Saturday, July 21, 2018

Whitney Houston and Context: Her Sports & Spirituality Moment

Since my good friend and I found out the movie "Whitney" was coming to the silver screen, we have been planning to pay our tribute and express our love to a woman we both believe has the single greatest voice in America—maybe ever: Whitney Houston. Another friend was surprised by our enthusiasm. He said, "You want to see that movie? Why? We know how this story ends." Make no mistake about it, the story of Whitney Houston is a tragic one, and the film doesn't hide the difficult and often dark truth. 
As written in Rotten Tomatoes
Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With over 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in several blockbuster movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48. The documentary feature Whitney is an intimate, unflinching portrait of Houston and her family that probes beyond familiar tabloid headlines and sheds new light on the spellbinding trajectory of Houston's life. Using never-before-seen archival footage, exclusive demo recordings, rare performances, audio archives and original interviews with the people who knew her best, Oscar®-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald unravels the mystery behind "The Voice," who thrilled millions even as she struggled to make peace with her own troubled past.
"Whitney" was much heavier than I anticipated. I was prepared for the drugs, the questions about her sexuality, and even the abuse. I wish I could tell you the victories—those brilliant moments, the rising of her shining star— trump the losses, but that's not possible. No, not when the story concludes with not one, but two lives that ended too soon. Whitney died on February 11, 2012 and her daughter Bobbi Kristina died but three years later.  So the question remains:  Why see"Whitney?" For me, though Macdonald unravels "the mystery behind the Voice" (though I think that is overstating it), what I gained is something I am always seeking: context. 

For example, playing golf today, I was chatting away between strokes, when my friend said to me, "Anne, I got the context, let's get to the story." I laughed, smiled and responded right back "I love context." I know I give too much of it—can that be a bad thing?!  In this case, learning more context behind the female singer whose music underscored my young life, made me appreciate her—even more, and feel the loss—much more.

For Whitney Houston,  the success of "Bodyguard" took her fame into another stratosphere. However, what so many Americans revere, cherish and still recall is her performance at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Whitney was not the halftime show. No, she sang the Star Spangled Banner before the game. She did not even practice. This concert was a Sports and Spirituality moment, par excellence. 

In light of current events, the state of race relations and the significance of how athletes and others respond to our national anthem today, I was fascinated by the context of Houston's landmark performance in Tampa Stadium. I learned that she was "inspired by Marvin Gaye's loose, jazzy interpretation of the anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game." The movie explains quite thoughtfully how this song has always challenged Blacks and therefore Gaye's version, in the setting of professional sports, serves to challenge and mediate, raise questions and still unite. As written in Cannes Festival Review, 2018, she took a song for which African-Americans had ambivalent feelings and reshaped it to highlight the theme of freedom. Coming at an especially patriotic time for the country during the first Persian Gulf War, the performance had enormous resonance and still brings tears today." Perhaps for more reasons now than we might know.
Macdonald included Gaye's performance for all to see before revisiting Houston's rendition. Brilliant. Gaye's music and his voice illuminate what he shares in this video clip (please watch). He said, "I felt signing with that type of music in the background gave me inspiration. I asked God, that when I sang it, would He let it move me and souls." It did. It still does. Thank you, Marvin Gaye.

Houston commented on her own performance. She said, "If you were there, you could feel the intensity. You know, we were in the Gulf War at the time. It was an intense time for a country. A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting. I could see, in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up, you know, and I just felt like this is the moment. And it was hope, we needed hope, you know, to bring our babies home and that's what it was about for me, that what I felt when I sang that song, and the overwhelming love coming out of the stands was incredible."

Part of me could see and feel those very same sentiments: fear, hope, intensity as well prayers in the theater where we—her beloved fans— gathered. A diverse crowd, it wasn't easy to revisit 
the race riots that transpired in Houston's hometown of Newark, NJ. We all hold (some) fear of where our country is headed. We hope that those who have been abused might learn from her example. No child, no human being deserves to be taken advantage of. Ever. A child must share the wrong with a trusted adult. I hope and pray children have but one such person. Intensity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Whitney's voice had an intensity like no other. But as the movie reveals, the intensity of life on the road, the fame, the money led to jealousy, infidelity, and mistrust. So....prayer? Whitney Houston was a woman of prayer. She grew up in the Church and loved to sing Gospel music. And yet, the demons were many and the context of "Whitney" reveals to me they were too many. Fans often blame Bobby Brown as "the beginning of the end" but the truth of the matter is he was but one piece of this beautiful, though broken puzzle. Let's keep praying and as I truly believe, she lives on. her music does and probably always will.

Photo Credits

No comments:

Post a Comment