Whitney Houston died tonight.
She was 48 years old, two years younger than Michael Jackson when he passed, a comparison I make because those two are inextricably linked in my mind – much more for the genius and brilliance that made them stars than for the controversy and personal demons that embroiled them later in life.
Simply put, the two most iconic voices of my childhood were those of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.
It wasn’t just that they became super-duper-mega-stars in the mid-80s right as I started to become a coherent human, or that they mom seemed to play them constantly in the house and in the car; it’s that even at that young an age – 4, 5, 6 – I already genuinely enjoyed their music.
I’ve written about Michael on MSF numerous times, because he is far and away my favorite musical artists of all time. Not long after he passed, I wrote this about the King of Pop: My Personal Tribute to the Complex Life and Incredible Legacy of Michael Jackson.
Though she never reached the historic popularity and notoriety of MJ, Houston’s legacy too can most certainly be described as both complex and incredible.
The Legacy of Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston’s legacy is complex, of course, because of the drug and alcohol abuse and generally erratic behavior that derailed it.
But it is unquestionably incredible because of the wonderful catalog of music she leaves behind and the memory we all will have of one of the greatest voices any human has ever been gifted. Truly, it was a gift to us all.
If you need a reminder, just listen to the isolated vocals from “How Will I Know.” Mind-blowing.
As I write this, I have no idea what the cause of Whitney’s death is, though I think we can all fairly speculate, as Houston was still publicly battling her drug demons as recently as May of 2011. Houston’s is a sad, unfortunate story that came to an all-to-predictable but no less disappointing end.
She is not the first artistic genius to die well before her time and to do so tragically and ignominiously, nor will she be the last. And the memory of Whitney that has been forced into our heads for the last decade plus will never go away.
But it will also never transcend her talent, nor her songs. Whitney’s slow but steady meltdown and agonizing fall from grace may have been spectacular, pejoratively speaking, but still not nearly as spectacular as the vocal brilliance she created.
So no more dwelling on the negativity.
I’m sure we’ll all do plenty of that in the coming hours and days. We always do when a troubled star of Houston’s magnitude passes on.
Tonight, I just want to focus on and re-live the music. Something tells me you’ll agree. And if you don’t yet, just starting hitting play. You will.
Whitney once asked, “Where do broken hearts go?” Hopefully Whitney went somewhere she has peace. Her fans can go to the music.
In honor of the late, great Whitney Houston, here are all 11 of her #1 singles (plus a most worthy honorable mention), presented in somewhat close to chronological order.
1. “How Will I Know”
2. “Saving All My Love For You”
3. “Greatest Love Of All”
4. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”
Note: This is my personal favorite Whitney song. It’s not necessarily her best or most impressive performance, but I just enjoy this song more than any other.
5. “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”
6. “So Emotional”
7. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”
8. “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
9. “All The Man That I Need”
Note: When this song first came out, I remember thinking for some reason that it was about Randall Cunningham. Anyone know anything about this? I was nine at the time, so who knows where I picked that information up, but it’s endured to this day, true or not.
10. “I Will Always Love You”
Note: this was song was originally recorded by Dolly Parton. I did not know that until tonight. Whitney’s version stayed at #1 for an amazing 14 weeks. Wow.
Honorable Mention: “Star Spangled Banner”
Note: this did not reach #1, but it was top 20, becoming one of the only times that an artist made the “Star Spangled Banner” a hit on the pop charts.
Rest in peace Whitney.
Thank you for the music and a voice unlike any we ever heard before or will ever hear again.