feb. 12 2012 06:10 PM
JJ from Plainsboro

I wonder how many talented people there are who chose not to share their gifts with the public for fear of what the exposure might do to them. Whitney had the courage, as all performers do, to live so big and bold and to share her incredible talent with us. Jonathan Schwartz played Whitney's version of the The Star Spangled Banner and it knocked my socks off. I think it was the best version I've ever heard; filled with emotion and soaring notes and without too much adornment - clean and clear - just beautiful. I would like to have heard more from her of that honesty and depth, which she clearly possessed. As a fan of Ella, Sarah, Billie, Tierney Sutton, Jane Monheight, Diana Krall, Adele & many other singers who use their vocal prowess in such rich and sublte ways, I often wondered what Whitney could have done had she veered away from pop. She certainly had the chops for jazz and more interpretive singing. Nevertheless, I salute her for sharing her greatness with us no matter how short-lived. She lived how she wanted to and she had many moments of sheer brillance and beauty as well as providing a cautionary tale for others. She made her mark. Good for her.

Feb. 12 2012 03:54 PM

john from d office "he[bobby]was much more ghetto than she[whitney]was"
and i guess, you, are an omnicient fly on everyone's wall,that knows all, and sees all..........right...

Feb. 12 2012 02:47 PM
John from office

Barent, who we marry and associate with influence our lives. Yes she had self determination, but mr. Brown was a bad, I would say, evil influence on a young talented woman. He was much more street or ghetto then she was, she was well brought up and ruined by her marriage to Mr. brown.

Feb. 12 2012 02:30 PM
shadeed ahmad from New York City

GOD Bless you, Whitney Houston. Heaven and your voice were inseparable. Thanks for giving us precious and unforgettable encounters with your unique talent. Rest in peace...

Feb. 12 2012 02:18 PM

Whitney you will be missed, May you have eternal peace and rejoin your voice with the angels. I sure pray the R&B singer Rihanna and pop star Chris Brown take a long hard look at this sad end to a beautiful person. Just realize the comparison.

Feb. 12 2012 02:01 PM
Clint from Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Bobby Brown's job is complete. He will now have to look his daughter in the eyes for the rest of her life and explain to her how drugs ruin a singer's voice and career and ultimately - LIFE!
This tragedy was 20 years in the making. I will always miss the 80s, clean, Houston.

Feb. 12 2012 01:59 PM

john from the office, lives in a strange world,that the rest of us must endure. no one is responsible, for the adult choices of another, john. plus, we don't live with people, and don't know what went on behind closed doors. so grow up,man.

Feb. 12 2012 01:29 PM
Miriam from NYC

Well said, while Ms. Houston's absence will not make a dramatic impact, she did contribute to great music during the 80's and 90's.

Feb. 12 2012 12:05 PM
Louis! from NYC

Bravo to Jonathan Schwartz for leading off "The Sunday Show" with a fitting salute to Whitney!

Feb. 12 2012 12:03 PM
john from office

I was sooo sad to hear of her passing. She reminds me of my sister and her death, for whatever reason, is tragic. Bobby Brown should hang his head in shame for what he did to this woman.

Feb. 12 2012 11:39 AM
Nimar from nyc

She will be missed, we are lucky to have had for the short time we did.

Feb. 12 2012 09:40 AM
Frantz Bernier

I saw Whitney twenty years ago,back in 1992.Back then I said finally another Michael Jackson is revealed herself.Tonight I cam confesse that she remind me the most beautiful years of my life,the legend time of my years in Normal School (Ecole Normale Superieure de Port-auPrince Haiti)I was upset seen Whitney few years ago in ABC when she appeard to represent herself as a real victim of a drug addict and a deceptive lover of Bobby Brown...I will never forget her.To me she came to music hall at the time where I was loosing faith in the music industry as it was in the eightys with Madona,Cyndie Lauper,Lione Richie and Cool and the gand...Devastated news,the disparition of Whitney

Feb. 12 2012 01:37 AM

Very sad. Always thought having a voice like that would be enough to make one happy. We can't walk in another's shoes. Condolences to her daughter, family and friends.

Feb. 12 2012 12:06 AM

clint from nyc-get a soul, or a life, or a brain. just shut up. some of the most creative and important people in history,were sensitve souls,who had special challenges. people such as you,just need to shut the hell up, at a time like this.

Feb. 11 2012 11:36 PM
clint from nyc

this isn't exactly shocking, it was bound to happen sooner or later. anyone following this talent over the last 20 years has witnessed a train wreck in slow motion (much like M.Jackson before her)...when will these celebs realize they must, MUST, get off drugs. mark my words, one of these days LiLo (yes, she's an actress) will be added to this Amy Winehouse, MJ, Whitney H. list of tragedies.

what is it with success and drugs?

Feb. 11 2012 11:12 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

THE benchmark for pop singers. I still believe I was her number one fan. I'm in shock. May her soul rest in peace.

Feb. 11 2012 10:03 PM

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