Monday, February 20, 2012


I never met "Whitney Houston," but I met Nippy three times. I had heard bout this kid with an amazing voice, so I made it a point to be backstage at the Grammys the first time she was on. I remember seeing her and her friend Robyn running around like two kids set loose in a chocolate factory. Their eyes were shining; they were giggling and pointing at people--but they weren't acting silly. It was so sweet. I was so happy to see the joy on her face, and I remember thinking about how long she would remain joyful.

The next time we met was after her first concert in Los Angeles. I don't even remember where it was. It wasn't a tiny club, and it wasn't an arena. It was some sort of hall, with folding chairs around a portable stage. She'd had a couple of hits and was heading toward her third. The same skinny kid came up on stage. She wasn't fully groomed yet with the sleek wigs and sequined dresses. She was so scared you could see her knees knocking, and she barely moved when she sang. BUT THAT VOICE WAS THERE, and you knew she'd grow into it.

The week that "I Will Always Love You" was released, to the best of my knowledge "The Bodyguard" was not yet out, and that song had just started going up the charts. To the music business people, she was about to be a very big star. To the younger public she was about to be a big star. But that week she was scheduled to sing at a fundraiser for an extremely prominent charity at, of all places, The Beverly Hilton Hotel. Like all charity dinners, the singer came on after dinner when most people just want to go home. And, like most charities, it was an older crowd. She gave a fantastic performance of about four songs, and the audience was polite, but not cheering. In fact, at the time a performer usually goes offstage and then comes back to huge applause for the encore, Whitney was getting weakening polite applause. She didn't leave the stage, and when the applause ended she just stood there at the mic. Looking unbelievably vulnerable she said, "Don't you want to hear 'I Will Always Love you?'" I've never heard a performer be in that position, and she was so new, that her question simply came from her truth. The audience applauded; she sang it and was fabulous; then she walked off stage. The next day I got a call from the person who was the head of the charity. She had received a call from Whitney's father the next morning. He said Whitney was very upset because she thought she hadn't been good and that she was a failure because of the response. She hung up from him and called me immediately and asked me to do a column devoted to how brilliant Whitney was that night. It was my pleasure because it was the truth, and I couldn't bear that she was unhappy. The column appeared the next day, and that night I got a call from my friend saying that Whitney's father had read the column to her and she was now feeling very happy. I'm so happy that I could do a little something for someone who gave me such joy. God Bless You, Whitney. I wish for you always that you should be as happy as when you and Robyn played backstage.

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