Few people can say they knew the late Whitney Houston as well as BeBe Winans. The celebrated gospel singer details his decades-long friendship with Houston in his new book, The Whitney I Knew, in stores today.
Winans leaves no stone unturned as he writes about the highs and lows in Houston’s life, from their decades-long bond to her rocky marriage to Bobby Brown and her highly publicized issues with drugs.
He spoke with ESSENCE.com about the Whitney Houston he knew, his thoughts on her family’s upcoming reality show, and the one thing we didn’t know about the late singer.
ESSENCE.COM: Was the process of writing about your friendship with Whitney Houston therapeutic?
BEBE WINANS: Yes — it was a way of embracing the pain. Knowing Whitney like I knew her, spending the time that I spent with her, it was just a unique relationship. In any relationship, if you invest you’ll become very close and you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You become so close that you can start a line and the other person will finish it. That was the kind of relationship we had. I will miss her just like I miss my brother Ronald. I think of her every day, but thoughts of her bring a smile to my face because of the wonderful memories that we made over the years.
ESSENCE.COM: In the book you touch on the darker times in Whitney’s life, specifically the drug abuse, but you don’t address any specific incident.
WINANS: I don’t know any other way to be but honest. Let me just say this: As much as it’s been reported, and as much time as I’ve spent with Whitney, I’ve never seen her use drugs or be high on anything. Now, having a close relationship, did we talk about any and everything? Yes, we talked about everything — the good, the bad and the ugly. I was able to talk to Whitney about my baggage and she was able to talk to me about hers. The beauty of it had everything to do with trust and knowing that our hearts were sanctuaries and everything that we said would stay right there. I tried to address a lot of things in the book. One of the things that I didn’t need to address much were the drugs because, why? They’ve been talking about that before she died, and you got the coroner’s report. One of the things I felt important about of the 28 years or so in knowing her, was to talk about the other 98 percent of who she was. And I hope I accomplished that in the book.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you think of the Houston family doing a reality show?
WINANS: When it comes to reality shows I have no thought at all.
WINANS: I don’t believe reality shows are reality. If you know there’s a camera in front of you then it’s not a reality. I was furious when Booby did that reality show and Whitney was a part of it. It’s just so untrue. Tell me you have hidden cameras in places that people don’t know about and you’re taping them. [Laughs] You might have to go to jail because they’ll sue you, but that’s a reality show.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you worried that Bobbi Kristina is doing the show for the wrong reasons?
WINANS: I think Bobbi Kristina is capable of making good decisions. I think she still needs to continue to walk through this because she suffered a devastating loss. They were very close — beyond just being mother and daughter — and so as she walks every day I think it will become clearer. You think a certain way at 18, 19… I mean, come on, you have a long time to evolve. So I believe in the wonderful person she is, and is going to be.
ESSENCE.COM: In the chapter “Don’t Blame Bobby,” you’re very honest about what you think of Bobby Brown. You feel they were unequally yoked and you mention a call from Vegas where Whitney wanted to elope.
WINANS: In that chapter I talk about the pact — I talked about it a little at her funeral. Whitney made me and CeCe make a pact that we would always be together on all the big decisions, and no matter what, we would be honest with each other. We said we were connected for the rest of our lives. [Whitney] decided that she was going to get married and me and CeCe had to be there or she wouldn’t do it. It sounds childish, but it was our reality. So when she called — well, others called to try to get me to come to Vegas on a whim — I said, “No, I’m not coming.” I blew up the plan for her [and Bobby] to elope and she called to tell me that. She knew that we had to have a talk. She said, “I know you want to talk to me so ask me.” [Laughs] It was so hilarious to me. We talked about every issue that I thought would be presented. She knew I didn’t think he was the right choice for many reasons, but at the same time, we both agreed that she was the one that was saying “I do.”
ESSENCE.COM: Share one thing we didn’t know about Whitney Houston.
WINANS: Whitney was very generous, but didn’t need her name displayed with her generosity. You might not know a lot about her philanthropy, but she was indeed a generous person. Whitney didn’t care about being famous. People also think she felt bad because her voice was gone. Not necessarily. Whitney wanted to go away and stop singing way before The Bodyguard. “I’m doing the Barbara Streisand — I’m retired and y’all ain’t gon’ see me but every now and then,” she would say. “Every 25 years I’ll come out and do three concerts and then go.” A lot of people say that she desired to be famous because of her beauty and incredible talent. She desired to be successful, but the desire to be famous was not who she was.
The Whitney I Knew, written with Timothy Willard, is out today.