A Grand Diva: One of a Kind
Everyone who has followed my writing for a while knows that I am an avowed atheist; in fact on my Facebook page I declare that I am a “militant atheist!” Yet as I struggled to find the language to describe the artistry of Whitney Houston, I was reminded of the words spoken by my longtime friend Gerald Hammond; a bonafide musical genius who would be a legendary Symphonic conductor by now if there had been no racial caste system in America 50 years ago.
When I asked Gerald why a beautiful young female singer with a lovely voice and a degree from Julliard in vocal performance was singing in his church choir, at a time when Black divas were burning up Grand Opera stages from La Scala to the Met, he simply said “She does not have that gift from God that all truly great singers must have.” Well, if such a thing exist, it is obvious that Whitney Houston’s art was a gift from the Gods.
Maestro Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the world famous Philadelphia Orchestra, said of the great contralto Marion Anderson: “Hers is a voice that’s heard once in a century.” The same thing can be said of Whitney Houston. With a voice forged in the smithy of the muses and trained in the Afro-American Church, which has produced more superstar singers with an original sound than Julliard, Whitney bewitched the whole world with her song.
She seemed born to the role, surrounded as she was by great female singers from the time she entered the world. Her mother Cissy, her aunt Thelma, her cousin Dionne, and her God Mother Aretha! What a splendid legacy…what a priceless inheritance; to be tutored by the goddesses of American popular song.
Whitney made the most of her gifts; showing exceptional talent as early as 12 years old as she sang solos in the church choir her mother has conducted for 50 years. It is no wonder that Clive Davis was captivated when he first heard her sing at 19 years old. A Harvard Law grad and savvy businessman who loves music, Clive knew that he had struck gold.
And once he put her voice on record it turned into platinum over and over again. It was a gift that has never stopped giving! Over the course of her career Whitney sold 175 million albums worldwide, won six Grammys and a host of other prestigeous awards. Her album sales surpassed those of the Beatles and Michael Jackson. She is the most popular female act in history!
Hence it is an unspeakable tragedy to witness the deterioration of Whitney’s supermodel looks and marvelous voice, both ruined by drug abuse. This is a problem that has plagued some of the most gifted and creative people in history, whether Charlie Parker, Judy Garland, Amy Winehouse, Robert Browning or Sigmund Freud.
Some believe the drugs fuel their creativity or inspires their performances. Even so, it has proved a Faustian bargain. Alas, drug addiction will mess up yo mind and ravage your body and soul. It will even destroy a priceless gift from God. That is the most important lesson to stress from the life…and especially the untimely death, of Whitney Houston. Whatever the autoposy and toxicology reports shows was the immediate cause of death, in the long run it was drug abuse that destroyed her life.
A Peerless Diva Departs the Stage
Double click on link to see Whitney Sing her First Hit
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Februray 13, 2012