Tribute to Whitney: Finding Voice

Last night I was watching Friends DVDs all night, while leafing through Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal, indexing the recipes on my computer database. I started this project at approximately 7:30 PM, after eating fried chicken and iceberg lettuce salad with Gorgonzola dressing.

As a result, I missed any contact with the outside world, breaking news scrawling across screens. I didn’t log onto Facebook, and any Google searches would have been food related. It wasn’t until Curt got home at 12:30 AM that I heard the news: I started the conversation by saying, “Did you hear…?” And he said, “oh yeah…wait, you go first.” “What were you going to say?” “No, you tell yours first.” “Did you hear that the Bucs are hiring the Giants quarterbacks coach to be their new offensive coordinator?” I guess I did open Firefox at some point – but just checked my Google Reader, which is littered with football news, a remnant of my (winning) fantasy football season. I thought Curt would be thrilled at the news – given that his team is about to get a major upgrade in the coaching department. He responded with, “oh, that’s cool.” “Okay,” I said, thinking he must have been distracted, “what was your news?” “Whitney Houston’s dead.”

This morning, I keep scouring Facebook and YouTube for videos of Whitney. Friends posting their favorite videos of the singer, memories of teasing and perming their hair in the 80s. I posted the Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner performance, as it’s iconic and watching it again gave me chills. But I didn’t watch the performance live – I was 10 years old at the time, living in Canada, and not watching team sports.

My memory of Whitney comes from The Bodyguard and karaoke tapes. Whitney was beloved by the Filipino community – every young aspiring pop singer in Winnipeg’s Filipino community in the 1990s admired Whitney and attempted to sing her power (and with Whitney, I really mean power) ballads. My sister Almira sang “I Will Always Love You” at a concert during that time period. The karaoke accompaniment gives you a soft note to start, barely audible to the audience, just enough so you can start the mainly a capella intro. When she sang “If I…”, the audience burst into applause and cheers.

We had karaoke tapes of all her ballads: One Moment in Time, The Greatest Love of All, I Will Always Love You, Run to You, I Have Nothing. At the time, my pop musical tastes hadn’t extended past what Almira (six years older than me) and her friends listened to. Rock, alternative rock, grunge hadn’t made an impact on my ears yet.

I remember closing the door to my room, turning on one of the karaoke tapes, and belting my 10-11 year old heart out. In these moments, I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, could sing off-key (though tried desperately not to), could sing as loud as I wanted. In that tiny room, my first bedroom of my own, I wasn’t auditioning. I loved the way I sounded. I stretched my voice past its limits. I was always exhausted after these sessions, jealous of Whitney’s effortlessness.

Years later, I would find my range, a comfortable set of octaves that my voice sits in. I don’t sing as often as I’d like, don’t try as hard to emulate the soaring talents: I leave the music to others. Instead, I write. And when I’m brave, I find my voice. As I scour the Internet reports, the Twitter feeds of the musicians who cite Whitney as an influence, read articles about tonight’s Grammy’s and the scrambling that must be going on at this late hour to include tributes to Houston, I think of the extraordinary impact that her singular voice had on a generation of musicians. Today I’m grateful for those who don’t “walk in anyone’s shadows,” for the voice that encouraged us to find our own.

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2 thoughts on “Tribute to Whitney: Finding Voice

  1. Thanks for this tribute. Got tears at the end. In the wake of her death, it seems that my singular experience as a little girl of singing Whitney to myself as a private power moment of self-love, self-soothing, and enjoyment, in fact, was universal. She really did a mark.

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