Aretha Franklin Remembers Whitney Houston - Rolling Stone
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Aretha Franklin Remembers Whitney Houston

The legendary singer on Whitney’s lifelong talent and fighting spirit

Aretha Franklin performs a tribute to Whitney Houston at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.Aretha Franklin performs a tribute to Whitney Houston at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Aretha Franklin performs a tribute to Whitney Houston at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.


I met Whitney when her mother, Cissy, who was singing with me, brought her to one of my recording sessions. She was around nine or 10, with little red pigtails and her hair parted in the middle. I think Cissy had instructed her to be very quiet, because she didn’t say too much after that. She was just very quiet and very attentive, a pretty little girl.

By the time she was a young lady, Luther Vandross and I were talking about her. She knew how to be glamorous and graceful. She had class. She knew where she was going. It was clear her and her mother both had a similar quality to their voices – the genetics were just unbelievable. Just like her mom, she was one of the great sopranos.

I especially loved the high note on “I Will Always Love You.” “The Greatest Love” was another great one. She really put those two away. In 1989, we recorded the duet “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be.” We had a lot of fun that day. I was delighted to see her come along the way that she did. Like a lot of artists, Whitney lost her way. But she found it again.

I would like to take this moment to caution young artists the same way that my dad cautioned me when I reached my peak. He said, “No matter how good you are, and no matter how successful you are, one day, the applause is going to die down. One day the hallelujahs and the amens are going to stop. One day, the fans might not be there. So know what you’re going to do when that day comes.”

But Whitney’s mother taught her how to be a fighter. On her last tour, she had lost the top range of her voice, and some of the audiences were not very kind. But night after night, she stood there like a champion and gave her very best. She seemed to be getting it back – I saw some of the previews for Sparkle, and she really looked great, fresh and healthy. So when the news came out she had passed, I was stunned. I just couldn’t believe it.

Gospel was Whitney’s foundation and background. She was raised on the Word and she certainly praised the Lord. The rest of it just wasn’t that important. One of Whitney’s favorite songs was “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” And if Jesus loves you, what is more important than that?

As told to Patrick Doyle


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