I was eight years old when the local Boys & Girls Club was hosting a talent show. My mom, who worked at the Boys & Girls Club at the time, felt this would be the perfect opportunity for me to make my debut as an aspiring singer. After all, I had been singing since I was three for family and friends, so it was time for that critical transition that would put me on the path to stardom. The day of the talent show arrived and I was geared up and ready to go. Once there, I learned that everyone else participating in the show were teenagers and young adults. How was this little girl going to match up with people 7+ years her senior??? Even worse, the crowd was ruthless — showing mercy for NO ONE. From the not so good to the seemingly hidden treasures — no one was exempt. In that auditorium, it seemed as if “booing” was a sport and the attendees were showcasing their prowess. My mom later told me that she thought to herself “if these people ‘boo’ my baby, I’m gonna raise hell in here”. She came to me and said, ”Tiffy, are you SURE you want to sing” — assuring me that I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. But I was a brave little girl — and replied ‘yes’ with angelic determination. Once my name was called, I stepped to the microphone and belted out:
“I found out what I’ve been missing… always on the run….I’ve been looking for someone….”
”You Give Good Love” by Whitney Houston was one of my favorites. And although the lyrics of the song were obviously far above anything I had experienced or could comprehend, I remember singing it with confidence. Although I believed I was doing a good job, I was waiting for the first ‘boo’ so I could try to sing louder than it. But the boo never came. I finished the song and opened my eyes (back then, I would have to close my eyes to sing) to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. In the end, I WON that talent show. Whitney, we did it!
Whitney Houston was definitely an ‘auntie’ in my head. She’s a hometown girl and we share similarities that have inspired me all of my life. We both were born and bred church girls with a family full of singers and musicians. We were raised in a Baptist Church and lead vocalists in our church choirs. We came from middle-income families and attended Catholic school. We both had dreams of stardom and success in the music industry. And though we both carried ourselves as privileged, classy and intelligent little princesses, we were from the ‘hood’ of Newark, New Jersey. At the time (and even now), Newark was not always cast in an inspiring or positive light. Known for its projects, car jackings, high crime and foul-smelling factories, many would wonder “What good can come from Newark, New Jersey?” Whitney’s rise to success brought pride and esteem to our great city. She was my hometown hero — and by winning the talent show that night, I was filled with the determination to be one as well.
I had posters of Whitney Houston all over my bedroom walls. And singing Whitney Houston songs were “Popeye’s Spinach” for me — the remedy to win talents shows, soar in auditions and wow my classmates during impromptu school performances.
Greatest Love of AllOne Moment In TimeDidn’t We Almost Have It AllMiracleI’m Your Baby TonightI Believe In You And MeThe Star Spangled Banner Performance
Classics. Whitney’s catalog of songs and performances was the vocalist’s curricula of the late 80s and 90s. I would take on each song with a student’s enthusiasm — refusing to move to the next until I had mastered — to the best of my childhood ability — the previous. And slowly but surely, I made each one my own. She was everything that I and most other aspiring singers of that time wanted to be.
I won’t sit here and recap her whole history — that’s what we have her biography and Wikipedia for. Nor will I take this moment to criticize the flaws and shortcomings that played out before the world and through the media. Sure, she had problems and caused me to close my eyes or clutch my own pearls at times, but she was still GREAT! She had removed the princess-like veil to show the ‘hood’ girl that those of us from Newark already knew existed, but she was still GREAT! She struggled with drugs for the later part of her life — an addiction which may have ultimately caused her death, but she was still GREAT! While I wish she could have conquered her weaknesses to turn tragedy into triumph, I dare NOT judge anything that she’s gone through because I think everyone can identify with her struggles in some way, shape or form. I take issue with those who mercilessly criticize her when in fact we ALL have our ‘drugs of choice‘ we are struggling with. You know, those things that are destructive to our lives, happiness, well-being, health, career and even others? We ALL consume a drug of some sort. What’s your drug of choice???
Lying – Stealing – Envy – Gluttony – Wrath – Adultery - Pessimism- Alcoholism – Procrastination – Pride - Sloth – Promiscuity – Laziness – Lust. I could go on. You might not like this – or me for saying this – but offenders of many of the above and more are reading / writing this blog right now. And sadly, many of these ‘drugs’ hurt ourselves and others. Such was the case for Whitney Houston. She was not truly any different from many of us in our own lives. But while we get to throw our flaws under a cover or in the closet so that no one else is aware of them, her status as an entertainer resulted in them playing out in full view for all of us to see and criticize. And the more we criticized, the more we likely provoked her to find rescue & comfort within her own demons. There goes judgement – another drug …
While I never had the opportunity to sing background for Whitney Houston, I knew many who worked with her and I did have the privilege of meeting her once at a music event. She was very much the Diva, but in a jovial and friendly mood; very nice and approachable. Unusually starstruck, I was too afraid/intimated to reach out and let her know how much we had in common, that I was also from Newark and that she meant a lot to me. All I said was hello. That’s a moment I will regret and another reason why it’s important to seize every promising moment that is presented. Nonetheless, her life has had an incredible impact on me. From Whitney, I learned that little church girls from the ‘ghetto’ could ascend to the grand stage as inspirational icons for the world. I’ve learned that there truly can be “Miracles” when you ‘Believe’. I’ve learned to be more mindful and sympathetic of the struggles people are going through before I judge their actions. I’ve learned to cherish my gift from God and let no man and no thing separate me from it. I’ve learned to guard — with the best of my ability — my esteem, life and family from the ill wills, actions and opinions of others. I’ve learned to identify life’s crossroads and stay clear of seemingly casual behaviors and activities that could change the course of your life forever. I’ve been reminded of how mortal we are — but that our task here on earth is to create a legacy…a work of art that will last forever. But the most important lesson that I’ve learned from Whitney Houston came not from the later part of her life, but through how she was introduced to the world. This lesson lays as the foundation of all of my hopes, dreams and present endeavors. It’s the cornerstone of all I do as an artist:
“I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail… If I succeed, at least I lived as I believe. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity… I’ve found the Greatest Love of All inside of ME!”
Rest in Perfect Peace Whitney Elizabeth Houston