You can't deny her impact; Whitney Houston remembered
It was a Saturday night at the end of 90’s in the Metropole Hotel in MacCurtain St. The main ballroom was heaving as Trevor Nelson of MTV and fellow Londoner DJ Swing played the biggest hip-hop and r&b hits of the day. The Southern soul and disco festival had attracted big crowds to Cork and at the time soul and r&b were more popular than ever. For the last track, with the whole room singing along to Whitney Houstons “My Love is your love”, Trevor Nelson to break an unwritten rule from club DJ’s by requesting Swing to spin the tune again. “If it’s nice, we play it twice” he explained, and the crowd went crazy, singing the song in unison!
It had been an unlikely journey in many ways, as only months before the music industry had been writing off Whitney Houston and had been cynical about her use of currently fashionable music producers for her latest project, which was basically meant to be a glorified greatest hits. Houston, a huge pop star since the mid 80s who had paved the way for many of the ladies taking the charts by storm, was not meant to be crashing the non stop r&b party that she helped create. Her music since the start of her career had been more syrupy and middle of the road than the more street orientated hip-hop influenced music that now dominated, but this new album changed everything.
No one could ever doubt her influence and as a black woman no one had made as much strides in the pop world since maybe Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin. Ironically, those two soul legends had to streamline their sound into something slightly more wholesome to give them an impact in the 80’s, a time when black music favoured more polished sounds than the funk and soul of the 60’s and 70’s. Whitney had served a rich apprenticeship as a backing singer for the likes of Chaka Khan, but by 1985 ballads and middle of the road pop were the order of the day as she released her debut. I’ve never been that enamoured by the massive pop hits Whitney subsequently created for many years as it wasn’t to my personal taste and was often over-produced, but you can’t deny her abilities and that voice was simply amazing.
By the time Wyclef, Rodney Jerkins and Missy Elliot started working with her, she had married bad-boy Bobby Brown and seemed tired of her squeeky clean image. Ironically, the well publicised troubles made for more interesting song-writing and grittier music, gaining respect of soul fans too. We all know how the sad story unravelled but that terrific album was followed by some sublime moments since, most notably on the Raphael Saadiq produced “Fine”, a huge track for myself over the years. In recent years, it was clear that her music career was being increasingly marginalized, but to her credit, the Alicia Keys penned “Million Dollar Bill” serves a fine epitaph to a voice that will be played on radio forever. That night in the Metropole was special for everyone in attendance, and Whitney Houston was a rare kind of artist who helped create these special moments in all sorts of settings to all sorts of people over her 30 plus year music career. She died young like so many others, but very few artists have made such an impact.
May she Rest in Peace.
This article appeared originally in my Downtown column of last weeks Cork Evening Echo