It would be impossible to write a tribute to the great Whitney Houston on the fourth anniversary of her death without addressing the tragic irony of it being exactly one year since her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was taken off life support—just weeks after she was found unresponsive in the exact same way her mother was back in 2012. While the family didn’t give up hope that the then 21-year-old would pull through, Brown sadly met the same fate as her mom and passed away on July 26, 2015, after five months in a coma.
I don’t know much about Bobbi Kristina other than she was 21 years old (though she was 22 when she died), she lost her mother three years prior to a drug-related accident, her father is known bad boy Bobby Brown and she was kind of married to her adopted brother, Nick Gordon. I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a parent, never mind a high profile figure like Houston, whose known drug problem—that Bobbi Kristina was may have been privy to her entire life—ultimately caused her death. So it’s no surprise that the only daughter of the pop star was taken to Cedars-Sinai hospital, in February of 2012, for being “overwhelmed,” just three days after her mother passed. I would be pretty fucking overwhelmed myself.
While I don’t know what it’s like to be in the spotlight my whole life or be abandoned by my mother in death, I do know what it’s like to be 21 years old, have a not particularly great dad and have to be your own parent. So it doesn’t actually surprise me that Bobbi Kristina became romantically involved with Nick Gordon, the only stable immediate family member she has ever known. In fact, I think her family should be happy about it, as it could be a lot worse—she could have shacked up with Chris Brown, no?
What might be the most unfortunate part of Brown’s untimely death is that family, friends and fans around the globe will forever remember this other tragedy surrounding the anniversary of Whitney Houston’s passing. And if they forget, they will surely be reminded by the Grammy Awards’ seemingly annual tribute.
When I was a little girl, my mother forced me to take piano lessons. I suppose the fact that I needed something to do after school and I happen to have long fingers made me a shoe in. But I was never interested in music at all and found the repetitive nature and discipline of piano lessons to be nothing short of tedious. I came to dread Wednesday afternoons—that is, until I discovered Whitney.
It was 1985 and the world had just been introduced to a 21-year-old former gospel singer whose breakout single, “You Give Good Love to Me,” on her first album made her a star. I will never forget the cover of “Whitney Houston” (the self-titled album)—a rich orange background surrounded an exotic photo of the young singer, a beautiful, fresh-faced Nubian princess in a one-shoulder peach dress. She was breathtaking.
In an effort to get me to get excited about music, my mother bought me the songbook for the album and we spent entire weekends listening to it, track by track, as I learned how to play them on the piano. And my mother was right; it did help my interest in practicing piano immensely. It also ingrained every nuance of that album into the crack of my psyche so when I hear any song from it, I am immediately and vividly catapulted back to being a child.
What is fascinating to me is that because of the acute sense memory I have with Houston’s first album and that vulnerable time in my life, I am able to really remember how I felt during those years—the years leading up to my burgeoning alcoholism. As many recovering alcoholics confess, feeling frightened, self-conscious and uncomfortable in your own skin—like you didn’t fit in—during childhood isn’t so uncommon for people like us. My escape through the music of Whitney Houston in the mid-80s provided me a place of comfort. Her songs were soulful and harmonious and light, all things that my home life wasn’t. Her music gave me hope for the kind of love I desperately wanted.
But now, decades later, it’s a bit surreal to think that my savior was probably just as frightened and uncomfortable as I was. As a future cocaine addict, I can assure you that Whitney Houston had saviors of her own back then—people she loved and admired so much she aspired to be one. But she also probably felt just as lost at 21 years old—the year her album came out—as I (not to mention her daughter) did at that age.