The night before the Grammys this year seemed like any other night. We were watching our 3-year-old daughter play dress-up with her good friend, Haley. Suddenly Haley's dad, Shane, said, “Whoa. Whitney Houston died.”
It was a surreal moment as I digested the news while my daughter strutted around, pretending to be a Disney princess. After all, Whitney had provided the soundtrack for most of my childhood and teen years.
The next day, as I watched Jennifer Hudson's touching tribute to Whitney, I felt as though I had lost a friend.
See, when I was growing up, some people had Michael Jackson, others had Madonna. Me? I was all about Whitney.
Even when Mariah Carey entered the scene, and everyone was saying she was the new Whitney, I knew it wasn’t true. There was only one Whitney and she could never be replaced, I always said, a staunch and loyal defender. And now, reminiscing about just ten of her top tracks, I know she never will be replaced – at least, not for me and many others around my age.
“How Will I Know”
This was the song to inspire the first of many hairbrush performances in front of the big mirror in my bedroom. Whitney was vibrant, beautiful and full of energy in this video – I wanted to be exactly like her. I over-applied purple eye shadow and pink lipstick and tried – unsuccessfully – to perm my hair the same way. I never came close – who could? – but a girl could dream.
“Saving All My Love for You”
Back then I didn’t understand the true meaning behind the song, but it was the first pop song I could play on my clarinet. I loved playing it for my friends and family, and it was such a good song they actually requested it without me forcing it on them.
“Greatest Love of All”
Everyone around my age knows this song was the song for teachers to show us we could be our own person. "Learning to love yourself" was the greatest love of all, Whitney sang to millions of kids everywhere. It was such a great track, I bet at least half of our nation's grade school classes learned to perform this song in American sign language.
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody”
This song brings back memories of my two best friends, Cindy and Natasha, and I trying to cop Whitney’s moves. (Whitney was never much of a dancer, but she was still better than us.) We were wearing denim skirts and tied our hair up with a floppy ribbon Whitney-style. I knew then that even though I’d never be a dancer, I still really wanted to dance with somebody.
“One Moment in Time”
This song was a lot like “Greatest Love of All” in that it inspired and motivated us to do our best. Although I wasn’t an Olympic athlete, Whitney’s “Moment” helped me strive to do my best, even as an awkward middle-schooler.
“I’m Your Baby Tonight”
I loved the nod to Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face" in this song’s music video. I many never be able to rock bangs, but I still think of Whitney whenever I pull on a black turtleneck.
“The Star-Spangled Banner”
Singers today could take a chapter from Whitney’s book when it comes to performing the national anthem. Performing at the Super Bowl in 1991, she not only knew all of the words to Francis Scott Key's greatest anthem, but when she sang them, you felt like she actually understood them.
“I’m Every Woman”
It was the year I graduated from high school. I felt like I could do anything and be anyone. Whitney was right in her re-do of Chaka Khan’s hit – I was every woman. Sure, I was probably more clumsy, moody or insecure than anything else, but this empowering hit made me feel like I could also be cool, self-confident and a completely natural young woman. Plus who doesn’t love Whitney's “Chaka Khan… Chaka Khan!” at the end?
“Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
Any woman who’s ever been wronged by a man loves this song and the film, “Waiting to Exhale.” Heck, even a woman who’s never been wronged by a man can appreciate the scene in which Angela Bassett’s character burns her two-timing ex-husband’s clothes. My husband knows it’s time for breathing space and Haagen-Dazs when this movie’s on TV.
“My Love is Your Love”
My husband and I had just begun dating when Whitney released this song. The lyrics speak to eternal love and promise no matter how old the lovers get, they will always stay young in each other’s eyes. While this song appropriately describes my feelings for my husband – then and now – it actually is pretty close to how I feel about Whitney. Because even if Whitney's life was marked by the pain she suffered and struggles she faced in the end, I will always think of her as that energetic young woman who burst on the scene in the '80s to set many of my best memories to music.