Dionne Warwick said these glowing remarks during an interview conducted for a CBS Television Network special taping in Canada, winter 1983. Here I was freezing in Quebec, a senior publicity executive for CBS Television Network (and the network’s first Black news & entertainment publicist). I had traveled the world promoting some of America’s most famous television stars and shows.
Yet, Ms. Warwick’s statement on the “voice” fascinated me. Within a year, Ms. Warwick’s first cousin Whitney Houston’s flawless voice shook the world, shattered records and remained for weeks at the top of the pop charts. It was timeless and real and, over her lifetime, sold 200,000,000 albums. The world embraced her.
The Newark native was born into a musical family that includes Ms. Warwick and Whitney’s mother, the incredibly sterling Cissy Houston, and the great Drinkard singers. Aretha Franklin is her godmother.
Even with the preponderance of music pedigree, some media, in the wake of her tragic force, a portrait of a woman who reached the top of the mountain, faltered and fell. It is not complete. Her fans and her family, and certainly the
members of the New Hope Baptist Church, where she honed her skill, know something different about Whitney: a constant note in the key of her life. Something we heard.
In 1990, I finally met the Voice. I was directing the publicity for the CBS Special on the 1990 Songwriters Hall of Fame. Charged with making sure Ms. Houston got back to the stage in time for her performance, I found myself
at the end of a grouping of Whitney’s entourage. We followed her to the dressing room, then the bathroom at quick pace – like those birds that form patterns in the sky.
I fell back with her mother, Cissy Houston, and mentioned that there was a stage worker who wanted to meet her daughter. After the stage performance, Whitney Houston and her flock swept past the crowd of backstage stargazers, intent to exit the theatre. After all, it was over, past, done.
Her mother caught up with her: “Whitney, you forgot to shake …” The quintessential diva stopped, majestically turned around. “Where …” Her arm shot out like a laser, parting the crowd. She Graced her way to the stage assistant. A
handshake melted into an embrace. And then as an afterthought, she turned in my direction to say, “Thank you.”
Sometime later, while directing the publicity for CBS’ Grammy Awards, I got a call from TV Guide magazine. Whitney Houston was to be one of the publication’s first non-television celebrities to grace the cover. The caller explained the magazine was 15 minutes from deadline; Whitney’s on the cover; no quotes from her in the story. Could we be of help?
I reached a soul that spoke to the Voice. And the Voice listened.