Did we fail Whitney?… now I know some will jolt back in disbelief that I would even pose such a question. “We are all adults” some will say. We all know the consequences of addiction and/or reckless behavior, right? But could any of us fathom what it feels like to be that vessel of something so powerful, that divine. A visual artist once explained me that some succumb to substance abuse because part of living as an artist is simply learning how to manage your art, learning to contort your life around your own talents. He said some struggle to control the rampant flow of ideas that impede their everyday thought. What if any of us had to live our lives just as that, in service of music, not as a person just a voice. I’ve heard some great artist of the world describe that same surreal experience when true inspiration is conceived, that its not by them but instead runs through them from some divinely auspicious source. They are in fact chosen.
Whitney Houston was a part of the Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder trifecta of popular records played at my parents house. I remember their shiny vinyl covers stacked in metal milk crates that hung around my childhood home like vintage art. On Whitney’s first album cover she favored my mother with soft features and a toasted brown skin tone. I think about the songs that consoled me as a pre-K student scared crying running into my mother’s arms. Some of those songs to me are as soothing as my own mother’s voice creating the sound track of my childhood.
So did we fail her? was she just a conduit and her music our emotional currency that we used up so freely without readily being mindful of the painstaking creative process. There were those songs where she ripped her chest open and poured out emotion so visceral that it helped to heal us all. Did We let her down? I have to ask myself and what will it take as a community to protect & preserve our elders and the conveyers of our arts and divine truths. In any civilized culture there are artists who are beholden to our aesthetic and this slender little Black girl from Jersey was born wrapped up in more transformative power than she ever asked for…How often have we watched this slow suicide, spiraling down the same path that we’ve seen before with our Black celebrity. How many more times as a community can we watch it happen? I hold myself partially responsible however I didn’t write this to blame anybody but impart to reconcile the growing collective guilt in this individualized world.
Whitney Houston was a woman who loved hard…and it consumed her to the core. Her voice was a vehicle for inspiration grasping a hold of our hopes & humanity. She was our pristine picture of Black womanhood and has now passed on to another place. There is often much discussion about an artist’s responsibility to their culture/community but today I turn that question around and ask what is the responsibility of the community to our artists? How can we do better to maintain our national treasures and protect the aesthetic that keeps our culture afloat. Whitney poured her life into her music and through that medium she lives on perhaps serving to heighten our collective awareness as we move forward. Lest we continue to stand idly by as our icons succumb to the pressures of the world and can no longer perform the delicate balancing act of being a human being and a vessel.