We don't know why Whitney Houston died; toxicology report due in a few weeks
LZ Granderson: Her struggles with addiction over the past years were well-known
But nobody matched her voice, he writes, and nobody can sing a Whitney song
LZ says Houston's tragedy is a prime example of money not buying happiness
Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.
I had just pulled up in front of my hotel in Los Angeles when I heard Whitney Houston had died at the Beverly Hilton, just a few blocks from where I was staying. I sat motionless in the car for a brief moment, not in shock, but temporarily paralyzed by a profound sense of sadness.
She was only 48.
Later that night, a large crowd of people hovered outside the site of her passing, some holding lit candles, others holding one another. It may be weeks before we officially know what happened. The autopsy is complete, but the toxicology report is still pending.
But many of us have already drawn our own conclusions based upon Whitney’s well-documented – and sometimes mocked – struggle with drug addiction. I hope she can at last have the peace that seemed to avoid her over the last 15 years of her life: the marriage to Bobby Brown, the reality show, the erratic interviews and appearances, and the heartbreaking live performances that served only to remind us that her voice, The Voice, was gone, and Whitney was lost.
We all could see she needed help – but only she could seek it.
That’s why if you didn’t get goosebumps during Jennifer Hudson’s Grammy tribute on Sunday, you may not be fully human. Hudson sang “I Will Always Love You,” in a lower key than Whitney’s signature version, but with a delivery that served a much higher purpose. We need to say our goodbyes and Hudson’s performance was part of this process.
Buying Whitney’s music is another, as evidenced by the presence of all of her classic singles currently occupying the iTunes chart.
“The Greatest Love of All,” mostly for the line,”Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” So prophetic, so empowering. I can’t help but think if she had lived by those words she might never have lost her magnificent voice. She might still be with us today.
All weekend long, we’ve seen clips of her Diane Sawyer interview from 2002, in which she talked about her struggles. Many of us were not very kind afterward, joking about her “crack is wack” line, and wondered how someone so beautiful and talented, rich and famous, could struggle. From the outside looking in, it looked as if she had it all. If there’s ever been an example of money not buying happiness, the Whitney Houston tragedy would be it.
There was a moment when no other singer on the planet possessed her range, power and vocal clarity. True, she didn’t always record the most groundbreaking material. In fact, an argument can be made that the arrangement of some of her most successful singles epitomized the radio-friendly manufacturing that choked a lot of creativity out of late ’80s music. And certainly the rise of grunge and hip-hop in the ‘90s served as a rebellion against the numbing sound of that predictability.
But there was always room for Whitney because her voice made room. Two of her biggest hits – “The Greatest Love of All” and “I Will Always Love You” – were originally recorded by George Benson and Dolly Parton, two very successful artists.
But once Whitney got hold of those songs they became hers. So, with all due respect to Adele and Hudson and all the other powerhouse vocalists today, it’s doubtful anyone can take a Whitney Houston song and make us forget it is a Whitney Houston song.
In fact, the kiss of death for any contestant competing on “American Idol” or any of its copycats is to try to sing Whitney. I don’t know why they even try. The competition is tough enough without the added, self-imposed pressure of trying to reach a bar so high that many use the word “angelic” to describe it.
If I remember correctly, there was a time in which the angels themselves would gather round to hear Whitney sing.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.