Today, February 11th, marks the anniversary of Whitney Houston's passing. She was an icon and national treasure. I hold a special place in my heart for her music, especially her wonderful last album, I Look to You (2009), which helped me through a rough transition in my life. While it is sad to remember Houston's untimely death, I wanted to celebrate her wonderful vocal gift and the music she left behind.
Though Houston is known primarily as a ballad singer, she also had a knack for slow grooves and subtlety, which you can hear throughout her impressive career. One of the first hits,"You Give Good Love," from her debut (1985) has a slow burning sexiness, and "One of those Days"--an under-appreciated single from her Just Whitney (2002) record--shows that she could lay down a relaxed vocal that still resonates.
The diva could work some sass into her music too. "My Name Is Not Susan" from her 1990 Babyface produced I'm Your Baby Tonight (an album I maintain is a template from Ariana Grande's recent Yours Truly) complicated her girl-next-door image by revealing Houston who could be both sweet and strong.
For a variety of reasons, Houston's voice aged into a grittier instrument. Some fans and critics lamented this change, but the singer's older voice packed as much of an emotional punch as her young instrument. The diva remained a skilled and gripping interpreter of her material right up until the end. Check out how her take on the hymn, "His Eyes are on the Sparrow," is filled with anguish, longing, and hope. The rough notes in her voice lend it more gravity because in those rocky spots you can hear a difficult life lived with determination and bravery.