And as I type I remember my first and only encounter with Whitney back when BET celebrated its 25th anniversary with a primetime tv special, taped at the Shrine Auditorium. Whitney was the secret surprise guest presenter who did a tribute to Luther Vandross. I was assigned to be her "talent assist" for the night.
Basically the job of talent assistant entailed this: ANYTHING Whitney or her "people" needed from the show producers, that request would be relayed to me. I then would relay it to the RIGHT people in production or do it myself, which ever was quickest and most effective.
When I was informed of my assignment for the evening, honestly my heart sank. My first thought was the rumors and reports of her bad behavior. So I literally prayed something like, "God, you know me and you know Whitney. Help us both to do the job we came to do without any problems or issues."
Hours later as Whitney got out of her limo, I was introduced as her assistant. I said "Hi!" Whitney said nothing. That pretty much set the tone for the first part of the evening as I walked ahead of her to lead her to dressing room. But while I walked ahead, Whitney et al took a detour without me. I didn't even realize it until I arrived at my destination and looked behind me. Celebrities ditching assigned talent assists and escorts without warning happens often, but this time it was a blessing in disguise.
Despite my prayer, there was of course an issue with the dressing room---someone had already occupied it! That someone was from another performer's camp. It took a "minute" and a security escort to remove the individual, but all was worked out. "Whew!"
Once Whitney was in the room, her pubs and I talked outside of it about the show. At the appointed time I led them, Whitney, Bobby Kristina, and her friends backstage. Whitney was to appear after John Legend's performance. As we watched him perform the musical tribute to Luther, I looked to my left to see Whitney openly weeping. And no, it wasn't the pretty girl cry! I immediately moved to find tissue, but her publicists provided plenty.
How unexpected! For several minutes the cold facade of "diva" dropped and she was no longer a celebrity in my eyes, but simply a woman mourning the loss of a dear friend. Right then my perception of the "diva" Whitney Houston changed in a good way. Though she dissed me at our introduction, seeing her express that kind of raw emotion for another person really brought home the fact that celebrity doesn't shield you from pain--often it magnifies it.
When she hit stage just a few minutes later, a dry-eyed, smiling Whitney had emerged to please the standing ovation crowd. There was absolutely no hint of what had happened just minutes before. She pulled off her part of the Luther tribute without another sniffle or quivering voice then left stage to adoring applause.
And now several years later, here I sit, reflecting on that night and the woman with "The Voice" that inspired millions to sing--a voice that will never be replaced in the hearts of her fans, friends, and family. Like so many, I was rooting for her, not just as an entertainer, but as a person that was overcoming much. For a brief moment I got to see a side of her most didn't and seeing it changed my opinion of her and my notion of celebrity in general.
So rest in peace Whitney, we WILL always love you. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world, you had the power not only to inspire and entertain, but also heal with your voice. Now you and Luther can sing forever on the other side. Sincere condolences to the Houston family.