Published last month, Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped (Harper, $27.99) by Cissy Houston with Lisa Dickey is a touching mother-to-daughter tribute that candidly addresses matters of family, fame and faith. A star in her own right, Ms. Houston is in a unique position to share reflections of both a personal and professional nature, and she doesn’t disappoint. Rather than offering a superficial account of her daughter’s assent to superstardom, she spends equal time sharing memories of the “Nippy” she knew privately – a shy girl with a big heart and an equally large voice - and grappling with the tragic figure who became as much a mystery to her in later years as she did to the rest of us.
Cissy Houston protected her daughter from the pitfalls of early fame – something she was familiar with, given her work as a background singer and eventual solo artist – while tirelessly grooming her for the career in music that inevitably awaited her, given Whitney’s innate talent. This meant providing a well-to-do middle class upbringing, maintaining an active presence in the church, and setting the highest of expectations in terms of personal conduct. A no-nonsense woman who was made to be the disciplinarian of the family, she did not tolerate exceptions to her rules – something that would come to haunt her when Whitney began distancing herself in an attempt to hide the depths of her dependency so as not to disappoint her mother.
It’s with a mother’s pride and adoration that Ms. Houston recalls her daughter’s evolution from choir singer to pop star, actress, and humanitarian. She takes readers behind the tabloid headlines and introduces them to the real Whitney – a complex woman who struggled valiantly to please her fans while trying also to maintain some semblance of privacy. While she was by no means perfect, neither was she the diva that the press made her out to be. And though she contemplated leaving the public persona behind and just being Nippy, she knew that the world would not be denied their “Whitney Houston”…
Perhaps what is most commendable thing about Remembering Whitney is Ms. Houston’s refusal to put blame on others for her daughter’s drug use. While she acknowledges that Bobby Brown, the music industry, and even the singer’s siblings had some influence on Whitney’s actions, she holds no notions that her daughter wasn’t ultimately responsible for her own demise. Further, she contemplates what she believes may have been her own failings as a parent. It’s heartbreaking to read, but further proof that Ms. Houston is simply trying to understand her daughter, not make excuses for her.
Also available is Whitney Houston: The Voice, The Music, The Inspiration (Insight Editions, $24.99) by Narada Michael Walden with Richard Buskin. Released in November, this slender volume recalls the behind-the-scenes makings of Houston’s early recordings through the eyes of her onetime producer. Houston and Walden collaborated on some of the singers biggest hits – including the #1 singles “How Will I Know,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “All The Man That I Need” – and he transports readers from page to recording studio with his vivid and exuberant reflections.
Walden’s book is mostly confined to the time period between the mid-80s and mid-90s – Houston’s creative peak – when music was still very much the focal point of people’s interest, and he offers up anecdotes about the singer’s work ethic and vocal stylings that are both reverential and inspiring. From Houston’s initial excitement to be cutting tracks for her debut album to her desire to diversify her repertoire to the magic of their final projects together (“I’m Every Woman” and the lesser known treasure “Look Into Your Heart”), it’s an illuminating look at the beginnings of a career that would later be tarnished.
The two developed a friendship that transcended studio work, however, and Walden fondly recalls Houston’s generous nature, touring together (he occasionally joined the band), celebrations at her home, and their infrequent but companionable contact in recent years, all of which shed some joyous light on a story with a dark ending. Walden also subtly touches on how the pressures of near constant recording and touring, even in the early years, left the once pleasantly naïve singer both notably exhausted and somewhat jaded – experiences that undoubtedly played a part in her personal struggles.
Both books will be of interest to fans, as they provide intimate access into a life that, while not fully understood, was certainly extraordinary. While each serves to remind us that Whitney Houston’s talent was, and remains, unparalleled, perhaps the true lesson is this: that, in the end, she was only human – and therefore just like the rest of us…