On Saturday February 18 2o12 Whitney Houston was laid to rest. The world loses another great singer. Another one gone too soon.
Of course it wasn't that long after it was revealed that Whitney had passed on that people began speculation on what had happened and of course there were many people bringing up the "crack is whack" comment.
Let's forget about the crack for a few minutes okay. Let's look at another aspect of the whole thing.
Recall a scene in the 2006 movie version of Dreamgirls where singer James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy) is on-stage singing one of the generic ballads his record label head (Jamie Foxx) has forced him to sing instead of the harder funkier soul he used to sing (and prefers to sing). In the midst of the song he stops and says "sorry. I can't sing this no more". He then gives the cue for the band to launch into a heavier funk number and he begins to spit lyrics in a rap-like fashion:
Sooner or later
The time comes around
For a man to be a man take back his sound
I gotta do something to shake things up
I like Johnny Mathis but I can't do that stuff
While Dreamgirls was a musical based on an early 1980s Broadway show based loosely on the career of the Supremes, in other ways it was a well-directed tirade at the gradual death of soul in music. A well-aimed shot at the on-going American Idolization which is leading to the artistic death of R&B and the dumbing down of pop.
Many people since the news broke on the evening of February 11 have taken to blaming Bobby Brown for Whitney's drug use and eventual death. Based on what I've found out since then though, that fire was already lit. All Bobby Brown did was throw more gas on it.
Listening to many of Whitney's 80s hits, I find myself reminded of my original viewpoint on it: Fantastic voice yet the material is often beneath her talent. An assessment that's critical yet less harsh than that of many people who blasted her for not being "black enough". However, the pop concessions in her music were also not totally her fault.
It's now widely known by many people that when Clive Davis signed Whitney to Arista Records in 1983 that he told her that a more organic soul sound would only appeal to a limited audience. So he more or less convinced her to concentrate more on the pop, make music targeted at markets not as a means of expression and be the next superstar.The result was a sound that reached many people and did offer some decent songs. Yet it also seemed at times like this wasn't material that Whitney personally felt. Compare what she was doing with what Anita Baker was doing at the same time. Most of Baker's music was edgier and had more of a jazz feel. In fact, it had more feeling period. Listen to her song "Caught up in the Rapture" which perfectly encapsulates the joy of being in love. By contrast, a lot of Whitney's big hits sounded like perfectly constructed pop pills designed for one purpose: to appeal to the adult contemporary office music crowd. I strongly suspect that this was brought on by both Davis looking solely at the bottom line and Whitney not wanting to appeal only to the R&B audience (IE: Luther Vandross in the same era). Her Dolly Parton and Chaka Khan covers as well as her straightforward gospel singing were better indications of her talent and one wishes she would have had more chances to do that kind of music.
So at times I wonder if maybe her hanging around with Bobby Brown and playing the bad girl role was her way of trying to scream "I want out of this straightjacket" yet nobody heard her. Most people focused more on the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease.
No one can say for sure that this was the cause of Whitney's eventual demise yet I find myself reflecting on Jimmy Early and his eventual fate which eerily parallels Whitney's. And while I will keep the good memories of her and her music (Such as singing "Greatest Love of All" at fifth grade graduation) I also feel that the real tragedy here has been unnoticed by much of the public.