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A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO WHITNEY HOUSTON, 1963-2012
SOUL MUSIC.COM FOUNDER DAVID NATHAN REFLECTS....
I was watching Grammy Live at 2:00am on Sunday morning in London as Diana Ross received her long overdue Lifetime Achievement Award in Los Angeles and I paused for a moment as I saw the Twitter feed change. One moment, people were expressing their happiness that Diana had finally received recognition from the Recording Academy. Next, the screen said, "RIP Whitney Houston."

There are such things as cruel jokes and I believed this was one. I immediately scoured the internet. There was a report that she had indeed passed away; and another that quoted a publicist as saying she had just spoken with Whitney.

I hoped that the second posting was correct but within minutes, on Facebook, I was assured it was not. In fact, I looked again: that quote was from September 2011.

I felt my stomach sink as I realized that the woman I'd met as a teenager circa 1977 when she was singing background for her mom, Cissy, at a midtown Manhattan night club, the woman I'd hung out with in L.A. after she performed at The Roxy in 1985 was gone.

As I write these words, some sixteen hours after I heard the news, I reflect on the times I spent with Whitney. I recall when I was in London for her first shows in the U.K. and how her musical director, my good friend the late John Simmons invited me and my sister Sylvia to see the show and meet up afterwards, how we all headed down to the London Hippodrome; how Whitney was relaxed, warm and feeling good after her first triumphant shows before British audiences. How, the moment "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" came on, she said, 'let's dance' and how Sylvia and I, John and Whitney's childhood friend Robyn Crawford followed suit, boogeying along with Whitney to her own music! It was a wonderful few minutes and her father John commented afterwards how Whitney didn't usually do such things! It now remains a treasured memory...as does the time we were backstage at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles after Whitney had been a guest performer with BeBe & CeCe Winans and we talked with great sadness about the passing of her musical director and my friend John Simmons...

Over the years, I interviewed Whitney several times - for Britain's Blues & Soul and other publications. She graciously gave me a quote for a compilation of her mother's '70s recordings that I'd created for Ichiban Soul Classics in the mid-90s. Arista Records hired me to update her bio on a few occasions, including for the 2002 Just Whitney album. We saw each other a few years later outside L'Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills as I was leaving a music industry function and she was arriving with then-husband Bobby Brown. She asked if we'd met (we had) and then told me she couldn't wait to tell her mother that we'd seen each other.

Without exception, every time I encountered Whitney Houston, there were smiles and laughs, a sense of family given my own long association with her cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick and with her mother. I never saw the 'bad' side, never came face-to-face with Whitney when she was at the height of her addiction. Of course, I knew about it and prayed that she would make it through...and was saddened when like others, I went to see her perform at the 02 in London in 2010 and realized that she should have been at home recuperating and dealing with her health...

That Whitney had challenges I have and had no doubt. But that she impacted contemporary popular music, that her recordings influenced more than one generation of young performers, that her classic hits and stellar albums were a testament to her soulful artistry has never been a question.

During the course of her forty-years here, she created a legacy of music and a raft of memories that will live on... Rest in peace, Whitney. You wll never be forgotten.

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In tribute, here are some extracts from a 1991 interview we did together:

David Nathan: Your last album I’M YOUR BABY TONIGHT has done well but not as well as its’ two predecessors. How do you feel about that?

Whitney Houston: I’m not bitching about that at all. I know people who would die to sell 105 copies. I’m not complaining: I have a career based on three albums and I’m truly satisfied with what God has blessed me with. I don’t take it personally and eight million copies worldwide [for this album] isn’t too bad!

The truth is that I had a lot of blessings before that by selling thirty-one million albums and people dream about what I’ve done over a twenty-five-year period, so I’m very thankful. I can’t say that my record company hasn’t done the best possible with this album: Arista supports me like nobody’s business.

I think what’s happened with this album is that the music business has gone on to other things: it’s always about what’s new, what’s the latest thing. But I recognize that no one’s going to be on top forever and frankly, I don’t want to be up there all the time!

DN: You worked with L.A. and Babyface on your last album. How was that for you?

WH: A lot of fun! They’re real, down to earth people and we like each other. I think it’s important that I get along with people I work with so before we ever went into the studio, we had dinner and we sat around talking, getting to know each other. They both that said the sessions we did were real easy for them and I would that we will work together again.

DN: There’s one particular song on the album that you recently commented on in an interview. The song “Miracles”: is it actually about a woman dealing with the question of abortion?

WH: “Miracles” is a very special song - L.A. and ‘Face told me that when they wrote it, they were writing about the subject of abortion but trying to figure out what women would feel like dealing with that. I thought it was great that two men would do that, take time to consider that in a song. But for about a year, I didn’t want to do the song because I needed to have it changed to make the lyric more general. I felt I could read into it, I knew what it was about and that it was a very personal thing. Now I think people relate to it as if it could be anything, about nature, about the earth, about animals, about relationships. I think it’s a masterpiece and that people can relate to it from a spiritual standpoint - BeBe and CeCe Winans have said they want to do it too.

DN: What are some of your immediate plans?

WH: Well, after I’m back from Europe, I’m going to be tied up with making my first movie. It’s with Kevin Costner and it’s called “The Bodyguard.” It’s about a very successful rock/pop star who’s hunted by a killer and about the relationship between the star and her bodyguard, what they have to deal with.

I didn’t have to do any acting lessons because Kevin asked me to do the movie just based on me being me, although if he’d asked me to take lessons, I would have. I’m real excited about it and I’m eager, anxious and nervous!

Yes, we will have some romantic scenes but, hey, that’s acting: when the scene’s over, it’s over. But I do look on this as another avenue for me, an important career move, something I can do besides music, especially when the music industry is going through whatever strange changes it might go through.

DN: You’ve had tremendous success over the last six years. Do you think about what impact that success had had on you?

WH: I think about it every now and then. I guess when the last album peaked and started going down the charts, that’s when I thought about it a little more. But initially after the first album came out, I didn’t have time to reflect on what was going on in my career. After the second album came out and I’d toured, I took about eighteen months off and that gave me time to stop and scope out what was happening. While the records were doing so well, people were talking about history being made but all I knew was that I loved what I was doing.

I didn’t worry about the No. 1’s and the money and all that stuff. But now that I’ve had some time to think I remember what my mother told me a long time ago about this business being fickle and that everything comes and goes.

[My cousin] Dionne [Warwick] and I were talking today and she was saying, ‘I can’t explain what’s happening but if you look at the charts, you’ll see what people want to hear.’ In other words, this industry is always changing which is why I thank God that I have a foundation, a base. Knowing that, I’m fortunate to have an audience who buy my records and come and see my shows, that’s what keep me going because sometimes it is difficult dealing with this business.

DN: There’s a lot of talk these days about real singing. What do you have to say about that?

WH: I’m a young girl from the old school and I like to think that I’m living proof that people do want real singing. I’ve always had faith in the gift of God, the human voice.

DN: Whitney, people have commented on you ‘selling out,’ becoming a pop singer. What are your thoughts on that?

WH: I think it’s funny. Instead of looking at my accomplishments, it’s about whether I sing pop or whether my music isn’t soulful anymore. Yes, I did have big pop success and it took off very fast. I was singing real pop music, songs that were melodic and very catchy but I was singing the you-know-what out of them! Was I supposed to be on just one level, one avenue? Dionne told me a while back that what’s important is building a career with songs that can become legendary and I’ve been fortunate because some of the songs I’ve done became associated with me right away.

That’s what creates longevity and that’s the kind of career I want. I grew up with all kinds of music but the root of my singing is gospel and it always has been and you’re a fool if you don’t hear that in my music!

DN: Finally, what do you consider some of your goals?

WH: Well, having my own label, producing my own acts, finding really talented young people, working with them, teaching them about the business, grooming them, which I think is very important. Maybe I’d like to start off with a production company and my company, Nippy Inc. is moving in that direction now.

Then, I have a foundation for children which aids [them] in any shape, form or fashion, since they are truly our future. And I’d some point, I want to get married and I’d like some children of my own…
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About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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