It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I write this. The untimely death of the incomparable, the inimitable, the incredible Miss Whitney Houston brings me to focus on her self-titled debut album. It is such an odd feeling listening to Whitney’s music under these circumstances, as I have always been a fan of her music and never really needed a particular reason to listen to it at any given moment, but I am listening to it now because she is no longer with us. Fortunately for us, the beauty of her spirit and the proof of her undeniable talent are forever captured in many a timeless recording.
Throughout Whitney’s extraordinary career, she has produced many iconic performances (“The Star Spangled Banner” and “I Will Always Love You” are just a couple that come to mind), but it all started with her star-making 1985 self-titled debut album. I was seven years old when it was released. I remember seeing the video for “You Give Good Love” and knowing instantly that I was watching a legend in the making. Her voice and presence were just that good.
Of the 10 songs on the album, four of them (“You Give Good Love,” “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” and “The Greatest Love of All”) were number one hits, as well as two duets with Jermaine Jackson and one with Teddy Pendergrass. If you already own this album, I suggest re-visiting the lesser-known tracks like “Thinking About You” and “Someone For Me.” They are fun, bubbly pop gems underscored with just the right amount of electro-funk that ultimately took a back seat to Whitney’s more virtuosic moments. This album was certainly the little album that could, being that it didn’t hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart until AFTER a year of its release! It would eventually go on to sell 13 million copies, making it the best-selling debut EVER by a female artist. It also earned Whitney a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Saving All My Love For You.”
What is certain about the death of Whitney Houston is that no one will ever replace her. If the next generation of music lovers is lucky, there will be someone else that comes along with a great voice that is able to captivate audiences worldwide for nearly 30 years, as Whitney has done. But if they’re smart, they will purchase Whitney’s albums and DVDs, YouTube her performances…in other words, STUDY her, and appreciate what she left for all of us to share. She is a part of a canon of great vocalists, living or dead, African-American or otherwise, and no one can take that from her, or from us.
Please do yourselves a favor if at all possible. Listen to her entire body of work in chronological order, starting with Whitney Houston. Look at the album cover and notice how regal, confident, and beautiful she looks at such a young age. If you have children, show them that THIS is their legacy and inheritance. Remember that we ALL start off innocent and naïve in life, and that there are many roads that twist and turn every which-a-way that can take you off course to the point where you’ll never be able to turn back and find your way again. Know that each and every one us has struggled with something, including Whitney Houston. Most of us are a lot like her, probably more than we care to admit. The difference between our lives and hers is that her life was mostly lived in the public eye. If the average person had that much scrutiny surrounding their lives, how might they hold up? Can you imagine? As much as it pains me that Whitney Houston has passed away, the flipside is that I am elated that she can now be at peace and look upon us, instead of the other way around. For everything that she has contributed to the world of music, I say “thank you Whitney!” Without any hesitation, she will forever be known as one of America’s greatest vocalists…period.