Let's say you're a major act like Whitney was, and a concert promoter in London agrees to pay you $2 million to come to his venue. That promoter must then pay for event insurance and marketing and must also pay to fly you and your entire band to the venue. Maybe the promoter struck a deal with Coca-Cola, who agrees to sponsor the event (this means they will pay the promoter a huge sum of cash) with the contractual understanding that they can sell Coke at the venue exclusively.
If you fail to perform, more than an "I'm sorry, I won't be able to make the event" will be demanded of you. The promoter, now with millions of dollars fronted to make this concert happen, is about to be sued by Coke and other vendors. Not to mention the money he paid to get everyone to the venue. The dominoes fall, and in this fictitious scenario, you would be the one to take the fall.
This is a very simplified picture of what happens, but hopefully it paints a little of the scene for you.
When entertainers sign the dotted line, they are promised huge sums of money. But the Bible says that to whom much is given, much is required. And that principle holds true in this situation. The per- former will receive millions, but they are also on the hook for millions if they fail to deliver.
The pressure to perform and be on top of your game can overwhelm even the most grounded celebrities. It's more than any one person can deal with.
Another diva (and sister in the Lord) who knew what it was like to be a longstanding premiere act atop the music world was Donna Summer. In a 1978 Rolling Stone cover story, Summer admitted to Mikal Gilmore: "Sometimes it gets to the point where you've been pushed for so long by this . . . monstrous force, this whole production of people and props that you're responsible for, by audiences and everything that rules you, until you take it upon yourself to be a machine. And at some point a machine breaks down. I feel like I want to cry most of the time and just get rid of it, but sometimes I get so pent up, I can't. And that's when I get afraid."
That's why Whitney loved her friends. That's why she wanted family around her constantly. That's why she'd call me from London and ask me to hop on a plane just to hang out with her. That's why, when I did hop that plane to be with her, she lovingly coerced me to continue on to Paris. That's why she and her assistant, Robin Crawford, coaxed me into buying some ridiculously expensive leather jacket that was way too lavish for me. She loved deeply and wanted to be loved deeply in return, and when she was, she felt safe and at home.
We all feel that way, right?
In order to keep some semblance of normalcy, Whitney held on to the little things of life. Little things that you and I take for granted – like driving a car – helped her keep life in perspective.
To Whitney, getting behind the wheel was one way to feel like a real person again. She loved to drive. The problem was, she was a horrible driver! It makes me laugh even now to think of how she'd want to drive us around when I would show up in Atlanta. I'd tell her, "Girl, I don't want to die today. So I'm driving."
No way. She'd have none of it. She wanted to drive, and when she wanted to do something – look out! One time we drove around for 45 minutes because she couldn't find her house!
Driving the two of us around? Pure gold to Whitney. She could talk to me on those rides around town. She could laugh like she so loved to do. She could let it all hang out.
Not all celebrities pursue the "glamour" that comes with the occupation. If it meant being normal for an hour, Whitney would rather get lost on a mini-road trip in downtown Atlanta than be flown to some exotic concert destination. She liked going to her friends' homes to hang out – as she sometimes did with Pauletta and Denzel Washington. She adored going to the mall, but after about five minutes, there'd be a train of people behind her. She also loved going to movies. But that, like everything else, came at a price: the price of privacy.
She didn't want to give up her public life, but it was taken from her by a force beyond her control. Some stars, like Whitney, would sing background vocals the rest of their lives if they could. If it were possible to perform and use their gift in some kind of anonymity, they'd do it in a heartbeat.
Whitney saw that desire for "normal" in my sister, CeCe, who she nicknamed "the reluctant star." We already had named CeCe "Betty Crocker," because while my sister loves to sing, if she had her way, she'd sit at home and sing while folding laundry.
At some point, I realized that, buried in that little "reluctant star" moniker that Whitney gave to CeCe, was a window into Whitney's own heart. And I think she'd admit this today if she were still with us.
Singing was Whitney's escape. On one occasion in 2002, I asked Whitney and Bobby (Brown), my brother Marvin, Gloria Estefan, and Stevie Wonder to join me at the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas to in- augurate the opening of a new wing of the resort. Everyone agreed, and everyone showed up as part of the audience. They weren't there to sing; they were there to be with friends and to enjoy the evening. But then I asked each of them to the stage. And that's when the magic happened.
There we were, on an outdoor stage under a tent in the Bahamian night, singing our hearts out. No one getting paid, no egos. Just a bunch of "family," making music and having the time of our lives. Stevie played and led us; Whitney, Marvin, and I sang backup. This was Whitney at her raw best. We sang songs we didn't even know, telling each other the lyrics right before we had to sing them!
There was very little fanfare, yet you could taste the energy in the air. You could feel the intimacy on the stage. When Marvin would take the lead, Whitney would lean over and whisper in my ear about anything and everything – hilarious, crazy stuff about her and Bobby, or silly stuff about us all being on stage together and not knowing the lyrics to the songs we were singing, or pointing out things about people in the audience. She was like a little kid on the playground. But that's what made her so lovable, and that's why people were drawn to her.
You won't find a video of this performance on YouTube – it's only available through this book. In the hands of family. And that's exactly how Whitney would have it. For her, that night was like being back at church, singing for the joy of singing.
There was that burst of energy we saw in her iconic pregame performance at the 1991 Super Bowl, but here she was giving the same passion and energy to a crowd of a few hundred (at most). I think it was those times of intimate singing with those she loved that invigorated her spirit. Those times when she was able to sidestep fame and walk in a different direction for a time, letting that heavy weight fall from her back and spreading her wings a bit wider.
Nights of pure singing and laughter and relationship like the one we experienced in the Bahamas watered her soul. But when you're Whitney Houston, those nights are rare.
Whitney's reality at the height of her career was intense. Her fame limited what she could share with people and with whom she could share it. She couldn't tell just anyone that she'd had a miscarriage, for example, for fear that word would leak to the public. If one person outside her trusted inner circle found out, then suddenly the world would know. And if the public was going to be told, she intended to be the person to do it. But it was difficult for her. She couldn't grieve like a normal person, and that makes it tough to process the pain. In times of deep loss, she would find herself trapped in a dark place, with grief a lonely friend.
Could Whitney rock a stage to the ground? Yes.
Was Whitney at home singing backup for CeCe and me or singing with her friends at some random stage in the Bahamas? Yes.
That's the Whitney I knew. She didn't possess a hunger for fame and notoriety; she possessed a hunger for seeing others thrive and find success.
Whitney loved talented people. With Anita Baker's 1986 single, "Caught up in the Rapture," she remarked to me, "Did you hear this girl, Anita? Oh! Love her." That was true Whitney. That was part of the joy of Whitney: she just loved hearing and finding new talent. For her entire career, she was constantly encouraging other singers – the new arrivals to the frontlines of fame. So many women, from Alicia Keys and Brandy to Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland and Rihanna, have credited her as far more than mere influence and inspiration. They were recipients of her personal encouragement, away from the cameras.
From sending cards and flowers to keeping moments light with her humor, Whitney individually reached out to so many of the rising stars who she inspired. Monica, who'd been befriended by Whitney at age 14, remembered some of those personal touches that were representative of Whitney's ways. She told E! Online that just before Whitney's death, Whitney had visited Monica and Brandy's rehearsal for their upcoming tour, and when Whitney heard how Monica ended one particular song, she joked, "You killin' that run at the end . . . You know I know you stole that from me, right?" Monica also recalled in a Vibe interview what many of Whitney's friends would echo: "I went through a lot of very tumultuous mo- ments and [Whitney] would show up, not just with a phone call, but physically . . . That's something that I've carried with me . . . [She] never turned her back on the people she cared about."
And contrary to popular thought, she loved to hear Mariah Carey sing. When Mariah burst onto the scene, Whitney called me and asked, "Did you hear that new girl, Mariah? Good Lord, she can sing!"
To give you an idea of how the media twists reality, allow me to expound on the Mariah Carey situation. Now, this story would probably embarrass Whitney a little, but I have to tell it. I think she'd understand that it's all in good fun.
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