WHITNEY HOUSTON: AN AMERICAN ICON

by Jeremy Danté


statuesque, poised & powerful- whitney houston is the first icon i’ve ever known & loved in my life. upon learning of her death this past saturday, i scrambled to find confirmed reports & quickly began to combat posts on facebook & twitter by posting an apparently dated ABC world news post, from september. my attempts to dispel the horrible news did nothing; the story & word spread like wildfire- all over facebook & trending on twitter, ‘rest in peace whitney houston’. i’ve said it before- first, before fashion; it has always been music. as the first individual in entertainment i paid any mind to- her voice, that striking & self-assured presence- that is the whitney houston i knew & idolized. before i was able to speak, i was sitting in front of the television watching her music videos, fascinated by what appeared to be a black barbie with an incredible voice, dancing & smiling on MTV. as i’ve made apparent in my pieces here, i’ve always been mesmerized by beauty, glamour & the glossed world of the industry. my obsession with glamour began with whitney houston. with her staggering string of seven #1 hits that laced the airwaves throughout the late 1980’s & her interviews that seared through the television on BET, VH-1 & countless other news casts & television networks- i was infatuated. the voluminous hair, the performances she had clad in gowns- it was vivid, memorable, unforgettable. an instant icon, even when she first hit the musical scene in 1985.

there are very few icons that i give unending praise to; considering how the entertainment industries have transformed over the last two decades. we’ve seen the definition of ‘superstar’ transgress, dramatically. true stars, real icons & actual superstars affect the culture in which they are a product of- there’s no room for gimmicks, no need for bullshit to make up for what is lacking in talent. i highly doubt the world will ever get to experience another talent the size equivalent or even close to that of whitney houston. along with michael jackson, the only other individual who has been able to change the perception of blacks in the mainstream or popular musical sector was whitney houston. there is no arguing; individuals who know & follow popular culture or musical reception, as closely as i do, can do nothing but agree with me. when whitney took the stage, when those songs cut through the speakers- pure & sophisticated; you weren’t thinking about color- just talent. what the industry has done to artists of value is truly tragic. the pressure & media speculation drive true talent to dark corners; where they become isolated for their greatness. a rapid release type of industry that creates ‘stars’, only to spit them out in the next instance, only victimizing & strangulating real talent from stepping into spotlight. with whitney, she was the last of her breed, perhaps the only. as, quite possibly, the greatest voice of all time, she needed no other talents other than her voice. no need for songwriting credits or even composition skills- the voice was astounding enough all it’s own. whitney became the poster-child for what diva’s were, she became the prototype for what every other female singer was to aspire to. her entrance into film broke, further, the barriers for women of color being cast for leading roles.

i won’t take this opportunity to speak on reports, cause of death or the turmoil that whitney often became engulfed in, in more recent years. as big a star as she was, this world could not handle the talent of whitney houston properly. with a tarnished legacy, riddled with negative press reports, the whitney houston that should be remembered is the whitney who allowed our musical culture to progress. her image, her presence was one that generations learned from- she coached legions on how real stars do it, with poised & graceful stamina, with earth shattering conviction & confidence. as my phone burst with multiple message alerts from cousins, friends & an email from my grandmother- i sat, crying with pulsated breath. i remembered begging my grandmother to buy me a magazine, which featured a story on whitney, at the grocery store during the mid-90’s. after purchasing it for me, when we got back to the house, i began to tear the pages open with excitement; staring at her image thinking of how beautiful she was. i began to read the article; the words ‘addiction’, ‘tantrum’ & ‘suspicious’ splattered on the pages. the magazine i had begged for was, in fact a tabloid. disgusted by this realization & with my dreams of one day becoming a singer & superstar like whitney; it was in that moment that i learned how talent is portrayed by the media. from that point on, i didn’t pay attention to the press regarding whitney, rather, i’d sit & listen to the records- that’s where whitney had her glory. performing on stage- that was where she was & is untouchable.

sitting in my grandmother’s living room as a child, i would go to a corner where her vinyl records were kept, next to her record player & stereo. there was whitney’s second album, whitney, on vinyl. i wasn’t allowed to touch the record player, but would sit there looking at whitney, clad in a long-length satin gown, curls flowing upward from her head, her autograph in the lower right hand corner. this was glamour, this was beauty, this is what stars are made of, i learned. not aware that the album i held in my hands had landed in at #1 in 11 countries & won whitney a grammy for best female pop vocal performance; nor that more hits & more records would be broken in the years that followed- i went off of what whitney put out, musically, her power- vocally, is what solidified her as a star in my mind. the most frequently played song of my life, without a doubt, is whitney’s “greatest love of all”. the sound of whitney’s voice had become so regular to me during the beginning stages of my life & onward through my adolescence that she became an extension of me. she was this place of perfection that no one could understand, that no one could touch. it’s that grace, sophistication & striking ability to entertain that will forever be associated with whitney; i will remember what made her a star. as a female of american musical history, whitney houston raised the bar so high that she, herself, could not surpass it. what whitney houston has contributed for individuals of color in mainstream entertainment will remain unmatched. there will never be a greater icon than whitney houston.

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