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Real Talk: What Whitney Meant to a Little Black Girl

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Whitney Houston Soultrain 1
I didn’t believe it. I’d called to check-in with CBW, my significant other, to see what time we were going to see Denzel in Safe House on Saturday night. He answered my question with a question: “Is Whitney Houston dead?!”

Huh?

CBW said he saw it on Twitter. I immediately dismissed it. Twitter kills off everyone; last week Eddie Murphy and Drake were dead. CBW insisted this just might be real. I Googled to prove him wrong.

The AP headline read “Whitney Houston, dead at 48.”

NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! This is officially the worst Black History Month ever. First, Soul Train’s Don Cornelius, and now Nippy!

I don't have a personal Whitney Houston story, which I think I’m supposed to have on hand when charged with the task of writing about a recently deceased singer-actress-icon and the most awarded female act of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. On Twitter, I read Nelson George remembering Whitney's first performance of "You Give Good Love" at a Bottom Line showcase. He described her voice as "clear as mountain air." Joan Morgan recalled hearing her live for the first time at the Paradise Garage where Whitney was the opening act. (Morgan can't remember who actually headlined the show.) And then there was Aliya King, a native of Whitney's home state of New Jersey, recalling, "Whenever Whitney performed nearby, she reserved [tickets] and provided [transportation] for hometown kids. Errytime."

I didn’t have the privilege of interviewing Whitney, seeing her perform live or being justthisclose to greatness. My Whitney memories come at a distance, but they're no less meaningful to me. Like so many '80s babies, I sang "Greatest Love of All" with my class at an elementary school graduation. Forgive me for being too young to remember the first time I heard “You Give Good Love,” “All at Once,” “Saving All My Love for You,” and “How Will I Know,” the other No. 1 singles off her debut album, Whitney Houston, in 1985. I was 6.

But by the time her sophomore album Whitney launched in 1987, I was all the way cued in. I stared at my TV screen -- mesmerized, really -- watching Whitney belt about wanting to “feel the heat” as she danced with somebody who loved her. Who was this beautifully Black woman -- rail-thin, Spandex-clad and big-weaved -- blowing that gigantic voice from that lithe frame?! I was a fan for life. And if I hadn’t been, I would have been indoctrinated into the fanhood via my mother, who, in a momentous act, switched her Saturday morning clean-the-house music from Luther Vandross to Whitney.

If I could, I’d go on at book-length listing my virtual encounters with Whitney: being awed by her performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1991 at the Super Bowl, where she set a new, not yet exceeded bar for how the national anthem is sung; celebrating her 1992 marriage to Bobby Brown, a merger of musical titans, one that long pre-dated Beyonce and Jay-Z; getting goosebumps the first time I heard the high note in “I Will Always Love You”; crying when she performed a  medley of “I Loves You Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You,” and “I Have Nothing” at the American Music Awards in 1994, a performance many credit among her top three. She belted out anthems of everlasting love as only she could: perfectly pitched and pop, but still steeped in the tradition of Sunday-morning gospel.

As we all wait to hear what exactly happened in the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel room where Whitney passed on, negative speculations and rumors will be abundant. But for right now, I’m asking you to focus on the positive. Put aside why Whitney is gone too soon and appreciate what she contributed, the mark she made, the inspiration she gave, and the legacy she's left behind.

RIP, Whitney.

What are your best Whitney Houston memories?
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