Ava and C.I. did that illustration with Isaiah and used it in their "Whitney (Ava and C.I.)." That's an excellent commentary. Ava and C.I. did not want to write that piece for a number of reasons including that they knew her distantly. And separately. But when our roundtable on Whitney wouldn't come together and Ava and C.I. rejoined us (they were writing their pieces early because they had to get to Los Angeles for the Grammys on Sunday and also because they wanted some sleep before the Grammys), they said they'd tackle the subject. Mainly because of the hype and distortions that were already being put into print by the press. They tried to be honest in their piece. (I think they succeeded, they're not so sure.)
I also think Hiram Lee tried to be honest in his WSWS piece and that he succeeded. Here's an excerpt:
Houston’s voice was remarkable. At her peak, she possessed a three-octave vocal range. She sang with startling force, in a beautifully rich and full tone. Her ability to pass smoothly in and out of her upper register seemed almost effortless.
Not all of Houston’s material was terribly substantial. She sang light pop music early in her career and, later, mostly ballads designed only to provide a vehicle for her vocal prowess. Her talents nevertheless affected millions of people. Several of her hits from the late 1980s and early 1990s, including “Saving All My Love for You,” “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and “I Have Nothing,” are entertaining and appealing.
Houston, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and cousin of singers Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, struck a wholesome image for much of her career and was built up into a kind of “America’s Sweetheart” by the media and the industry executives who shaped her into a star. She seemed willing to go along for the most part. In response to those who claimed she had “sold out” and gone “mainstream,” Houston told Essence magazine in 1990, “If you’re gonna have a long career, there’s a certain way to do it, and I did it that way. I’m not ashamed of it.”
She did have a gorgeous voice -- more starting out than by the middle. I also agree with Ava and C.I. that she spawned a legion of imitators (including Mariah Carey) that took music into a Vegas-y place that it needs to leave. In their piece, Ava and C.I. compare her to Barbra Streisand and that really is the best comparison. They both made popular movies and popular music. And I agree that Whitney shouldn't have been churning out the same material in album after album but attempting other things. I think she would have hit it out of the park with an album of torch songs. I think she could have handled jazz and that classical would have been an interesting experiment. (Barbra's classical album only semi-succeeded for my taste but it did provide her with a new quality of openess in her vocals that she used very well on subsequent albums.)
It's that sort of thing that allowed Barbra to have a career. Instead of doing that, Whitney spent the '00s attempting pop success, competing against women half her age (she was 48) and failing repeatedly. She should have been recording special projects that set off her special talents.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"