Whitney Houston: remembering the voice who inspired a generation

You could fill an hour-long special just with a montage of audition footage showing the many young people who have named Whitney Houston as their musical inspiration.

Whitney Houston is – without question – one of the most influential female pop vocalists of our time and today while the world falls silent upon hearing of her tragic death, all I want to hear and all I wish to remember her by is her voice.

Word broke out this afternoon on social media that the Grammy-winning American music superstar had died on Saturday, aged 48. Even though we were all hoping against hope that this was just another cruel hoax and asking to see theΒ “receipts”, the singer’s publicist Kristen Foster herself confirmed it.

At the time of writing, details of how Whitney died and where her body was found and such haven’t been officially confirmed – and frankly, it don’t matter to me. I feel like there’s been enough material in the press over the last few years detracting from Whitney‘s contribution to music and her vocal asset that we don’t need to feed on that right now.

The music industry has lost a truly defining star who set the standard in which so many young female talents have aspired to in terms of vocal presence and influence.

Whitney Houston took soul-powered pop to new heights when she broke out with her debut self-titled album in 1985. The almighty hits ‘Greatest Love of All’ and ‘Saving All My Love For You’ projected a blueprint for pop ballads in the decade to come, while the fun – and albeit few – uptempos like ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘Someone For Me’ spoke directly to the ears of the 80s.

What’s been really interesting upon reflection of Whitney‘s six-studio album discography is how well her voice serves up everything from the signature lip-synch-for-your-life type ballads to sassy, fluorescent pop numbers.

Through Whitney‘s smashes like ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’, we learned that there’s a place in the mainstream pop sphere for powerful vocals matched with slick dance productions. In Whitney‘s albums we found a place where sass and pure class can cohesively meet. She showed pop music listeners that you could really have it all and have it sung right, for the matter – from skyscraper ballads to finger-snapping dance records.

At the end of the day, regardless of whether you came to cool down or throw down [Editor’s note: her exact words – see, Whitney – The Greatest Hits] you were guaranteed to be treated with the utmost commitment to passionate vocal delivery.

There was no bullshitting with Whitney‘s voice, even when the wear and tear started to show over the years. While we miss the era of the whistle-clear top notes, we also appreciate her developing raspy tones because it gives the records she sings much more character, maturity and depth.

Inspirational songs like ‘I Look To You’ and ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’ on her final studio album I Look To You would not have been what they are if she had recorded them 25 years ago.

It wasn’t always easy to accept that Whitney‘s voice is not what it used to be but I think once you understand that the source of her great vocal power is not in the strength of her vocal chords but rather the soul from which she sings from – it all starts to make a bit more sense.

Through all the years, different shades of uptempo and downtempos, and personal drama that followed her – there was no denying that the voice always came through with a bite and with a good deal of conviction.

Check out five of Feed Limmy‘s favourite Whitney tracks:

‘I Will Always Love You’

My earliest memory of Whitney Houston was sitting in front of the television at my babysitter’s housing commission flat, watching the camera zoom in on this woman and pausing just before she opens her eyes to belt out the final stretch of ‘I Will Always Love You’.

I remember being so swept away by her almighty vocals in that moment that I forgot to breathe. Needlessly to say, I felt very dizzy by the end of the song. When you encounter music that leaves a lasting first impression like that, it’s really hard to find anything that could ever possibly top that.

‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’

I wish I could say that I knew and loved this song from the moment it came out but my proper introduction to ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ only occurred when I was old enough to go clubbing. I associate this song so much with joy, freedom and gay pride because of this experience.

I just remember seeing the faces of gays around me light up when the song powered up and how much everyone was living for the anthemic chorus. ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ was singing the sentiment of every single man and woman on the floor. It’s like this communal feeling of we all came out to dance tonight and have a good time, but really we’re wishing that a special someone would find us under all the smoke and strobes.

Now report to the dance floor in honour of our Queen of The Night:

‘Saving All My Love For You’

Mama Lim used to play this song a lotΒ when I was a child but it wasn’t until I revisited it in my teens that I realised what a sexy, baby-making jam ‘Saving All My Love For You’ really is.

Whitney made having an affair sound so romantic, pure and sacred. It was the combination of her smooth jazzy vocals and saxophone, and this idea of saving herself for a man. This ballad actually gives moments, albeit subtler ones than the likes of ‘Greatest Love of All’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’. Truly is one of my favourite vocal performances by the late diva.

Prepare to smooth it out with ‘Saving All My Love For You’:

‘Step By Step’

Halleloo, Ms Houston. You can’t touch this space where Whitney goes – it’s literally where heaven’s gates open up and blasts some wholesome mix of gospel and uplifting dance pop. I feel like whole aerobics programs could be structured around this song and its remixes – and probably have been.

When you’re looking for a track where Whitney‘s giving you all that from vocal trills to inspirational lyrics, you really need not look further than ‘Step By Step’.

Rip off them choir robes and get to steppin’ to ‘Step By Step’:

‘I Look To You’

As I wind down this post now and hit play on ‘I Look To You’, I can actually feel tears coming to my eyes thinking about how this really is the last defining ballad Whitney will ever serve and how fitting it is.

I think back to the first time I heard this song and how much it made me think of my mother and the difficult year she had with the divorce. The song made me reflect on how much mum and I leaned on each other during that time and how we, as humans, can share this special ability to lift each other up by just being there.

Right now, my thoughts are with Whitney‘s daughter Bobbi Kristina and I sincerely hope she is surrounded with love and she too has someone to lean on during this horrible time.

The journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Whitney, especially from an outsider’s perspective when all you’re fed with are tragic, disturbing accounts of her drug abuse and erratic behaviour.

But I want to believe that for someone who has brought so much joy and so much passion into our lives with her music, that in her lifetime, she would’ve experienced some of that love and happiness in return.

“Take me far away from the battle, I need you to shine on me…” – Rest in peace, Whitney Houston.