Sunday, 12 February 2012

Growing Up With Whitney : My Personal Tribute

Left: A young Whitney Houston Right: Me and my mommy

Early this morning, my mother wrote "Whitney passed away, Bicole" on my Facebook wall. There was no need for a last name, because I knew exactly who she was talking about. I was on a first name basis with Whitney Houston, and my heart sunk, not wanting to believe it. The message also hit hard because she used my ONLY nickname, "Bicole", a word that instantly transported me back to the years when Whitney Houston had the greatest impact on my life. 

My early years in Newark, New Jersey  and Whitney in the video "The Greatest Love of All"
I felt a connection with Whitney Houston, for the longest time, I was convinced that my mom looked exactly like her, and because of that she was transformed into a distant aunt.  In addition to my perceived family resemblance she came from New Jersey, born in Newark (my hometown) and raised in East Orange . Even after her fame she resided up near Livingston Mall, my favorite hangout. Whitney was famous but accessible to me, in my childhood mind.

Newark wasn't known for it's safety or for it's role models when I was growing up. To make sure I didn't get caught up like many of my peers, my family enrolled me in various extra curricular activities from Girl Scouts to ballet classes. I remember in the mid-80's the grand finale of one of my recitals included all the children singing "The Greatest Love of All". At that age I had no idea how positive and empowering the song was but I sang my heart out. I practiced for hours, singing in the mirror, while heading to school and before bed. Somehow those words, became my mantra and I know that it contributed to me believing that I could do anything. Those words written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed help inspire an entire generation of children, especially little black girls.

Note the crimps in the back of my head. Whitney inspired!

Towards the late 80's Whitney was on the rise, cleaning up at award shows and dominating magazine covers. I remember dancing to "I Want to Dance With Somebody", and rooting for her and for Newark at award shows. The only thing more hypnotic than her music was her style! Her huge hair and use of color and large bows,! Long before my knowledge of wigs and hair pieces I believed I could achieve that look. One year I had agreed with my mom that she would let me style my own hair for my school pictures. I intended to use her crimping iron to create a Whitney Houston-esque masterpiece. I had my handy sponge roller in the front to curl my makeshift "bangs". I started out crimping the rest of my hair but my arms started to get tired and I had to get to school. The resulting style: A tightly curled"bang", half up ponytail and the rest half down which was crimped. BOW! 

Whitney running thangs in the early 90's and me soaking it all in!
My 90's Whitney experience was ushered in by my favorite Whitney music video, "I'm Your Baby Tonight". This video was my everything. It had teleportation through different times and musical genres, three Whitneys during a nod to the Supremes, crazy magics, a motorcycle, and fire. I remember singing that song in school and getting the side-eye from teachers because to be honest, no twelve year old should know anything about being anyone's beloved during night hours. At the Superbowl in 1991 everyone was floored by Whitney's amazing performance of the National Anthem. She showed up in a track suit with a headband on and killed it! People from all walks of life watched in silent awe from their living rooms.

This became one of her greatest moments and of course the haters speculated that she lip-synced, but I knew, Whitney could have sung that with marbles in her mouth and still knocked it out of the park. hmph! Then her leading lady debut in The Bodyguard dropped. Newark's sweetheart kissing the Captain of 80's cool - Kevin Costner. Shut up!! To be honest the movie wasn't my favorite but the soundtrack was on repeat 24/7.  My grandfather, who also loved Whitney, had the CD.  We had a booming sound system (okay booming for the 90's) with massive speakers the size of nine year old, wired throughout the entire first floor of the house.I would play it almost daily before anyone else got home.

She helped me through heartbreaks and stuff. Real talk!

Fast forwarding to the next decade and my first heartbreak, the tune "It's Not Right but It's Okay" helped me through unrequited love and botched toddler relationships. Even though the song came out in 1999, it fuelled my road to recovery when love stuff didn't work out from college and beyond. The words, the imagery of a strong Houston in leather, and all the women behind her combined said, "Yeah clown, I'll get over it!" This song might have been the first song I truly understood when it came out. She was singing about womanhood, and I could finally relate.

It's a little over 12 hours since I heard the news and I am not taking it that well. I am more upset by this than the death of any other celebrity, including MJ (can I say that?). Even though I never met Whitney Houston she has been a part of my entire life. Her discography can be mapped to memories during my journey and in a way it has become a major element in it. Whitney was amazingly beautiful and a talented songstress and I will miss her and her voice for a long time. Thank you for the memories, Whitney!

Do you have any memories that you associate with Whitney and her music? Please share in the comments below.


  1. I never new my baby girl thought i looked like Whitney

    1. haha really? especially in your highschool graduation picture. i would look at it and be like, wow my mommy is whitney houston's sister LOL

    2. I just posted this, but screwed up, so here goes again!

      This is a great tribute, and I absolutely adore the obvious love between and "Whitney's sister"...that was a fabulous read.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, Nicole. My life was touched by Whitney in all of its phases. (I'm Your Baby Tonight is my favesies, too.) #hologram

    1. yes the hologram!! that video was amazing. i mean i dont really "get it" but she was rocking her leather jacket and jeans and did a little dancing. she was going big things

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think you said it all ... RIP Whitney xx

  4. This was a great tribute, Nicole. I'm still in shock. I grew up listening to Whitney- she and Mariah were my female voices. I'd sing their songs like they were my own. I can remember my 'My Name Is Not Susan' phase, where I'd play that song on repeat for days (my teachers would constantly call me Jeanette for some reason and that song was my way of dealing with it.)

    She was also my hairspiration. Man, I'd go into my hairdressers and ask for curls and a bob and loose waves, just like Whitney.

    I feel like all the good ones are dying. Not even good in terms of character, but good in terms of talent. I worry about who my child- if I ever have a child- will look to emulate, now that there's no Michael or Whitney.

  5. Awww, lovely tribute. Whitney's songs definitely take me back to my childhood. I love "I'm Every Woman". Off topic but I am dying with laughter that you 'scrambled' dude's face LOL. And the "Bow" thing made me laugh, too. You are definitely Jamaican.. :-)

  6. Great tribute, I'm still in shock that she's gone, I haven't been this affected by a celebrity passing since MJ. Like you her voice was always played throughout my childhood but it wasn't until "It's Not Right But It's Ok" was I mature enough to connect with the lyrics of her song. The song that always gets me though me though and now even more so with her passing is "One Moment In Time". RIP Whitney.

  7. I have many favorite Whitney Houston songs but my absolute favorite is "The Greatest Love of All." I remember when I was about 11 years old and attending the Girls Club for the summer and we were preparing for a talent show. The end performance required all of the girls to gather on the stage to sing this song. I remember we had to practice this song every day until the actual performance. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed how the music video emulates Whitney as a child performer who grows into a beautiful woman singer. The song is a true motivator of believing in yourself. Whitney's death has upset me more than any other celebrity as well. I mean I was sadden by the news of the late great MJ and Luther Vandross, but it just feels totally different with Whitney. Rest In Peace Whitney. You will forever be missed!

  8. Was stunned.
    I'm in SF, and got the news via text from Chicago, and was inspired to write:

    Where ever you are, remember to Be Well.
    I remember it well.

    I was between trying on a couple pair of shoes at REI, when the sales associate asked a question that stopped time momentarily: "Did you hear that Michael Jackson Died?!" His voice conveying the feeling of disbelief. The three of us--my partner, the salesman and I were stunned, and seemingly stuck in a moment that changed us.

    For a number of days following his death, Michael's music permeated space and time like I had never experienced before. It was surreal experience. With each song, I was inevitably transported to different points in my life; the music a sort of soundtrack that somehow impacted a couple decades of my life. I remember that night. I was one of many in the house that night, waiting to see the epic video Thriller. I was changed and most importantly, inspired.

    Before Michael, there was Don Cornelius. He died last week. As a result of his vision to have a place to spotlight Black talent, Mr. Cornelius inspired many youth like Micheal Jackson AND The Jackson Five.You either know, or have seen or heard of those BIG (bigger the better right?) Afro and wide bell-bottom wearing, hip-bumping Sistahs and Brothas that sang or danced their way into mainstream American Culture. With Mr. Cornelius' forward thinking, the space was granted, and we, again transcended space and time through his show Soul Train--a show that span multiple decades. You know, when we do it, We Do It Well!

    And now, Whitney....

    We've lost her.

    This time, I got the word through a text message. I was just as stunned, and stuck in momentary disbelief and time, as when I heard about Micheal.

    For me, Whitney was akin to that auntie that was old enough to babysit me early on, and later as we grew, the one I would have sat in the bathroom on the side of the tub or toilet (with the seat down), legs folded, as she made herself up for a date. She was not my aunt, but I'm sure she was that 'auntie' to someone.

    Because you will be rushed with media that will 'report' her many accomplishments, I will only speak of my proudest moments. Remember, "...and I will Always Love You."? Remember when she hit that note in the Body Guard? and how it sat in your soul? and how you may have had chills because you were transfixed by the visual and the sounds you weren't sure you were hearing? Do you remember? I do.

    Do you remember HER--Whitney's--Star-Spangled Banner?

    That moment: "..and the LAND of the Freeeeeeeee. And the Home of the Braa-aa-ave!"

    Now, you know.

    Whitney and Miss Patti LaBelle? Hands down; nothing comes close in my opinion.

    So we've lost her in body. However, Whitney Houston, along with countless others are there in Spirit.

    As you go forward, I say to you: Be Well in Spirit, where ever you may be.

    j. journey