“What would Whitney want?” That’s the question Robyn Crawford, Houston’s lifelong friend and former business partner, kept asking herself before deciding to speak out about their special connection for the first time since the singer’s untimely death in 2012. No one spent more time with Houston in the prime of her life than Crawford. Now, in her memoir, A Song for You: My Life With Whitney Houston (Dutton), she pays tribute to the deeply intimate bond they shared.
“When I met Whitney, it wasn’t like our friendship was a sexual or physical thing,” Crawford says of the time their paths first crossed in 1980, when the two were teen summer-camp counselors in East Orange, New Jersey. “But there was a depth and a connection that we had, and it was beautiful.” Their relationship quickly blossomed into a friendship so precious to Crawford that she is only now ready to set the record straight on exactly what she and Houston meant to each other. “Ours was a bond that deepened over time, and the friendship never stopped growing,” she tells ESSENCE’s Yes, Girl! podcast hosts in their exclusive interview.
Since Houston’s passing, many have tried to tell her story. Documentaries and television interviews attempted to piece together the untold mysteries surrounding the legendary entertainer’s eventful life and tragic death from an accidental drowning, with drugs and heart disease being factors. The world heard from her ex-husband, singer Bobby Brown, family members, friends and acquaintances, but Crawford’s voice was noticeably missing from the conversation. She has refused to comment publicly on the singer’s life and on their close personal friendship—until now.
But why now? Because Crawford wants Houston’s fans to know and love the Whitney she remembers best. “I never had a vision of speaking publicly about my life with Whitney,” she explains. “I had to move forward. But in the years after her death, everything I heard and read about her was concerning, troubling, and I just felt, why is it all so negative? That was the tone. Here was this woman with this extraordinary legacy, this amazing talent, and all anyone can talk about is the negative.”
Houston’s death shattered Crawford. Then fresh tragedy struck when the singer’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, passed away at 22 in July 2015. With so much pain surrounding Houston’s legacy, Crawford felt she owed it to her friend to clear up the public misconceptions about their personal lives and to tell Houston’s truth as only she could. That’s when she began putting their story on paper, starting from the beginning.
Crawford remembers the moment in 1980 when she first laid eyes on a vibrant 16-year-old Houston, whose “peachy brown skin” was so radiant that it stopped her in her tracks. They instantly bonded and started hanging out after their counselor jobs were done each day. For the next 22 years, they were inseparable friends and sometime roommates who shared the fast life of fame and together made once-in-a-lifetime memories across the globe.
So deep was Houston’s regard for Crawford that their personal and professional lives soon became one. Crawford—who began as Houston’s assistant and later co-managed the singer’s company, Nippy, Inc.—was instrumental in guiding her career from its early stages up to her megastardom days. In her account, Crawford reveals that Houston, who was far more private than many might suspect, had asked her to help manage her affairs because Crawford was the person whose love for her she trusted the most.
Crawford says she no longer feels bound by the constraints of the past. This is evident in the book when she discloses that their ever-changing relationship was, at times, romantic. She vividly describes the intimacy of their first kiss and the sexual encounters they shared. “Our friendship was deep because we were open,” she says. “We were bare; we were naked with our feelings. We didn’t think about what we were saying, we just said it.”
But nothing lasts forever. In 2000, Crawford grew concerned about how things were unfolding in Houston’s life, and she began to feel that she could no longer support her in the way she had before. Crawford also desperately wanted to prove that she could swim on her own, so she resigned from the singer’s management team and moved forward with her life, determined to establish an independent career. Afterward she reconnected with a former love, Lisa, whom she had met while working with Houston on The Bodyguard. The two later married and became the parents of twins.
But despite Crawford’s exit from Houston’s inner circle, she never let go of her memories and the special relationship she shared with the singer. Although there was more distance between her and Houston after she left Nippy, Inc., and moved out of state, the two still talked and never stopped being friends, despite what was reported in the press. And that supposed beef between her and Houston’s ex, Bobby Brown? It didn’t exist. “When Whitney chose to partner with someone, I was honored to be the maid of honor at her wedding,” says Crawford. “I didn’t know Bobby before the wedding. We never really got a chance to know each other. But what I will say is that she told me she loved him.”
Even after Houston was married, their close friendship continued, Crawford insists. For the record, she adds, “Bobby and I were not squaring off in Everlast shorts and boxing gloves. That never happened. I was still in the same spot where Whitney always wanted me to be. Bobby never approached me personally or said anything to me about the rumors of our relationship. Not once. But I watched him make a mess of her trail. I wasn’t competing with him for anything. I was her friend. And he could have been a better friend, too.”
One of the most moving passages in the memoir comes when Crawford admits she always believed that she and Houston would have more time together on this earth. “I thought we would team up again,” she says. “I was always there for her. She knew that. There is no doubt in my mind that she knew how much I loved and cared for her and would do anything for her.” Even now, Crawford still feels Houston’s spirit with her. And perhaps this is her final gift to her friend—an open window into the best parts of their relationship and Houston’s undying passion for her music. Says Crawford of her long-awaited memoir, “I hope that I set us both free.”
Listen to Crawford share more intimate memories of her time with Houston on ESSENCE’s Yes, Girl! podcast (above), wherever you get your podcasts.