Sadly, Whitney Houston died this past Saturday 2/11/12 at age 48, the day before the Grammy’s. She had received six grammy awards in her life among a slew of other amazing awards and yet, she didn’t make it to this year’s big event. She didn’t make it to 49- that’s young.
It got me thinking: What is it to be a woman star in this country? Everyone rolls their eyes at the stars at the same time they follow them intently. Too much money and lots of drama to go with it- all wrapped up together. Is it different for women than it is for men to be famous? I would say yes, though men stars have also had their share of problems and chaos.
But what about Whitney?
Whitney’s mother is Cissy Houston, a Grammy Award–winning American soul and gospel singer who is now primarily a solo artist but had a successful career as a backup singer for Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, among others.
Her ex-husband is R&B singer-songwriter Bobby Brown who has also won a grammy.
Her cousins are Dione and Dee Dee Warwick and her God-mother is Aretha Franklin. Whitney began singing in the church choir when she was 11 years old. Sure, she had a lot of musical support, but did she also compare herself to all these other musicians?
Don’t we all do that? Even when we do something really well. Did Whitney compare herself to others or even to how she used to be?
Whitney Houston has been called a golden girl of the music industry. In 2009, the Guinness World Records cited her as the most-awarded female act of all time. From the 1980s through the 1990s, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists. She influenced many other singers, some to the point that they were accused at times of sounding just like her. Of course to have someone emulate you, they say, is the most intense form of flattery. Always a musician, she also moved onto the big screen where she starred in movies like “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale.”
She had a beautiful voice and for a while her image was flawless. She was sexy, but not sexualized.
I loved CNN iReporter Tessa Jackson’s quote. She said Whitney Houston was a “hero for Gen X black girls.” She said when she was “a black teenager going to a predominantly white high school in California, Whitney was my style icon and hero … She made me and other girls like me feel like we didn’t have to be blonde and blue-eyed to be beautiful and admired. I wish she knew how much she did for my and my friends’ self-esteem.”
Did Whitney Houston know that? You know what? I feel like she might not have. Obviously I didn’t know her, so I don’t know. But I do know this: It is hard to be alive in this world. It is hard to be a woman musician- women musicians have said that over and over again throughout time. It is hard to be famous even though sometimes it looks glamorous. And it is hard to be a woman and a role-model. All of these things combined- maybe she just couldn’t take it. And maybe she didn’t realize how much her life’s work meant to other women and other people. Sure, she knew, on some level, but did she really know? She persisted in the music business which is not an easy place for women and for a while she was winning, until it beat her.
By the end of her career, it was said her drug use was getting in the way, plummeting her self esteem and album sales. She admitted she had been abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her voice was affected as she was unable to hit the high notes she had once been admired for.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer in 2002, she said, “The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”
Looks like the worst enemy got the best of her.
In 2009, her album “I Look To You” debuted on the top of the charts, and eventually went platinum, but things started to go downhill. On a tour overseas, her voice was weak and unable to hit the high notes, causing some fans to walk out of her show.
Was the competition too much? She was already competing against some of the best musicians of her prime, then those of younger generations, and of course, her biggest competition, herself. Note to self: we cannot be enemies of ourselves. We should not be enemies to ourselves. We must work against the parts of ourselves that want to defeat us.
The full autopsy results haven’t come in, drowned in a bathtub, dead either before or after the water seeped into her lungs- we don’t know. People are asking, ‘what happened?’ Where did things go wrong? I get the questions, but I have two more that haven’t been asked. In memory of Whitney Houston, here they are-
Two important questions:
1. How can we support women to be amazing? How can we support women to be the absolute best they can be without putting them in a category that leaves them alone- so great they don’t need anyone, or better than everyone? We have to be able to support women fully on the path to be great and then once they are there.
2. What can we do to help women before it’s too late? Whitney is just an example. When women are hurt if they act out, it is often that they really act in. They hurt themselves. We must reach out to women who are hurting.
I don’t know what was going on with Whitney Houston and she was such a public figure that everyone wonders and talks about it. Obviously she was not able to cope. This is why she was abusing drugs and struggling with addictions. When people can’t cope, we need to reach out to them rather than run. When women are hurting and there are obvious signs, we need to ask what’s going on? Whether it’s domestic abuse or self harm, they need to be helped and supported as much as they will allow.
Now her 18 year old daughter, Bobbi Kristina, has been rushed to the hospital twice since her mother’s death. She also needs help coping. Hopefully she’ll work through her feelings about her mother’s death and keep living her life. She needs the support of other people right now, especially women.
Grrl Code: We need a network of people around each of us. People we can call or at least one friend, a god-mom, a comadre -someone who we can tell our deepest fears at the most awful and intense times and who will listen and help. Find people who will support you in being great- anyone who isn’t doing that, we don’t need. Gather your strong women. Be there for a friend when she needs it and have one who will be there for you.