Greatest. Voice. Ever.
There's no other way to accurately categorize what Whitney Houston was to our generation. In spite of the demons she would battle later and the tasteless jokes that ignorant people will try to use, hers was quite simply put the greatest voice many of us have ever heard during our lifetime. And now she's gone.
I never thought I would feel a void like there was when MJ left us, yet here I am again with a very similar surreal feeling. I grew up listening to Whitney. From way back when she made that cameo appearance on "Silver Spoons" to watching her be the only Black woman whose video played on MTV. Regardless of the issues she's had in recent years I just assumed she would be around for years to come and this memorial would be much too far away to anticipate.
It's ironic because was just discussing icons with someone else the other day when they tried to rationalize that Madonna is not in the same category as Michael Jackson. I contended that she is. I still do. In fact, there are few people that are at that stratospheric level of iconism (yes, I just made that word up). Yet it never dawned on me at the time to include Whitney in the discussion. Maybe it's because it had been so long since she has been relevant that we had taken for granted what she had given us.
Whitney stuck out like a sore thumb when she first came on the scene. It was the age of the supermodel when all those folks like Christine Brinkley and Cindy Crawford were all on the rise. We were used to seeing the lanky, skinny girls with pretty faces model. Not sing. Then along comes Whitney who has that look AND can sing. But it wasn't like she could only sing. The sista could flat out SANG. It was a voice that matched by no one.
I don't know if I could eloquently put into words how phenomenal Whitney's voice was in her prime. Everyone with that strong Baptist background will know just where I'm coming from though. Whitney had that soul-stirring voice that took you back to church whenever you heard it. It didn't matter what she was singing about. She had the uncanny ability to make you feel a song deep down to your core. To make your hair stand on end when she went to her upper range with such angelic flawlessness.
There are countless examples I could refer back to to reference how amazing her vocal ability was. The one that readily comes to mind was her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV. Just as Prince would later do with his Super Bowl halftime show, Whitney gave a Super Bowl vocal performance that will NEVER be topped. The Star Spangled Banner would never sound that epic again. How many other renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner would top the modern music charts?
It was more than just the voice that propelled her to the top though. She had the full package. If Helen had a face that could sail a thousand ships then that young Whitney was our version of the same thing. Not to mention that Colgate smile she had to match. Then add on top of that how she carried herself with such an air of class that it was evident she had been well-groomed by the legends before her that she could call Mom (Cissy Houston), cousin (Dionne Warwick) and godmother (Aretha Franklin).
Some say the beginning of the end for her came when she hooked up with Bobby Brown. I'm going to take a different approach. A bit of a controversial one. I would venture to say that it was many of our own folks that helped make that union possible. Whitney had gotten to the crossover point where she was started to get a little backlash. Where Black folks were saying she wasn't as much soul and not quite Black enough for them. Does anyone else remember when she got jeered at the Soul Train Awards? So she showed us. She would married the then ultimate bad boy of R&B. The rest would be infamous history.
Whitney had so much good will built up with the greatness her voice had provided over the years that we forgave her transgressions no matter how minor or major. We didn't mind that her acting in her movies was marginal at best. At least her songs on the soundtracks distracted from that. We didn't care that she couldn't dance a lick. She didn't have to dance when she had those unparalleled vocal cords. And of course we didn't like the drug addiction she struggled with but we hoped she would eventually overcome it so she could age gracefully. Unfortunately it would never happen.
Even while Whitney was still with us I would argue tooth and nail with anyone that would dare say 'so-and-so' has a voice like Whitney. It didn't matter who it was. Not even Adele with as incredible as she is. Not even Jennifer Hudson with with her no longer underrated skills. Not Christina. Not Mariah. None of them are even close to Whitney in her prime. Hers was a defining sound of a generation that we may never see again in our lifetime. I am thankful that I was able to experience it. Even more thankful that although her presence is gone her music remains forever.
God's choir just increased by tenfold.
Rese in peace, Whitney.