It took me a while before I became a Whitney Houston fan.
Unfortunately for Houston, when she made her debut, Janet Jackson was also burning up the charts. As a middle schooler, Jackson appealed more to me with her one dangling earring, intricate dance moves, and defiant lyrics of “Control.” What young person didn’t yearn to sing that to their parents face 🙂
Whitney seemed too sophisticated to me with her ballroom gowns, huge ballads, and classic beauty. Although really, she and Janet were just a few years apart in age.
Then hip hop and r&b music merged bringing in a new wave of black female singers like Mary J Blige, Faith Evans, Toni Braxton, etc., pushing Whitney’s style even further into the background.
As I got older, I started appreciating Whitney more. Ironically, it was right when things seemed to be falling apart for the singer. The controversial headlines about possible drug addiction and a rocky marriage to Bobby Brown.
The Lifetime movie “Whitney” (directed by Angela Bassett) airs this weekend. The film attempts to address what was the “downfall” of Houston. Was it her conservative mother? Pressures from her record label? Bobby Brown? Possible struggles with her sexuality? I guess we will never know. In any case, it was hard to see such a beautiful woman self-destruct before my eyes.
Despite her troubles, Houston will forever be remembered to me for her voice/”The Voice.”There has been an attempt to marginalize her accomplishments due to her drug usage. Yet (white) folks will cut you if you say anything bad about Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, or River Phoenix. All died from drug related problems.
A lot of celebrities have dealt with the drug demon, but we can still recognize their talents. There should be no exception for Whitney Houston.
Rest in peace.
June is Black Music Month (BMM). I am dedicating the blog this week to all things black music.
“African-American Music Appreciation Month is a celebration for African-American Music every year in the month of June in the United States. It was originally started as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter, who on June 7, 1979, decreed that June would be the month of black music. Since then, presidents have announced to Americans to celebrate Black Music Month. For each year of his term, President Barack Obama has announced the observance under a new title, African-American Music Appreciation Month.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_Music_Appreciation_Month
Since the early 2000’s, I have been side-eying contemporary r&b. I am a 70’s/80’s baby, so I grew up with amazing black female soul singers like Chaka Khan, Aretha (she’s been around every decade 😉 Patti Labelle, Anita Baker, Angela Winbush, etc. There has been an agenda to destroy the black female soul singer. We have a few holding on in mainstream r&b (e.g. Fantasia), but overall the black female soul singer has been weeded out.
Sadly, for black women singers today, they are encouraged to assimilate to white standards of beauty and sell sex/their bodies. I have younger women of color feminists friends who talk to me about “respectability politics” when I lament about how oversexualized black female singers are today. I hear them. I think it’s a thin line of these women genuinely being empowered in their sexuality vs. being forced to by record companies/to stay popular.
So, I don’t buy much mainstream r&b music, these days. However, I am loving African female artists. They are bringing the soul, funk, and creativity that is being denied to American black female singers.
I recently found out about the music of Iyeoka Okoawo.
“Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo is a Poet and Recording Artist, a 2010 TED Global Fellow, the 2nd place 2009 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, and a spokesperson for the Amenawon Foundation. Daughter of Nigerian-born parents who both hold Doctorate degrees from Boston University, Iyeoka was a practicing pharmacist before launching her career as a poet, singer, activist and educator. In her native Esan language, Iyeoka means “I want to be respected.” By channeling her culture and ancestral influences, she delivers an authentic and inspiring message of healing through accessing the power of the moment.”http://www.iyeoka.com/bio/
Updated to say: Iyeoka is actually Nigerian-American, so there’s still hope for American black female singers. heh.
Check out my favorite cut from Iyeoka…