“Hey Kel,” my husband said, sitting up in bed, smartphone in hand. “Whitney Houston died.” “What? My God, she wasn’t that old!” “48.” Damn. My first thought (and I’m not proud of this) was that crack really was whack. But then I thought, wow, even if she’d been clean for years, 2 decades of substance abuse probably weakened her heart, enough to kill her on the eve of the Grammy Awards. And that’s what really makes this so sad.
I wasn’t a big fan of Whitney, except for “The Bodyguard” stuff in the early ‘90s, and those two dance remixes around 2000 (“Heartbreak Hotel” and “It’s Not Right But It’s OK”) I found most of her other music kind of schlocky. She was the ballad queen of the ‘80s, the staple of easy listening radio. Working as a newbie DJ through high school I was forced to play too many of them, too often. But there was a reason you couldn’t spell Whitney without “h-i-t” back then. She was supremely talented. And her music meant a lot to many.
I was thinking back today about a little girl I knew back then. I can’t even remember her name, she was a kid one of my friends used to babysit after school. Some days I’d go with her to this girl’s house, and we’d always end up in her bedroom playing Whitney’s second album, the one with the blue cover. And this 8-year-old kid would just BELT out “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “So Emotional” at the top of her little lungs. My friend and I would be her back up singers, and she would just go crazy, putting her whole being into the songs.
That little girl is in her 30s today. I’ll bet she cried yesterday when she heard the news.