I love music. Good music. Growing up with a father who sang in the church choir and two sisters who took years of piano lessons, I was raised to the sound of hymns from the Cokesbury Hymnbook being sung to me, while my Daddy made my breakfast and the sound of my sisters playing the piano in the living room at night.
As I got older, I remember listening to Rick Dees and Ron Jordan on WMPS 680 AM in Memphis, Tennessee, hearing songs such as “The Night Chicago Died” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.”
Then came the glorious afternoon in 1974: my step-sister had an extra ticket for the top row of the Mid-South Coliseum, where we got to see The King himself – Elvis Presley – in front of a hometown crowd. He wore a blue jumpsuit and had not yet begun to gain weight or diminish in talent. He was awesome.
Among the back-up singers performing with The King that afternoon was a trio of beautiful Black ladies named the Sweet Inspirations. Their voices were amazing. For a shining example of their work, I suggest you listen to one of Elvis’ greatest hits, “In the Ghetto,” written by Mac Davis.
The Sweet Inspirations were founded by Cissy Houston, who now faces the horrible reality of out-living her daughter.
Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop music’s queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her regal image was ruined by erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, died Saturday. She was 48.
Beverly Hills police Lt. Mark Rosen said Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. in her room on the fourth floor of the Beverly Hilton. A Los Angeles County coroner’s official said the body remained in the building late Saturday. “There were no obvious signs of any criminal intent,” Rosen said.
Rosen said police received a 911 call from hotel security about Houston at 3:43 p.m. Saturday. Paramedics who were already at the hotel because of a Grammy party were not able to resuscitate her, he said.
The Los Angeles Times provides more details:
Investigators probing the death of Whitney Houston are trying to determine whether she drowned while in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday shortly before she was set to attend a pre-Grammy Awards gala, according to a source who has been briefed about the case.
The source, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, stressed investigators still have many unanswered questions, particularly about what Houston was doing in the hours before her death. Investigators are also interviewing family members and friends to determine whether Houston had any underlying medical conditions, a practice common in death investigations.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office is expected to perform an autopsy Sunday, but it’s likely that a final cause of death will be deferred until toxicology test results come in. The source said drowning is one of several scenarios that investigators are examining as they gather evidence.
Beverly Hills police said there was no indication of foul play in Houston’s death but also said it was premature to say that she had died of natural causes.
Houston had drug and alcohol problems for years, and last May her spokeswoman said she was going back into rehab.
The Times reported that days before her death Houston had been acting strangely, skipping around a ballroom and reportedly doing handstands near the hotel pool. According to The Times’ Gerrick D. Kennedy, Houston greeted people with a warm smile but appeared disheveled in mismatched clothes and hair that was dripping wet.
Police said that so far they do not have evidence that drugs played a role in Houston’s death.
The New York Times elaborates on this gifted vocalist:
Ms. Houston was R&B’s great modernizer, slowly but surely reconciling the ambition and praise of the church with the movements and needs of the body and the glow of the mainstream. Her voice was clean and strong, with barely any grit, well suited to the songs of love and aspiration that were the breakthrough hits from her first two albums, “Whitney Houston” and “Whitney,” the post-quiet-storm ballads “You Give Good Love” and “Saving All My Love for You”; and the naïve, bopping, flush-of-love dance tracks “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” and “So Emotional.” Only a few of her 1980s hits — “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” chief among them — explored love’s dark side.
Hers was a voice of triumph and achievement, and it made for any number of stunning, time-stopping vocal performances: her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” from the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard,” which topped the Billboard singles chart for 14 weeks; her dazzling “Star-Spangled Banner,” sung before the 1991 Super Bowl; and huge, authoritative songs like “Greatest Love of All” and “One Moment in Time,” which sounded as if they could have been national anthems too.
Ms. Houston’s signature was to let her Brobdingnagian voice soar unfettered. From a lesser vocalist that would have been a gimmick, but from her it was par for the course, just a freakishly gifted athlete leapfrogging everyone around her.
And now that voice has been silenced. Not by old age, but the lifestyle she chose – one that ranged from the summit of her unforgettable rendition of the National Anthem to the slo-mo train wreck abyss of her drug-addled marriage to Bobby Brown.
When Tony Bennett took the stage at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy gala on Saturday, he offered more than just happy memories of the late Whitney Houston.
Bennett used the opportunity to ask that the U.S. government re-evaluate its stance on drugs, using Amsterdam as an example of a successful policy.
“First it was Michael Jackson, then Amy Winehouse, now the magnificent Whitney Houston,” he began. “I’d like every person in this room to campaign to legalize drugs.”
He continued: “Let’s legalize drugs like they did in Amsterdam. No one’s hiding or sneaking around corners to get it. They go to a doctor to get it.”
Sure, Tony – except that Whitney likely died after overdosing on legal drugs prescribed by her doctor…just like Elvis.