by: Crystal Berger
How do you define inspiration? One website defines it as “the process of affecting, guiding, or arousing by divine influence”. In my life, there have been many people who have “affected” and “guided” me along the way; however, there have been very few people who have impacted my life in a divine manner. People who, when I hear, see, touch or smell them, I feel the presence of God. For me, Whitney Elizabeth Houston was one of those divine creatures.
As I sat in the parking lot of New Hope Baptist Church, shadowing Fox News Radio reporter Courtney Kealy, the moment felt surreal. Cars slowly pulling into the stone-covered lot surrounded by abandoned buildings, broken glass and Whitney Houston’s classics playing in the background. There was an unsettling calm in the air that made me say, “Is this all real? Is the woman who made me feel confident about being tall, brown and skinny; was she really gone? How could someone who inspired so many to reach for their dreams be dead at a mere 48?” All of these questions overwhelmed me as I assisted Kealy in setting up her equipment for a 10am live report on FOX News Radio.
It’s been debatable if Houston was a “good” role model or if her tragedies overshadowed her triumphs. Still, I’ll never forget the first time I rehearsed for a local talent show to Houston’s “You Give Good Love.” I recall seeing her picture and thinking, she looks just like me! But her voice was angelic; like God had come down from the heavens and touched her vocal cords. Houston was an African-American girl, like me, from meager beginnings. Houston was a woman who used the stage to make some aspect of the world a better place through song. Listening to Houston’s music provided me with an escape, a sound track for lonely days in my bedroom writing poetry and pretending to be a pop icon. Dancing to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” at my cousin Michelle’s wedding in 1987 to shedding tears to “Why Does It Hurt So Bad?” over my first broken heart; Houston has not only inspired me, but motivated me to pursue my dreams. For me, her divine presence made the good times even more joyous and the tough times … simply okay.
Sitting with family and friends celebrating my father’s 61st birthday was when I learned of the untimely death of the pop icon. I was immediately overcome with sorrow when my younger cousin ran downstairs with the news she learned via Facebook. During such a joyous occasion, several emotions consumed me; disbelief, confusion, disappointment coupled with peace and contentment. The woman who shared her gift with the world had perished.
Houston’s life was surrounded by controversy that overshadowed her talents in her later years. Even in death, controversy has plagued the late pop star. The dispute over whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie should have flown flags at half-staff for the singer was at the center of heated local and national debates. In addition, the motive behind Bobby Brown’s brief appearance at Houston’s funeral left bloggers and talk show hosts buzzing–was his leaving due to differences with Houston’s family or him simply needing to prepare for a performance later that night. Brown and Houston had a tumultuous 14-year marriage surrounded by struggles with drugs and run-ins with the law. Despite it all, Houston was an undeniable talent and inspiration to millions.
The service, which lasted approximately three and a half hours, was held at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark where Houston began singing as a child. Houston’s “home-going” eulogy was delivered by long-time family friend Pastor Marvin Winans with musical selections, words of encouragement and reflection by Donnie McClurkin, Tyler Perry, BeBe Winans, Bishop TD Jakes, Kim Burrell, Kevin Costner, Alicia Keys, Clive Davis, Fred Hammond, Stevie Wonder, R. Kelly, and cousin Dionne Warwick (in that order).
According to numbers released by Billboard.com, Houston, still inspiring record sales since her passing, sent two Arista/Sony Music Entertainment compilations back into the top 40, “The Greatest Hits” at No. 7 and “The Essential” at No. 40. Three of her classic hits made the singles top 40, with nine more inside the top 75. “I Will Always Love You” led the line at No. 14, then “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” at No. 20. Houston’s album catalog sold 73,000 and her singles 127,000, and her 1992 movie “The Bodyguard” also re-entered the OCC’s video chart (which includes DVD, Blu Ray and other sales) at No. 9. The remake of Sam O’Steen’s 1976 film “Sparkle,” due for release in August 2012, was expected to be Houston’s comeback performance; sadly, Houston passed away on Saturday, February 11th just months before any of her fans could give her a standing ovation once more.
Listening to Kealy’s report that day – “facing her casket, covered in white roses and purple lilacs, this service called a home-going is meant to be a celebration of Houston’s life and her going home to heaven” – brought me closure that this angelic voice that inspired me for so many years had moved on to a “better place.” I’m sure I am not alone in this.
Whitney Houston photos provided by: AP Images