The room was filled to capacity — full of Soul singers, producers, musicians, writers, the very best of the R&B experience. Where else could you see Faith Evans, Brian McKnight, Keke Wyatt, Kenny Lattimore, Michel’le, Anthony Hamilton, Monifah, Goapele, and Ledisi in the same venue?
I was there — only a few steps from the stage on Thursday, February 09, 2012 — at Kelly Price’s Pre-Grammy Party to hear Whitney Houston’s last song.
Whitney walked in gracefully, attached to daughter Bobbi Kristina, Gary, Pat, and the rest of her entourage. She stood and watched as act after act from the Soul tradition paid homage to the greatest songs and singers. Whitney danced, hugged, and seemed to enjoy a space amongst those whom she’d seen grow up in the industry.
As I watched her embrace honoree Kelly Price off-stage, I thought of our entertainers, our generation’s most impactful, who Whitney helped to mold. Credits began to roll through my mind: Mariah, R. Kelly, Mary J, Brandy, Monica, Aaliyah, Tupac, Faith Evans, TLC, Christina Aguilera, Usher, and the ladies of Destiny’s Child. All of these artists publicly revered her as their inspiration in the entertainment industry.
After Kelly took stage, she spent a few minutes celebrating Whitney saying, “She challenged me to be a better singer. Whitney stopped me in the middle of rehearsals for Heartbreak Hotel … and I never held back again.”
As Kelly continued to sing praises to her idol-sister-friend, Whitney daintily walked up the stairs and stood face to face with her mentee. She gently grabbed the microphone and said, “I love you … I’m so proud of you … my friend.”
I pretended she said the words to me. We all did.
Then, just as we thought she would leave the stage without gracing the room with the sweetness of her voice, Whitney opened up and softly sang a gospel lullaby to Kelly. Whitney’s last song was “Jesus Loves Me,” a poignant final declaration of her love for God.
The entire crowd watched and listened to Whitney’s last song, some with eyes closed — most with tears streaming down.
This was the Whitney Houston I remembered being introduced to before I even had a concept of what an album was. That big, blue Whitney album sat up high atop dad’s old record player. My mom would play “For The Love Of You” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” over and over in the late 80s — my very first memories of hearing Whitney’s voice.