Whitney Houston — known mostly for being one of the top-selling female vocalists of all time, and later in life, tragically for her bouts with substance abuse — was found dead in the bathtub of her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Saturday, Feb. 11. She was 48.
There’s been a cascade of grief and condolences for Houston, her estranged ex-husband Bobby Brown and the couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina; and the outpouring continued from the many local musical luminaries who knew and worked with the chart-topping diva.
Houston, still trying to fully break into the industry in 1984, recorded the Teddy Pendergrass-duet “Hold Me,” which appeared on Pendergrass’ 1984 album, “Love Language,” the first studio album after the car accident which left him paralyzed.
But it’s that constant grind — the non-stop touring and the incessant requests made of a superstar — that may have contributed to Houston’s downfall. The double-edged sword of fame and celebrity has, in one way or the other, destroyed the lives of a number of celebrities.
“We are all still in shock. She was an amazing talent and a true songbird,” said Kathy Sledge, one of the members of the four-sister group Sister Sledge. “I met her a few times, and the first words that come to mind are spunky, fun and high-spirited. She was everything everyone saw her to be.
“But it’s hard to be an entertainer,” Sledge continued. “It’s a very lonely place. We know what comes with it. I hope this puts in perspective that Whitney is one of those artists you will never see on this planet again.”
Sledge said her and Houston met a few times and nearly became labelmates, but at the last minute, Sledge went with Epic Records while Houston signed with Clive Davis.
“You always want to get inside their head, and I can’t speak for Whitney but I can speak for artists, and I feel like, if anything, give love to her family and lift her up mightily, because that’s what we would want for ourselves,” Sledge said. “I think there will never be another Whitney, another Michael Jackson, another Teena Marie, so I hope fans grasp that they are people, and love them while they are here — embrace them.”
Houston had several connections with Philly music, and many local legends shared their interactions with the multi-platinum singer. As a member of renowned Philadelphia International Records studio band M.F.S.B., legendary drummer Earl Young had the opportunity to accompany Houston during “The Linda Creed Memorial Scholarship Fund Concert,” held at the Civic Center on May 10, 1987.
“She didn’t bring a band, so they hired us to play for the whole show, which was her, George Benson and The Stylistics,” Young said. “She had a keyboard player, and she sang ‘The Greatest Love of All.’ Quite naturally, I was a little nervous because it was the first time I had played for somebody that big since the Uptown [Theater] days, and I wanted to get it right. By me not being the greatest [music] reader in the world, I had to try to make sure everything was perfect, and ‘The Greatest’ is one of those songs that doesn’t really have a tempo — it’s all conducted, and it came out good.
“She was so little and young with such a big voice, that it really kind of blew me away,” Young continued. “I think I spent more time listening to her than I did actually playing. To me, it was an honor to play for somebody as big as her, and when we did sound check, she thanked everybody.”
Others spoke of Houston’s ability to carry a whole musical genre and thank her for contributions likely to go unduplicated.
“We love Whitney Houston so much for sharing her special gift with the world. Whitney took the torch from R&B pioneers before her and carried it to unimaginable heights,” said Rhythm and Blues Foundation chairman Damon Williams. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to all of Whitney’s family members. We are thankful for the many years of support from Whitney’s mom, Cissy Houston, and cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, who are all recipients of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award.”
While Houston is probably best known for her stunning vocals, she also made inroads as a hit actress, starting on the small screen with a role in 1984 sitcom “Gimme A Break!” before landing her debut silver screen role as Rachel Marron in the 1992 hit, “The Bodyguard,” in which Houston also contributed to the multi-platinum soundtrack. From there, Houston starred in “Waiting To Exhale,” “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Cinderella.”
Production just wrapped on the “Sparkle” remake, in which Houston reprises the role of Emma. “Sparkle” is due in theaters later this year.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic and untimely passing of Whitney Houston, whom we were blessed to have just completed work with on the remake of the film ‘Sparkle,’ said producer Bishop T.D. Jakes. “We ask the world to join us in lifting up Whitney’s family in prayer and ask God for their strength and comfort during this devastatingly difficult time.
“At the apex of her career, Whitney had no peer, with a voice that shaped a generation,” continued Jakes. “She has left behind a musical legacy that will endure. She will be sorely missed by us all.”
Whitney Houston was an unbelievable talent and one of the greatest voices of all time. Her passing is a tremendous shock and a terrible shame,” said Sound of Philadelphia creators Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff in a joint statement. “She had a rough life and was under so much pressure as an artist, because she meant so much to the music community. She was one of the most admired singers ever, who was loved by everybody.”
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