Monday, February 13, 2012

“Why Does It Hurt So Bad?” Toya's Thoughts on the Passing of Whitney Houston

I can't believe she's gone.

The range of emotions I have experienced since Saturday night have shocked me to say the least. I have a hard time functioning when I don’t understand my emotions.  So because I am still figuring things out, please forgive me if I ramble, repeat myself and go long.

It's crazy.  I wasn’t even 1/8 the fan of Whitney as I am Michael Jackson and her passing has hit me harder than his did.  With MJ’s passing I was numb for about a day.  But with Whitney’s passing I just can’t seem to shake this sadness. It wasn’t until I read a tweet by Questlove did the pieces start to come together:

@Questlove: man. 4:40am & this whitney {stuff} is still {messing} w/ me. dunno why....i mean MJ was my idol & i cried but i wasn't depressed. THIS however...

And that’s when the lightbulb came on.  Michael Jackson was magic. I mean deep down we thought he MIGHT be a regular dude but he was still Peter Pan. He seemed to be this untouchable mystery.  But Whitney? She was one of us.

It was when I remembered why I began working on an idea I had called The Hilltop Society, a ministry for Christians in mainstream music (, that I began to understand why I was taking this new reality personally.  Whitney Houston embodied the very type of artist that I hope that ministry, once it gets off of the ground, reaches. The music community is full of Whitneys.  There are plenty of artists, aspiring and accomplished, that grew up singing in church and are incredibly gifted. I have plenty of loved ones like this. Now while it may not reflect on the radio, it’s very true. Unfortunately most are ill prepared for the pressures that the spotlight can bring.  And that’s why I started it. To give artists and others in the industry the support that they need and that the church for the most part has neglected to give them. That is why this hurts so much. Because I feel that I have a responsibility and I know I haven’t done enough. That is going to change. It has to and it will.

After I considered that, I thought about how everyone probably has had a loved one like Whitney. Someone who battles addiction and whose ups and downs you are familiar with; who you pray time and time again that they can finally kick their habit.  Some of them have been successful, like I actually believe Whitney was at the time of her death, and some are still struggling. Some of you may even have been that friend or relative.  Even I can identify with Whitney on some level. A Jersey girl who grew up in church, loved to go with her mom to hear her sing, and has struggled under the pressures of the “good girl” moniker with an affinity for bad boys? Oh absolutely! Criticzed harshly by people of her own race for "crossing over" (remember when she was booed at the Soul Train Awards)? Yup. All day. Whether she was your idol and inspiration to start singing or you just loved her music, there was something about Whitney that made us feel like she was some sort of not so distant relative. I think that's why for many this hits too close to home. We saw her and accepted her at her worst. We absolutely adored some of her antics. Many of us had a “Oh that's just her way” type of reaction to her that many don’t have with a lot of artists. I think that was because she was so real and we could relate. I look back on Maya Angelou’s poem “We Had Him” that she wrote about Michael Jackson’s passing and it reminds me a lot of her:

Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him. 
He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance. 

Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love, and survived and did more than that. 

He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his.

This was not supposed to be the demise of someone with so much promise. Someone who at 19 was poised to be the next big superstar. And for anyone who says things like “we all knew it was going to happen eventually” or "I"m shocked but not surprised", I’d like to go half on a lottery ticket with you. Because unless you predicted that she would die in a bathtub after taking Xanax (this was what the reports are now saying), I’d like to extend to you a heartfelt invitation to shut up. I am so tired of society, especially the media, making it seem like your entire life is summed up by your last public mishap no matter your accomplishments or what you have done to become a better person. This is evident every time the Grammys come on and pictures of Rihanna’s battered face resurface all over the internet. It’s amazing to me how the public will hold a grudge longer than the people who have resolved their matters in private.

And while I am venting about people’s obsession with past mistakes, as a die hard fan of all things New Edition, I have got to address the matter of Bobby Brown performing after he found out that Whitney died. Now I’m not an entertainer and for those that are, if I am wrong with how I think he may be feeling, feel free to chime in. There is no place I’d rather be than around people that love me when tragedy hits. That airplane ride to the unknown around the time of tragedy is a rough one. I completely understand him wanting to be with five other people on stage who know exactly who he is and can hold him up. And from what I’ve heard from those that are performers, sometimes getting onstage and doing what you love is the cathartic thing to do. For all we know it could have been the absolute best thing for him to do in order to prepare for what he was going to have to face from now on.

So now I prepare myself to watch the Grammys tonight (we missed it because of last night's New Edition show) and not do the same thing that I have just pointed the finger at many for doing. To not judge people by their past or present mistakes. To understand that I will never know the pressures of those that at one time just wanted to sing and live out their dreams and are now caught up in the machine of the industry. It is my hope that the timing of Whitney Houston's untimely death (I don't even know if that phrase makes sense but roll with me) is a wake up call for artists and industry people alike. You cannot deny how crazy the timing of all of this is.  The King and Queen of Pop are dead and as of now there are no successors. We need to care about music again but more importantly, we need to care more about the people behind it while they are here.

1 Corinthians 13:6- 7 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


Flo Davies said...

Great post. Pretty much sums all my feelings on her passing. I always believed she would pull through, and she was, to some extent, before all this ish happened. We don't know the entirety of the circumstances leading to her death and yet the media has tried it's hardest to paint her as the older version of Amy Winehouse. It infuriates me.

*sigh* I miss her.

jeanette nicole* said...

All I can say to this entire post is AMEN. You have summed up my feelings perfectly, Toya.

Danielle said...

Hearing what happened to Whitney made me feel the same way I did when I found out about Michael Jackson. I was shocked and so upset. Like you, I wouldn't call myself the ultimate fan but I have many songs that I love by Whitney. I never knew how much of an impact they both had on me all these years. :(

Jacquie said...

I felt this post. Thank you.