Saturday: Whitney is Every Woman

Morning news junkies.

Today is Whitney Houston’s funeral, so I thought I’d devote my Saturday rant+reads to her. To the right, a little sign I made in Whitney’s honor, based on an interview quote of hers. (h/t to paperdoll for introducing me to the church sign generator.)

Here’s a little list of names that I’d like to run by you…

Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Janet Jackson, MC Hammer, Paula Abdul’s “Shut Up and Dance ,” and the Wayne’s World soundtrack (just for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody alone).

What do they have in common you ask? Well in this self-centered little corner of the universe, all of the above were a wee Wonk’s very first music purchases with her very own pocket money. (Oh, yes I did just use the third person with my pseudonym. I really couldn’t give less of a frig about obeying those kind of blogger Do’s and Don’ts.)

Anyhow, these artists–along with a complimentary audio cassette that came with my Dad’s ’86 Oldsmobile–made up the bulk of my earliest music collection. (That Oldsmobile freebie was a damn good compilation, too, btw. Everything from Fur Elise to Cyndi Lauper.)

I’m clearly a child of the eighties. And, I still have the tapes I bought of Whitney, Michael, Madge, and Janet to prove it. Also the Oldsmobile tape… though it is nearly entirely defunct (B-side and A-side) from so much overplay on my ridiculously pink walkman back in the day.

Point of all that nostalgia being, I literally grew up with Whitney et al.

Madonna’s still kicking it, and Janet’s doing her thing, too. But, what the hell happened to the other half of my childhood?

When I was entering junior high, the Bodyguard came out…and of course I bought the soundtrack and crooned “I Will Always Love You” in front of the mirror, bathroom singer-style. But, the other song I remember singing almost as much?

Whitney’s cover of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.”

That was the Aretha Franklin “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”/”Natural Woman” anthem of my preadolescence–not to mention the choir girl way of singing Meredith Brook’s “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother…” as well as a lot easier for a twelve year old to grasp than a Tori Amos album (goddess love Tori–I do! but her lyrics are up there in the clouds…)

Whitney’s “I’m Every Woman” was also just a smidge before I would be a freshman in high school and the Riot grrrl bands, Liz Phair’s Exile Out of Guyville, etc. would explode in the mainstream.

I’m Every Woman was the song a little girly-Wonk-in-the-making *needed* to hear and sing right at that moment in time. And, yes, it’s all about the girl being like I Dream of Jeannie in a bottle, making her master’s wishes come true. That’s not really the part I listened to when Whitney sang it though… Here’s what I heard her sing/emphasize–the refrain that played through my mind:

I’m every woman,
It’s all in me.

Those lyrics were a burst of girl power. A woman-of-color girl power!

I was a shy nerdy Indian girl who went through the worst of bullying during those junior high years. But, whenever I turned on my walkman at home and started belting out “I’m every woman, it’s all in me…,” I felt a little stronger.

I’ve also seen the human costs of anxiety, depression, and addiction, up close and personal. Every nook and cranny of my immediate and extended family has been affected by one and/or the other. Chances are at least a nook or cranny somewhere in yours has been affected, too.

Mental health care is a right.

Mental health equity is not just about money or access, as we’ve seen, even the uber-wealthy are hardly immune.

Mental health equity is about breaking down the stigma so that people who are self-destructing can get help without having to feel like it’s a personal failing. The mind isn’t outside of the body. Mental health problems are not personal human failings anymore than pneumonia is.

Whitney’s personal successes and personal struggles are all of ours. Her premature death is our premature death. We as a society need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves and all our national treasures along with.

Okay I’m gonna get off my soapbox, and leave you with a few musical+political links and snippets to chew on…

“I prefer to stay on the sidelines. I genuinely believe an artist [is] supposed to be the canary in the coal mine, and you’re better off with a certain distance from the seat of power.”

Springsteen said he still supports Obama but expressed disappointment in his handling of the job market and home foreclosures and disapproved of the attention Obama paid to corporations rather than the middle class.

“I would like to have seen more activism in job creation sooner than it came. I would like to have seen people helped out, seen some of these [home] foreclosures stopped somehow,” Springsteen said.

Springsteen said Obama was “more friendly to corporations than I thought he would be, [and] there’s not as many middle-class or working-class voices heard in the administration as I thought there would be.”

But Springsteen did send a little praise Obama’s way, saying, “He kept GM alive, which was incredibly important to Detroit and Michigan, and he got the health care law passed, although I wish there had been a public option and didn’t leave the citizens victims of the insurance companies. He killed Osama bin Laden, which was extremely important. He brought some sanity to the top level of government.”

Obama was joined by the soul singer at a Democratic fundraiser on Thursday, a month after the president launched into a brief, impromptu version of Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” at New York’s Apollo Theater.

Obama thanked Green, prompting a member of the audience to shout, “Give us a verse!” The president declined to sing this time, telling about 70 campaign donors that he “took a chance at the Apollo and I’m not going to take a chance again.”

“After re-election I might go on tour with the good reverend — be his opening act,” Obama said.

But he warned, “I don’t want to lose any further votes because of my singing voice.”

During his performance, Cornell also performed Bob Marley’s Redemption Song: a couple of numbers from his ex-band Audioslave, Ground Zero and Wide Awake; John Lennon’s Imagine; and Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding.

But it was with his finale that Cornell truly floored the audience, belting out the Dolly Parton-penned song that Houston turned into a classic when she sang it in the 1992 film The Bodyguard.

Voters of America, President Obama has made you a mix.

The president shared a Spotify playlist on his Facebook page Thursday: 29 tunes that he’ll be pumping on the campaign trail between now and Nov. 6. There are songs from artists you’d expect (Bruce Springsteen), artists you wouldn’t (Ricky Martin) and artists that are actually from Canada (Arcade Fire.)

And while candidates have been playing music on the stump since the days when doing so required a brass band, this feels different. We’re being invited into a courtship ritual as old as cassette technology. This is a collection of songs designed to make the recipient fall in love with the sender.

Only, Obama has a vast and varied electorate to woo — and that means his playlist does a lot of herky-jerky genre jumping. The results are not all swoon-worthy. Florence + the Machine’s melodramatic pop bristles up against country duo Montgomery Gentry. The beatific falsetto of Curtis Mayfield reminds us how awful Ray LaMontagne is. And for some reason, there’s an Electric Light Orchestra song. In speeches, the president has cited the plight of American farmers and factory workers. Now he feels the pain of America’s wedding DJs.

And so does his staff. On Spotify, the mix is subtitled like so: “The official 2012 playlist includes picks by the campaign staff — including a few of President Obama’s favorites.” A spokesperson for the Obama campaign clarified in an e-mail that the president didn’t choose the songs; they were suggested by staff members and volunteers.

As the obituaries roll in and the tributes pour out about Whitney Houston’s ability to hit those celebrated and “magical” high notes, surely the most overlooked of her many achievements as an artist is that she is perhaps the first black female artist to take the technical virtuosity of her skills culled in the church and successfully transpose them onto Arista-industry driven, market-tested Top 40 pop arrangements. Whereas even the Supremes worked their way up through a Motor City black-owned business that willed them to global stardom against the odds, and whereas a whole slew of “niche” artists (Natalie Cole on the R&B charts, Donna Summer on the Giorgio Moroder Euro-disco circuit) made the leap to the center, it was Whitney who emerged at the very center of ’80s pop and then subtly and yet fundamentally changed its landscape forever. She made the aesthetics of black female vocalizing once and for all not only mainstream (as Aretha Franklin had done in the late ’60s by way of her uncompromising Muscle Shoals soul) but also accessible to the masses, across age groups (the very young and the old who maybe didn’t groove to “Bad Girls” at Studio 54; the teens and 20-somethings who saw a Seventeen magazine model girlfriend in the singer), and across racial groups, by delivering the good news of the gospel melisma in shiny pop music deemed “universal” rather than “distinctly African-American.”


Drawn as some may be to the tales told by gossip folk coming out in droves, the more compelling story of Whitney Houston resides in a voice that raises above the din of US magazine and E! network chatter and holds for us the history of post–civil rights era womanhood as it defiantly, regally and audaciously weaves its way through a world of both legislated racial equality and lingering systemic discrimination. Even in that most iconic of moments, the 1991 Superbowl “Star-Spangled Banner” performance, the woman with the imposing three-octave range would complicate the fraught symbolic meaning of that patriotic ritual by virtue of her sheer vocal power.

Go read the rest. It’s divine.

That’s it for me. Your turn, Sky Dancers! What’s on your rant ‘n’ read list this weekend?


26 Comments on “Saturday: Whitney is Every Woman”

  1. Dakota says:

    This court case is getting some buzz in Argentina, but so far, no English speaking MSM has picked it up. Mother is getting death threats from human trafficking rings as she looks for her kidnapped daughter. So far she has rescued 128 from forced prostitution.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Good morning, Wonk! Thank you for sharing your early music memories. Music is vital for our mental health, IMHO. I remember different music than you do, but I had the same feeling of being empowered by it when I was growing up and becoming a unique individual.

  3. Dakota says:

    Glad you found it interesting…

    Nothing on English Wikipedia either, only in Spanish.

    I wish I knew how to start one in English and link it to the Spanish one. She got some award from the State Department back in Condi’s day, so hopefully she would be notable enough for her own article.

  4. Dakota says:

    In English only a religious publication
    and an old Reader’s Digest “inspirational” piece.

    Where is NYT or WaPo?

    Sorry to make so many fresh comments, but I’m not sure what your spam filter does with links. 🙂

    I think this same story must play out in many other places around the world, especially China, but this one has a (sort-of) good ending where the bad guys don’t win all the time and one person CAN make a difference.

  5. ralphb says:

    The ABC quotes from Springsteen are a small part of a very good interview at The Guardian.

    Bruce Springsteen: ‘What was done to my country was un-American’

  6. CNN coverage of Whitney Houston’s funeral… tacky as hell. Showing her interview footage with Oprah talking about MJ’s death? This is a funeral. Which was supposed to be private in the first place. Good grief…(yeah it’s too early to fix that unintended pun.)

    • dakinikat says:

      We have very public and very musical funerals down here Wonk. Ever hear of a jazz funeral? We give parades and concerts for people although the church service starts out generally private and somber, by the time you march folks off to the grave it’s a very joyous occasion.

      • No, that’s not what I meant… I know what jazz funerals are 🙂

        I meant the CNN coverage BEFORE the funeral started, Kat… they were showing interview of Whitney talking to Oprah about MJ;s death… to me really just tacky, weird.

        • dakinikat says:

          ah, okay … was wondering about that … I think CNN is commercializing the entire thing a bit too much for my tastes. I think making money off of dead celebs via increasing your ratings is really, really tacky.

      • plus from what I understood, the Houston family had wanted a private funeral.

      • Save for Don Lemon’s contributions on the Whitney coverage today and for the past week, CNN has been just terrible as ever in mining the celebrity death cash cow.

  7. Melissa Harris-Perry did a good piece at the end of her first show this morning. BET is running a special right now.

    My generation lost many icons much too early – Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass & even Elvis Presley. And, I agree, that those losses make us think about our own mortality. It may well be one of the rites of passage into conscious adulthood. But as all the talk of Whitney has been on this morning I couldn’t help thinking of, IMHO, the greatest singer who died so young of breast cancer – Minnie Riperton. She was beginning to reach prominence when she died. She left 2 young children, one of whom is Maya Rudolph. Here’s a video of her performing her #1 hit on Soul Train:

    • Delphyne says:

      Thank you for mentioning Minnie – she was a favorite of mine! I loved her voice, her lyrics, everything about her. This song always makes me smile and feel good.

      • Glad to know there is another out there who remembers this remarkable talent. I loved everything she did. Was a fan beginning with Rotary Connection. Her range and clarity were remarkable. Thanks for sharing this video, Delphyne.

  8. peggysue22 says:

    What happened to the small, private funeral the family wanted? I just got in and this looks like a Hollywood extravaganza. Except it’s in Newark, NJ.

    I heard Chris Christie yesterday blast his critics for flying the flag at half mast in Trenton. He’s a music lover to begin with and said my home state has produced a ton of artists. Whitney Houston is right up there with the absolute best, he argued, and that he and the the people of New Jersey had every right to honor and commemorate her life and work.

    Christie [for all his faults] never backs down. He’s on the right side of things this time.

    One of the sad things I picked up was from a voice coach Houston hired in 2005. He said her voice was shot. She only had one note left in her lower register and physically she was in very bad shape. Plus, I heard she was on the verge of losing her house. She was broke, had lost everything–voice, property and probably hope. Which makes her untimely death ever more poignant. Particularly with all this attention now, in death.

    Good tribute, wonk. I don’t think anyone sang or will ever sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ better than Whitney Houston. Her rendition literally makes your hair stand up!

    • it’s a “home-going” funeral… I’m not really watching anymore, though it’s on in the background. Feels intrusive to me that the fans demanded this be public…

  9. Kevin Costner is giving his eulogy of Whitney.

  10. Alicia Keys just spoke a little of Whitney, she’s singing now… reminding me of another voice we lost way, way before her time…