A Tribute to Whitney Houston

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It’s been over a week since I woke up to news of Whitney Houston’s sudden death. I’m sure by now you are over-saturated with the news coverage and tributes. The world has been mourning the loss of one of its greatest treasures. Lost and confused many were, but none more so than her family and close friends. The coverage of her memorial service was both sombre and celebratory at the same time.

The death of a talented and beautiful individual with an unfulfilled ambition has definitely left me somewhat cold and dissatisfied. The last time I remember feeling this way about a celebrity’s death was when Aaliyah’s plane crashed in the Bahamas 10 years ago.

She too was talented and the world was waiting to see her achieve bigger dreams. Her third album has just been released then, one that would redefine an entire genre of music and secure her the title of Princess of Urban Pop. Tragically, she never lived long enough to reap its success. So close yet so far.

I’m sure as perfectly normal human beings you empathise with my disgruntled thoughts. What if the Mayans were right about the world ending at the end of 2012? Would we all perish happy knowing well that we have fulfilled all that we’ve dreamed about?

Whitney was to be the greatest comeback story in music history. Unlike Michael or Amy, nobody was betting on her death. She was getting back on her feet after suffering a downward slide in both her personal and professional life. But the world was ready to forgive and forget.

We welcomed her back with open arms. Her last album, “I Look To You”, became Number 1 on the Billboard charts despite critics saying that it wasn’t as great as her earlier efforts. And for everyone who has ever criticised her for her choices in life or for her inability to hit her signature high notes in recent “live” performances, nobody can deny how strong-willed Whitney was. She stood there at her last tour, night after night, with an honest heart to perform and a graceful humility despite her fragile state.

Perhaps, because she knew her support system was intact and stronger than ever — she had her family, her friends, her fans and her mentor, Clive Davis, was on her side. Everybody had the same wish and rooted for her in hopes of experiencing her greatness again.

We wanted the same Whitney we all grew up, danced and mended our broken hearts and spirits to. But of course, that has now been reduced to just playing her greatest hits on repeat.

As an avid foodie, I can only draw comparisons to the many so-called “the greatest meal of your life” promises I’ve come across in the past. Every time a superstar chef flies into town, the hope of what is to be a feast to remember has often comes crashing down.

Dining according to the Michelin guidebook in Hong Kong and Macau has also left me dry and wondering what the fuss was all about. I shudder at the thought of what it would be like to finally get the chance to eat at the likes of Noma, Per Se, Alinea, Momofuku and The Fat Duck. Would my expectations get the best of my meal? Then again, I better not pack them along.

Now, I also can’t help but wonder if the enormous expectation from a world wide audience was what sent her over the edge in the first place. She was in the end only human, no doubt a gifted individual who was heavenly sent. But lest we forget, she was created of flesh and blood and no less invisible than you and me. Perhaps the heart-tugging tribute by Kevin Costner at her memorial would give us an insight.

The Whitney that I knew, despite her worldwide success and fame, still wondered, ‘Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?’ It was the burden that made her great, and the part that caused her to stumble in the end,” he said.

People didn’t just like you, Whitney, they loved you.

If Whitney Houston were a dish, she would have been a masterpiece. She was all at once beautiful, exquisite, rare and most definitely irreplaceable. She would have all the delicious qualities that many can only hang their tongues out for. Food journalists and historians would have been floored by her flawless yet effortless techniques.

Whitney had nobility, grace and dignity that we often forget to give her credit for, especially in the last decade of her life. This unbending heritage put Houston in a dilemma. Caught between her love for Bobby Brown and the regal musical heritage she was born to uphold. While her devotion was destructive, the world’s love for her stood the test of time.

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It is hard not to be enamoured the instance you lay eyes on her beauty. Blessed with an irresistible combination of angelic good looks and the voice of a songbird, she would have been a sight for sore eyes and a symphony to our palates. Her voice was as crisp as the first breath of spring. It brought joy like the summer sun, coloured our lives with autumn hues and warmed our bitter wintery hearts. “Ambrosia,” the New York Times dining editor would proclaim.

For everyone who has been blessed by her voice and presence, we should be thankful that she has left her footprint in our hearts. We should all raise our glasses to a woman who has inspired a whole new generation of female singers.

I’m pretty sure we’ll hear her rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” in the coming months, a swan song befitting her humble gospel origins. And as the song goes, we know that she can now sing because she is happy and free.


This article was first published on The Malaysian Insider‘s Side Views on 21 February 2012.

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