I had the pleasure of seeing Whitney Houston in concert back in the early 90's.  One of the legs of her I'm Your Baby Tonight Tour kicked off at Rupp Arena in Lexington.  That was back in the day when you actually had to call Ticketmaster to get tickets.  You couldn't get them online.  Well, I happened to call the morning those tickets when on sale, RIGHT when they went on sale, and ended up snagging SECOND ROW seats.  Needless to say, my friends and I had four of the best seats in the house for one of the best voices on the planet.  That night, for those two hours, Whitney was well, Whitney.  She was dramatic, she was funny, she was a diva, she was "the voice."  And, when I shouted out from the second row and professed my profound love for her, she pointed at me and said back, "Thank you, Baby!"  Yes, for a brief second, I was HER baby that night. 


It wasn't long after that Rupp Arena concert that Whitney's life and career started to veer horribly off course.  In fact, I had the chance to catch the exact same tour three months later in Maine.  Bobby Brown was there and Whitney was . . . well . . . not Whitney.  She was missing notes, she was mumbling the lyrics instead of singing them.  And, when I say she was singing, that's an exaggeration.  Because that night, she didn't sing for two hours as she had in Lexington.  Nope.  She sang a total of about eight songs, then left the stage.  I remember commenting to a friend, after Bobby Brown walked out on stage and the two gave the crowd a glimpse of a rather sloppy public display of affection, "This is not good."  And, as you well know, it wasn't.  Whitney was never . . . well . . . Whitney again.

Yesterday's news about Whitney Houston, that she had been found dead in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton on the eve of the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, just didn't surprise me.  Honestly, I'm not sure it surprised anyone. But I found myself watching the news anyway.  I tuned into CNN to see how people were remembering Whitney.  I was curious.  What was her legacy going to be?  Was it going to be her turbulent marriage to the bad boy Brown?  Would her be her public battle with drug use?  Would it be her interview with Diane Sawyer where she told the world, "Crack is whack?"  Or would it be her voice?  That amazing voice that I had the privilege of hearing from just two rows away at Rupp Arena in 1991?


Actually, I think Whitney will ultimately be remembered for all of it.  And, I suppose, she should be.  Her story is yet another chapter in the book about celebrities who can't handle their own fame and success.  Another chapter in the book about how devastating the effects of drug use can be.  But, at the end of the day, people will remember . . . well . . . Whitney.  And her voice.  While she may have taken it for granted, her fans around the world never did.  They revered it.  And, now, following her tragic death at 48-years-old, that voice will again be celebrated around the world.

I suppose that's the sad irony here, isn't it?  For the past fifteen years or so, Whitney Houston has been a punchline.  It seems the world had forgotten how to appreciate her and she had obviously forgotten how to appreciate herself.  And, sadly, for Whitney, death was likely the only way she was going to restore her image and her legacy.  To me, that's just so sad.  Yes, it may the name of the fame game, but it's still devastating.

That said, the flip side is this.  While there are images of down and out Whitney all over the web and  while we still have those AWFUL episodes of Being Bobby Brown floating around in Cyberville and TV Land, we, thankfully, still have archived proof of Whitney's unbelievable talent.  I found myself surfing the Internet last night looking for those reminders.  And I found these!  Some vintage Whitney Houston performances that will remind us all that, no matter how far she fell off course, we will always love her.

And now, Whitney's Top 5 performances EVER!  Whitney, you were AMAZING.

#5-  Whitney Houston sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl (1991)

A couple of weeks ago, before Kelly Clarkson sang the National Anthem at Super Bowl XLVI, we asked WBKR Facebook friends this question, "Which version of the National Anthem is your favorite of all-time?"  Whitney's version was one of the two top vote-getters and served as a reminder of how her voice transcends all the genres of music.  I truly believe that THIS is the definitive version of Francis Scott Key's anthem.  It was even a CD single, for crying out loud.  And Whitney Houston just laid it out!

#4-  Whitney sings "A Song For You" at her Welcome Home Heroes concert (March 1991)

At her Welcome Home Heroes concert in 1991, Whitney performed for troops returning home from the Gulf War.  And, during that show, she took a break from her own greatest hits catalog, to perform her take on the Leon Russell classic "A Song For You."  Her performance was simple, understated and glorious.  Take a listen!

#3-  Whitney sings "I Will Always Love You" at the 1994 Grammy Awards

Dolly Parton has always joked that Whitney Houston's version of this song made her a multi-millionare.  And it did and will continue to do so.  (Just hours after Whitney's death, "I Will Always Love You" was again a best seller on ITunes!)  I'm not sure a song has ever been sung this well or will ever be again.  If you are a fan of TV talent shows (like I am), you know that Whitney's version of THIS song is the most mimicked song on the Earth.  I think every young girl aspiring to be a singer has, at some point, aspired to this. 

#2-  Whitney's live video version of "Didn't We Almost Have It All"

This concert version of Whitney's #1 "Didn't We Almost Have It All" was captured during a performance in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Whitney's performance is GENIUS!  And I want to point something else out.  Singers hate to sing in the cold.  When it's chilly outside, it's not easy to get your mouth moving and your vocal cords have a tendency to constrict and limit your range.  But watch Whitney.  She just wrapped a scarf around her neck, threw on a leather jacket and some leather driving gloves, grabbed the mic and made music magic.  I LOVE this song and this peformance of it. 

#1-  Whitney opens the 1989 Grammy Awards with "One Moment In Time"

My friend Tara Estes, who I'm sure will credit Whitney Houston for being one of her big inspirations in life (Tara can bang out "I Will Always Love You" with the best of them) posted a link to this song on Facebook shortly after Whitney's death.  Tara said, "THIS is how I will always remember Whitney."  And, it's funny.  That's exactly what I said after I heard the news.  A radio friend of mine, Jay Micheals, who does mornings in Terre Haute, hosted an impromptu tribute last night at his station.  He invited people to call in with their favorite Whitney moments and I decided to call in with this one.  For me, Tara and many others, THIS is definitive Whitney.  The song itself is stirring.  Remember?  "One Moment in Time" was recorded for the album soundtrack of the 1988 Summer Olympic games in Seoul, Korea.  But lay Whitney Houston's voice to it . . . and the song goes for and wins the gold!  Watch this performance!!  It is classic Whitney and her voice echoes through Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. 

THIS is the Whitney Houston the world will miss.  And no matter what we say or think about the person she became, she will always be remembered for performances like these.  Whitney Houston was . . . well . . . Whitney.  And Whitney's voice echoed through concert stadiums, rafters and generations.  Whitney, you are already missed.

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