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In memoriam: mourning Whitney Houston

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Sunday, February 12, 2012

 

Her words spoke to us. Her songs touched our hearts and souls. And now she is gone, taken from us on the brink of her comeback.

Let’s take a second to pay some much-deserved respect for a legend, a diva in every sense of the word. This is for you, Whitney. My broken heart is with you now.

For those of you unfamiliar with Whitney — I know, it’s a shock, but there are a few people unfamiliar with this amazing woman and her work — here’s a brief life story.

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born Aug. 9, 1963 in Newark, N.J. She grew up in a musical household. By age 11, she was performing with her gospel-singing mother and received her first contract offer at 14. 

In 1985, she released her debut album, “Whitney Houston,” to critical acclaim and embarked on a career that would span two decades with numerous hits and awards. In fact, according to the Guinness World Records, Whitney is the most-awarded female act of all time with 415 total career awards as of 2010. Her top hits include “I Want To Dance With Somebody,” “When You Believe” and “I Am Every Woman.”

But Houston was not just a musical talent. She also appeared in a handful of films, beginning with a starring role in “The Bodyguard” (1992) opposite Kevin Costner. Other noteworthy films, most of which she also provided soundtracks for, include “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996) and the made-for-television film “Cinderella” (1997).

In 1992, Houston married R&B singer Bobby Brown, and thus began her downward spiral. Brown had a few run-ins with the law and put in some jail time. Houston’s drug use also started, or at least increased, during her marriage. She began showing up late to interviews and cancelling shows, and when she did appear, she was unhealthily skinny, sparking rumors of drug abuse. The couple finally divorced in 2007, but Houston was never the same.

Whitney had a troubled last decade of her life, but she also had an influential and chart-topping career. Physically she is gone, but she is still here with us in spirit. So let’s celebrate her.

Clive Davis, Houston’s mentor, said it best in a statement released a few hours after her death about not cancelling a pre-Grammys party Houston was supposed to attend.

“Simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on,” Davis said. “And her family asked that we carry on.”

And so we will, in any way we can. It’s hard, because without her, we have nothing. But expressing grief is the best way to work through it. Social media has become a popular way of expressing grief and posting tributes. Channeling your inner Whitney through outfits and actions also works. Just remember to keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers.

Whitney truly was every woman. She paved the way for black female artists in the music industry, much in the way Michael Jackson, another legend lost tragically early, did for black males. She fell head over heels for a man and, blinded by her emotions, made some bad decisions. Her bad decisions just happened to be extremely self-destructive, unfortunately.

She was a patriot. Her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the 1991 Super Bowl was the only act to turn the national anthem into a huge pop hit. She fought for human rights, refusing to work with agencies that did business with the then-apartheid South Africa.

 

Carry on the memory of Whitney. Carry on her proud moments, her amazing achievements and her beautiful songs. Remember her message of girl power, her message of hope for the broken-hearted and her anthem for nights out with friends.

 

We will always love you, Whitney. It’s not right that you’ve been taken from us, but it’s okay. You’re in a better place.

Contact Mary Claire O’Donnell at modonne5@nd.edu