Even in Death, There is No Peace for Whitney Houston

by Renee Martin

When I was young girl, I thought that Whitney Houston was a princess.  Everything about her seemed perfect and I am sure that I cracked a few mirrors attempting to sing like her.  As I grew older and Whitney attempted to take control of her own image, I began to understand that the Whitney Houston who I had loved — with what can only be described as a teenager’s glee — was a creation of Clive Davis.

In crafting Whitney’s public persona, Davis’s brilliance was giving Black people a woman who could be elevated at a time when we were all desperate for positive images of Black femininity.   This vision of Black womanhood was framed in a manner that was not threatening to Whiteness because it didn’t involve a political message which questioned inequality or any of the issues Black women have to negotiate in this world. Whitney was a Black woman with a powerful voice, singing cute and ultimately harmless pop songs rather than gospel or R&B music.  As a professional voice for hire, they told her what to sing and she sang it.

In the later years of her career, Whitney would take control over own image and move away from the “princess” Davis created in an attempt to be more authentically herself.  Whitney strove to bring in the traditions of her own culture as an African-American woman and to more closely tie herself to the Black community, but despite her efforts, she was booed at the 1989 Soul Train Awards.  Like many celebrities, the creation still obscured the person, but in her case it was specifically because many viewed her as “too white.”  Her acceptance in the Black community was often tenuous as a result.

Even in death, Whitney still has not found any peace: there are still people seeking to frame her celebrity and rake in gross profits from her image. Just days after Houston died, Peter Tatchell, an HRC campaigner penned a piece in which he asserted that Houston was involved in a long-term same-sex relationship and suggested that the public has a responsibility to ensure that this speculated relationship was attributed as part of her legacy, even though these are charges that Houston denied repeatedly throughout her lifetime.

In 2008, a section of a memoir written by Bobby Brown was leaked to the press. He alleged that Whitney married him because she was looking to put an end to rumors of her bisexuality, while he had hoped for a stable relationship and family.  Now that she is deceased, there are rumors circulating that Brown is once again peddling a tell-all book about his relationship with Whitney.  Because the confidentially agreement is no longer in place, this work stands to be even more sordid than what he shopped around three years ago.

Hitting what can only be called the lowest of the low, The National Enquirer has released photos of Whitney in her coffin.  The viewing was a private affair for the family, yet somehow these images made it to the cover of a tabloid.  It is not known yet who sold the images to The National Enquirer, but what is certain is that this is a practice which is quite normal for the gossip magazine — this is, after all, the magazine that became famous from publishing photos of Elvis Presley in his coffin.

In her heart-wrenching eulogy, long-time friend Robyn Crawford (who, coincidentally, is the subject of Tatchell’s lesbian relationship rumor) talked about Whitney’s drive to make it as a professional entertainer.  Robyn made note that there was always a demand for Whitney to perform at an extremely high standard, no matter how she was feeling, or what was going on in her life.  Sony Music owns much of her catalogue, including The Bodyguard soundtrack.  Even as people play the songs Houston made famous, Whitney didn’t own the rights to any of these songs and her estate is not receiving direct benefit from songs written and owned by others.   Despite all of the love and outpouring of grief for her loss, being a voice-for-hire still means limited profits.

From the very beginning, Whitney knew that she wanted to be a star, but I wonder if she realized that becoming a star meant her private life would constantly be fodder for people to speculate about and judge.  Her sexuality, drug abuse, and failed marriage knocked her down from the princess pedestal and into an out-of-control “crackhead” stereotype.  It seems to me that she was so much more than that – a woman of many passions with an incredible talent who never stopped chasing her dreams for success in the darkest hours of her existence.  Will there ever be a time when Whitney’s legacy will speak for itself?  Even in death, Black women cannot be allowed peace.

  • http://blackonpurpose.blogspot.com/ gryph

    i don’t quite understand why whitney maybe being bi considered a smear. how exactly would that change her legacy?

    and why is it that black artist have be on egg shells, and presented ‘just so’, to get crossover appeal? doesn’t accommodating racism make one complicit in it?

  • BeautyIAM

    That is unfortunately what celebrity culture is about now. Its not about hiding dirty secrets. Apparently, we must know every dirty little thing about a celebrity. Because us knowing will make us feel better.

    That’s what they tell us at least.

    Its unfortunate what Whitney’s family is going to have to endure because of opportunistic leeches. I will not support it, but millions of others will. The entertainment business is just getting more evil as the years go by.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I find a few assertions problematic:

    1.) Clive Davis being given full credit for having crafted her America’s sweetheart image in her formative years and endearing her to the people.
    -The music industry can make and break you at the same time. Her sweetheart image was already in place even before joining the industry. It could be the same Davis was the one who introduced her to a life of partying hard and drugs. After all, she joined the music industry while still at an impressionable age. He was a good friend of hers-but we really don’t know to what bounds that friendship was limited to.

    2.) Even in death, Black women cannot be allowed peace.
    -Eh, there have been many black women who have passed on and others who are going to go on to heavenly glory who have found peace and will find peace in death. She was a CELEBRITY who happened to be black. The “peace” you talk of cannot be found in death because of her troubled past. We live in a day in which invasion of privacy and gossip has made many a millionaire. Why should they stop-just because she is dead-and show respect. That’s not how the world we live in now operates.

    3.) Sony Music was a good home for Whit.
    -Ha, ever heard of the ties that bind?! She does not own the rights to her music. Lawwwd hammmmercy What kind of a music stable derives their musician those rights?! Especially one that is making them that kind of money like she was in the beginning. Clive Davis…being a friend I don’t buy that. He was a businessman who knew how to manipulate.

  • Miss September

    In today’s world everything is about money. What better way to sell a magazine or get hits to your blog
    By posting something negative about her past or play on a rumor. I saw on certain websites that had
    The death photo and I refused to click on them. I think it is appalling the way they have been covering her Death.
    I mean they dragged her through the mud, while she was alive .Now that she’s gone they refuse to let her have any peace. At what point does morality come in, and people think about her family.
    I understand that she is a well renowned celebrity, but at the same time she was a human too.
    Geez, the way some of these so called “blogs” write things, you would think they don’t have family.
    I mean it’s enough that her daughter had to bury her mother , but add insult to injury she has to hear on every radio station , TV program , disgusting details of her mother’s death .
    I think society is on the highway to hell, literally the way some people would do anything to make money.

  • http://pervertedalchemist.blogspot.com Perverted Alchemist

    As a person who actually grew up in the 80′s, I’ll try to answer both of your questions here:

    “i don’t quite understand why whitney maybe being bi considered a smear. how exactly would that change her legacy?”

    Here’s the thing- at the time in the 80′s, there were no openly gay Black R&B/pop singers. There was a backlash against gay people around that time due to the newly fresh AIDS epidemic. So a musician who may have been gay or bisexual had to hide it- even if they weren’t exactly doing a good job at doing so (See: Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, Jermaine Stewart, Phyllis Hyman, etc.).

    “and why is it that black artist have be on egg shells, and presented ‘just so’, to get crossover appeal? doesn’t accommodating racism make one complicit in it?”

    At the time in the , MTV was a a powerful tool in getting artists exposure. So almost all of the record labels wanted their artists to play the crossover game- even if that’s not what their artist wanted (The most notorious offenders of this practice around that time were Arista Records founder Clive Davis, CBS (now named Sony Music) president Walter Yetnikoff and Atlantic Records president Danny Goldberg). They had to be dressed up as being likeable and non-threatening to White people in order for them to buy their records. The downside to that was every artist that caved in to those record label pressures made their worst music in the 80′s as a result (See: Lionel Richie, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Billy Ocean, Dionne Warwick, Deniece Williams, Earth, Wind & Fire, etc.).

  • http://www.womanist-musings.com/ womanistmusings

    It’s not that bisexuality is a smear. Being part of the LGBT community is not something to be ashamed of at all; however, the fact remains that Whitney said that she was straight repeatedly. She didn’t dodge the question in the way that Queen Latifah has a history of doing, she out and out said that she was straight. I do however think that her response to the question was great, because she took the time to assert that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and that it was ridiculous that people thought that she should be ashamed for being thought of as gay. The issue here is that if a person claims a specific identity, it is not appropriate to then turn around before said person is even buried to decide that you have the right to declare their identity for them.

  • kidole

    The beautiful thing about death is that people can say whatever they like about Whitney now but she is resting peacefully in her grave.

  • Truthteller

    Thanks for your post. I agree with most and I think like Kevin Costner said, the very thing that gave her fame, ‘her voice’ hurt her. Whitney’s standard of singing was so very high and expectations put on her, it was almost impossible for her to bare.

    She said in her Oprah interview that it all became too much. Regarding her sexuality, she addressed it and said she was straight. She said if she was gay, she would say it loud and proud and that there was nothing wrong wtih being gay.

    Whitney also attened and performed to the suprise of the NY Gay community during one of their parades. MTV John Norris and the tv was there to capture her singing, ‘It’s not right but it’s okay’ so let’s lay taht rumour to rest. it’s the mudrackers looking to sell another anygle on her who are now saying this mess and Bobby Brown is scum so I just gloss right over him.

    Regarding her music, she did not own her catalogue but Whitney was a very smart businesswoman. She retained her own publishing company under her umbrella company called NIppy Inc.

    She had songwriter’s credit on ‘count on me’ waiting to exhale, and ‘Queen of the Night’ and 3 songs on ‘I Look to you’ so she will get publishing for that.

    As Arista’s biggest selling artist, she got a higher royalty rate so for every cd sold, i’m sure her estate will get around $2.50 to $3.50 per cd.

    In addition, you failed to mention her other career. She was an actress and producer. She produced under her company, ‘Brown House Productions’ ‘The Princess Diaries’ 1 and 2, The cheetah girls and now under Nippy Inc, Sparkle. She will get paid when ever they are re run.
    by the shear volume of how much cds she will sell worldwide plus if Arista and Clive dig in the vaults and release live DVDs of her live concerts which her fans have been asking for years, she will get paid.

    I just wish the tabloid media will allow her family to grieve in piece.

    RIP NIPYY

    Never forgotten, always inspiring

  • http://worldaccordingtotracy.blogspot.com Tracy

    I wrote a piece on the casket picture yesterday and have been in debate about this topic with a few friends. My feeling is that Whitney was an entertainer known worldwide and very little of her life was left private. Even her funeral was Broadcast across the world. So the picture coming out didn’t seem so surprising to me because everything was so public. And I thought the picture was beautiful. A friend of mine made a very good point ” the photo examines the truth of the moment – she’s dead.” It doesn’t erase the life she lived and the gifts she gave us. Anyway, I talk more about it in the blog below.
    http://worldaccordingtotracy.blogspot.com/2012/02/whitney-and-media-casket-phot-published.html

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    the part that bugs me is the picture was sold..and someone was willing to buy…I don’t think the person sold it because they were thinking…Oh look how beautiful and truthful this pic is…They just wanted money. In America, no matter what stage of life you’re in, someone’s making money off your ass!

  • Thirdrock

    I am saddened to see anyone dragged through the mud as they all have done with Whitney Houston. Yet it does seem to be the norm this day in age. I think she was beautiful and her voice was of an angel, but I don’t really see this as a race issue. Amy Winehouse was dragged through the mud yet there are not so many people speaking out for her. Sadly for Amy her addictions were laid right out there for all of us to see by her own doing along with the media. For many people they see Whitney as an innocent girl who was lead down the wrong path by either Bobby Brown or Clive Davis or the many friends who knew her addictions yet watched her path of destruction and pawned it off as only a few drinks. No one deserves this type of treatment but sadly the famous know what they are getting into. Every generation has seen the media rip someone famous apart to sell their story. It seems to be the price of fame.
    R.I.P. Whitney Houston

  • http://www.facebook.com Fredmario

    I’m not goin 2 defend Witney here or probably mak her luk lik a saint but i’m jst goin 2 say we’r all human n nobody’s perfect. We all ve our ugly parts n until dey com out we ar still as priceless as we portray ourselves. Wateva ugly part Witney’s got dosnt stop her frm being a QUEEN! Bsides, dere’s NO CROWN WITHOUT CROSS. Witney’s my QUEEN.

  • http://fatlittlefitgirl.blogspot.com Fat Little Fit Girl

    That was my exact thought while reading this article. She’s certainly at peace now and beyond blessed. No more woriries

    Revelation 14:13 “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.””

  • bahamas

    This was a very thoughtful piece. I think we forget that people who identify as gay can have experiences with heterosexual intimacy, and people who identify as straight can have experiences with homosexual intimacy. Respecting how someone defines their own sexuality is a part of celebrating who people are and how they view their own sexuality. No one owes the world a definition of their sexuality that encompasses any and every private intimate or sexual experience they’ve had. If she prefered to identify as straight I don’t care what did or didn’t ever happen between her and any other women, it’s just plain none of my business.

    I am so saddened by how our culture deals with celebrity status in general, and I feel like as individuals who support putting people on pedestals and tearing apart every detail of their lives in the media are part of that. If someone sings beautiful music, enjoy their performances, value what you see in their art, care about them exactly as much as you care about the human beings in your life that you admire but don’t know well, and honor that they are just a person, like any of us, and putting them on too high a pedastal can actually other them more than honor them. Thanks for this thoughtful post, I am saddened to hear of this death and all the frenzy around it.

  • Fang

    I can’t believe you are still describing rumors that Whitney was bisexual “charges” to be “defended” against.

    Sparkindarkness even wrote an entire post about this kind of language on your own blog!

  • http://www.womanist-musings.com/ womanistmusings

    Yeah, I didn’t once suggest that it was a charge to be defended against. Bottom line is if someone says they are straight, you don’t have the right to assert otherwise. It’s ridiculous to think a White man has the right to decide posthumously that he can declare to the world what her sexuality is. It’s not like she was ambiguous about it. She was very clear about who she was attracted.

    First off, it’s nobody’s business to speculate in the first damn place and even less so when she answered the question REPEATEDLY. I don’t care what the issue is, policing anyone’s identity, regardless of your intentions is wrong.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com Danny

    The framing of it as “charges” to be “defended” against isn’t because being bisexual itself is a charge. Its the insistence of the one posing the question(s) that is turning it into a “charge” that one has to “defend” against.

    When constantly asked if she were bi the problem wasn’t that there’s something wrong with being bi. The problem is that someone had the nerve to dictate someone else’s sexuality to them.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com Danny

    As others have said the life of a celebrity his really a messed up thing these days. There’s no privacy, there is no individuality, there is no peace. Rest assured even years down the road someone will still be talking about Houston and the issues around her life. In fact keep an eye out for anniversaries of her death for someone to release some “tell all book” or someone with a “never heard story” or something like that.

  • Fang

    Renee, you said the very word yourself. did you not read your own piece?

    ” even though these are charges that Houston denied repeatedly throughout her lifetime.”

    Oh, I’m sorry, you said charges she “denied” instead of “defended.”

    Keep on defending yourself, but this whole thing is still filled with homophobia.

  • Cathy L

    There is always someone out there who always wants to profit at such a time. I find it all bizzare that after death, Whitney is more in the news then on the radio singing. Has anyone ever noticed that after someone dies in the media, that the tabloids want to take them apart like pulled pork. Im soo saden by this.

    I can only say that Whitneys music will live on in all our hearts and souls.

    Thank you for opening my eyes to the real Whitney in your article. She was a lady through and through..regardless of the tabloids and news.
    Lets remember her music, shall we?

  • mamareese

    And Kurt Cobain was a heroin addict that killed himself and is a rock legend still. Elvis too. Now what…..she had some demons true….but didn’t they all. Frank Sinatra drank like crazy….Bing Crosby was abusive…. All these folks still sell records posthumous and everybody still loves them. Let her rest.

  • Kathy Wright

    WELL SAID!!!!!!
    Enough of the bashing. We’ve heard it from all angles and yet still they continue hurting her family. Do they have no heart? Do they believe that this is the information that we want to hear and see??

    God Bless the family
    Rest Peacefully Whitney

  • Misty_Moonsilver

    This makes me really sad…. I never see this happening when white celebrities die! UGH

  • JenB

    I grew up listening to Whitney. I never cared that music was “not black enough.” I sang along to all her songs regardless. She had an amazing voice and sold millions of records due to being a crossover success. On her third album, after being booed at the Soul Train Awards, she made an album that catered more to an R & B crowd and record sales were signficantly lower than before. It just goes to show that you can’t please everyone. That book written by Peter Thatchell is a work of fiction just like the book written about MJ after his death.

    I believe that all Whitney ever wanted to do was be a great performer but the pressure to be all things to all people was just too much for her. She even rejected the title ‘diva.’ However, according to Webster, a diva is a highly distinguished female singer. Whitney, by definition, was a diva.

    It’s totally sickening that an insider (or any other creep) would profit from her death by selling pictures of her in the casket to the tabloids and equally appalling that the Inquirer would publish the picture. I have no respect for anyone involved in this scandal.

    My prayer is that Cissy Houston, Bobby Kristina, and other grieving family members are comforted at this time.

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