Houston took songs to heights no other could
Whitney Houston made us move with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and she moved us with “I Will Always Love You.” She asked the questions that defined countless first dates, proms and marriages. “How Will I Know.” “Why Does It Hurt So Bad.” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.”
After years of public incidents and missteps, Houston is now gone — too early, regardless of her recent hardships with relationships, drug abuse and life in the age of reality television and TMZ.
“She was amazing,” said former promoter Barry Fey, who did three different tours with Houston. “She was hard to top. The first time I did her show in Denver at Big Mac (McNichols Sports Arena), you couldn’t get a ticket. She sold out so quick.
“But then she started drawing less and less people. And then the Bobby Brown thing happened, and the cocaine and the reality show, and she lost her voice. She didn’t have it anymore. And now this.”
Houston helped create the pop star image we’re still obsessed with. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga owe as much to Houston as they do Madonna. Think back to 1985 and Houston’s eponymous, bright-eyed debut. Not only was the record a chart-topper, but it was also an exercise in optimistic, forward-looking do-goodery.
Sure, it was mushy — with “Saving All My Love For You” and “Greatest Love of All.” But it was also sweet and loving, defining a kinder, pre-R. Kelly R&B with its tender sensuality (an almost racy little number called “You Give Good Love”) that wasn’t always reciprocated to Houston as her life and career matured and evolved.
As Houston’s life deteriorated — oftentimes in the public eye, with unfortunate scenes captured in awful, humiliating detail by video cameras and court reports — she lost track of the music. But when she returned to the stage in late 2009 with “I Look To You,” her first full-length record in seven years, you could still hear what first made her great. Of course it started with her charisma and carried through with her sensual soprano, but while her frayed vocal cords were on stark display throughout the release, her charm still shined through.
You could hear the pain in her voice — almost as if the record was an apology of sorts to her fans. She knew she had let them down. She wasn’t sure if she could make it up to them. But she was going to try, if only for one record’s worth of unspectacular, superfluous songs gathered together for Houston’s hasty comeback.
But it was never only about the songs. Even her biggest hits would have gone nowhere under a different singer’s lead vocal. It was always about Houston, even before we knew who she was, and her soul had partially left her body by the time “I Look to You” saw music store shelves.
“If drugs didn’t kill her tonight,” Fey said on Saturday, “they killed her before. They took her voice. They took her beauty.” Ricardo Baca
Sunday will bring Houston memorial at Grammys
Even as the live coverage of Whitney Houston’s death at 48 continued Saturday night, TV producers were scrambling to set memorial tributes to the singer in coming days.
–On the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, Jennifer Hudson is reportedly set to sing a tribute to Houston, part of a larger salute to the six-time Grammy winner. The Grammys air 7-10:30 p.m. locally on KCNC.
–On “Glee” Tuesday, a cover of the Houston/Dolly Parton “I Will Always Love You” will be a key part of the episode (sung by Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes). The Hollywood Reporter said producers were considering updating the episode to include a more substantial tribute or perhaps simply a card dedicating the hour to her memory.
–So as not to surrender the night to CBS without a fight, NBC announced “Dateline” will air a tribute Sunday at 6 p.m. on KUSA.
–Lifetime will air “The Bodyguard” (1992), starring Houston and Kevin Costner, Monday at 6 p.m.
–BET will repeat “Celebration of Gospel 2011″ Sunday afternoon. BET also schedules a three-hour special Monday at 4 p.m., “106 & Park” paying tribute to Houston. Joanne Ostrow
Joanne Ostrow is the Denver Post Television Critic.