Photo above by nico7martin via Flickr
As many of you know, Whitney Houston has recently passed away. A fact that forced me to think of my past with her; and yes, for those who are wondering, I did grow up with Whitney.
Like her, I too, am from Newark, NJ. I’ve also spent my youth in the comfort of the church, and I even had dreams of becoming a famous singer. But in all reality, this was not the basis of our relationship.
I was visiting my grandmother’s church; she was raised in her mother’s. I couldn’t sing to save my life; Whitney could sing people to tears. We both were born in the city of Newark, but decades would lie between our born-day.
So how did I grow up with Whitney? The answer is through her talent, with her successes, and alongside her headlining career (as a fan). But to be honest, I wasn’t raised simply on Ms. Houston’s voice, but rather her big-screen performances.
Houston’s movie debut’s peaked during the decade of the 90’s. Starting with The Bodyguard in 1992, and ending with The Prince of Egypt in 1998. Nevertheless, there are three that proved to be most influential in my life.
From the year of its premier, The Prince of Egypt was a film that gave me my first insight to the wonders of God. For those who may not know, the movie depicted the animated version of Moses’ life in becoming God’s messenger. A serious subject for an eight year old to admire, but still held a place in my heart being that is was 1) a cartoon, 2) educational and 3) a musical. If there is one way to capture an eight-year-olds’ attention, show them an animated film with song and dance involved, and you won’t hear from them for an hour. But scaling back to Houston’s affect on me; Prince of Egypt introduced me to the idol, when she and Mariah’s genius was displayed in the song “When You Believe.” I felt that movie, that message and that song more than I had felt any previous sermon given to me at that age. “Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill”- words sung by two women who truly believed in them. And till this day, I cannot hear that song without thinking back to my innocence, my first lesson of a biblical narrative, and my first belief in miracles.
Appreciative that Houston didn’t end the class there; I was reintroduced to Whitney at the age of twelve. She had taken on yet another role in a film paralleled with gospel: The Preacher’s Wife. Co-starring with Denzel Washington, Whitney portrayed a woman married to a reverend who had distanced himself from both her and his church. However, through the midst of him almost losing his faith, an angel is literally sent from Heaven to assist in rekindling the hope in his life once more. Again, the songs within this film are what I wish to draw upon, and the two that stuck out to me are “I Believe in You and Me” and “I Love the Lord.” Her acting skills were as inspiring as her vocal ones, and I will forever be amazed at how she went from soulful subtlety in the first song, to Godly gospel in the next. Whether you are Christian or otherwise, the love (in this movie) for family and something greater than yourself is enough to touch anyone with a heart. I know because it touched mine; and Whitney simply affirmed that fact.
The final film I felt had purpose was one that I wasn’t allowed to see until my becoming of age. Yes, Waiting to Exhale was rated ‘R,’ and when I finally saw it I felt at ease with growing up. The film followed the stories of four (female) best friends going through life’s struggle, turmoil’s, and heartbreaks. But in the end the movie left the viewer with a revelation that no matter what men may enter or leave your life, when “you got friends to wish you well, you’ll find a point when you will exhale.”
So there you have it. This was not a story meant to impress anyone, or even to connect with anyone. These are not words meant to critique Whitney, or grieve her passing. This was simply a story of how we grew up together, and how she made an imprint on my life.
“I love you, Whitney!” (in Whitney voice, with Bobby-love passion)