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.

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  • 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?

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    • 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.).

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    • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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    • 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.””

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