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Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Which Another Musical Legend Comes To An Untimely End

When news broke yesterday of the death of Whitney Houston at age 48, my first reaction was "Holy Shit!" I was shocked. Not the news I expected to hear, and yet somehow not completely unexpected news either.

The daughter of gospel's Cissy Houston, Whitney came out of nowhere and blew everybody away with her enormous natural talent. She had "IT" in abundance. Long, lithe, drop-dead gorgeous, Houston broke onto the music scene back in 1985 after meeting her mentor, Clive Davis, gracing the world with the power of her dazzling, impeccable voice. A true gift from the Gods.

I submit as evidence this isolated track of her hit, How Will I Know.

She hit the ground running with hit after hit, amassing accolades and awards faster than the female species amasses shoes. Her musical triumphs followed by movie star success cemented her status as Diva. She was unstoppable. Who can ever forget her incredible performance of the Star Spangled Banner before the 1991 Super Bowl. The most ridiculously difficult anthem to sing, and yet Houston delivered it effortlessly.

She was on top of the world.

Then in the 1992 she married Bobby Brown... and her world started to implode. Her life became a train wreck of drug abuse and domestic strife all played out in the public eye. She became a joke, a has-been, a foot note of her former life.

It's heartbreaking how one decision in ones life can break it at the knees, bringing about total ruination. Her life was that of Greek Tragedy, fallen by misplaced loyalty, addiction and hubris. A sad ending for someone whose talent transcended the paradigm.

NPR's Ann Powers expresses it perfectly.

That Houston died mere steps from that stage, only to be discovered by her bodyguard in one of the thousand hotel rooms where she'd laid her head, is strange poetry. I've long thought that someone should write an opera about this brash, brilliant woman, born a child of soul and raised to womanhood within the heart of crossover pop. She broke hearts, and was herself broken. She suffered, but not in her music, which even at its saddest was grounded in a sense of dignity and the determination to transcend. She defined a style that so many would adopt, yet her talent was unique.

She was an original with a crazy, boat load of talent, who sadly pissed it away. We all make choices in our lives. I hope she was beginning to make wise ones in hers. We'll never know. What we do know is, man... she had an amazing set of pipes.

You can read Ann Powers post in its entirety here.

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