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For the Love of Whitney: Gearing Up for 'Sparkle'

Regina R. Robertson gears up for Sparkle and wishes Whitney Houston a happy birthday. 

Today would have been her 49th birthday, and I so wish she were here to sing, celebrate and blow out the candles on her cake. Though it’s been six months now it’s still so eerie to speak of her in the past tense. I still can’t believe she’s gone. 

As I’ve stated many times before, I was — and still am — a devoted Whitney Houston fan. I loved her from the very first time I heard her voice bellowing from the car radio. I’d seen her in concert many times, and during one particular performance, she had a sore throat, which could only be detected when she spoke to the audience between sets. But when she sang those songs and hit those notes, it was pure magic. I remember being completely blown away. Because of moments like that, I tend to think of her as she was in the beginning: always in superb voice, gorgeous, full of life. She was an incomparable talent. 

I was sitting on my couch, thinking of what I’d wear to the Clive Davis party, when my mother called and told me to turn to CNN. As much as I didn’t want to believe her when she said that they were reporting that Whitney had died, watching “breaking news” unfold on cable news is always a very sobering situation. I immediately called and texted colleagues and friends and we were all in complete shock. Within minutes, I was in tears. I never made it to the party. How could there be a party?

In the days and weeks following her funeral — which I watched, live, in its entirety, and cried and cried — I watched her videos and, of course, listened to her albums over and over again. I DVR’d both The Bodyguard and The Preacher’s Wife, which were in heavy rotation. I also watched her 2009 two-parter with Oprah again, as well as that now-infamous Diane Sawyer interview from 2002, just hoping to find more insight, more clues, something. I’d always hoped the best for her; that she’d be okay, not so much as “Whitney Houston” but just as Whitney — mother, daughter, sister, friend, woman.

Next Friday, Sparkle hits theaters, and while I’m excited to finally see the movie, I feel like I’ll also be sad to watch her in her last performance. It’s just so final, you know?  But as the film’s director, Salim Akil, shared during our interview this summer, Whitney would have been happy with the film. “What I know is that in a short period of time, I met a woman who was beautiful — physically and spiritually,” he began. “We had great conversations about what she wanted to accomplish with this movie. She loved the script and the best way for us to honor her is to honor what she OK’d. She was excited about this project.”

So, before I get all misty during the movie next week, as I know I will, I shall honor Whitney, today, as I always do. I’ll start by listening to her debut album a couple of times, then I’ll alternate between hits from Whitney, I’m Your Baby Tonight and My Love Is Your Love. Then I’ll listen to The Bodyguard soundtrack, because “Queen of the Night” always lifts my spirits. But knowing me, I’ll just keep going back to her gorgeous rendition of “For the Love of You,” which always seems to get stuck on repeat.

Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE.  Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.