Let’s Talk Whitney

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Today would have been Whitney Houston’s 54th birthday.

August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012

So let’s talk about Whitney and her talent, legacy, and so many gifts she gave to all of us.  I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly with the band The Killers.  In the article, lead singer Brandon Flowers talked about one of their new songs, “Tyson vs. Douglas” named for the 1990 boxing match in which then champion Mike Tyson shockingly lost to Buster Douglas.  Flowers says the song, “explores what it is like to lose a hero.”  I immediately thought about my hero, Whitney Houston.

On January 26, 1987 Whitney became my biggest hero the night she won five American Music Awards and sang her hit “All At Once”.

As an 11 year old boy she stood ten feet tall that night and every night there after.  What is so sad to me is that Whitney Houston fell.  In the late 90s until she passed away she fell from grace and that is what people remember.  Whenever Whitney comes up in conversation (which actually happens all the time around me) people immediately say, “What do you think about Bobby Brown?” “What about the drugs?” You know what, she was SO much more than either of those things and right here, we are going to celebrate “The Voice” as Oprah called her.  We are going to celebrate my hero, Whitney Houston.

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In the coming weeks Showtime will air a documentary called Whitney Houston: Can I Be Me?  I want to explore this, one of her favorite sayings, as we celebrate Whitney.  She really was never able to be herself.  She was pure pop music and her persona took on a life of its own and her mother and manager marketed her to be WHITNEY HOUSTON, but Whitney Elizabeth Houston was a much different girl.

When Whitney was a young girl growing up in Newark, New Jersey she would go to church and sing.  She loved to sing.  Whitney was also a model.  She was the first African-American to ever grace the cover of Seventeen Magazine.  Before Whitney Houston became Whitney Houston, she was way more her than the person we would grow to know and love.  There are no wigs.  Whitney was a beautiful, natural teenager.  She was happy.

When her first album, Whitney Houston, debuted in 1985 we saw a slicked back haired Whitney on the cover, but soon after the 80s pop princess would be created.

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By 1986 and 1987 Whitney was America’s pop princess and her persona as a bubble gum pop beauty was set.  This wasn’t necessarily Whitney, but this was WHITNEY HOUSTON.

I remember when “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” came out in June of 1987 and in the video Whitney had several looks.  She has three distinctive looks in that video and I remember wondering about that because in January she had a shorter and full curly style.  Then a few months later she had really long curly hair.  It blew my mind being a white kid from west Michigan I had no idea what African-Americans did to style their hair.  Some process it, some use weaves, and some wear wigs.  Whitney wore wigs.  I remember asking my mom, “How can she have so many different looks in one video?”  And here you have why Whitney used to always say, “Can I be me?”  This wasn’t her but it very much was the pop persona created to be Whitney Houston.

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The Voice — Whitney had one of the most amazing vocal instruments of our time.  She was one of the most, if not the most, gifted recording artist of our time.  The purity, the power, the range make her voice one of a kind.  She remains the most awarded artist ever with over 600 awards and her record of seven consecutive number one hits stands to this day (Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, The Greatest Love of All, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go).

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If you wonder why she has so many awards to her name, take a listen to the raw vocals for “How Will I Know.”

Awards over the years and Whitney looks.

 

From an Entertainment Weekly article about when Mick Jagger to come into Whitney’s studio as she recorded her mega hit, and my favorite, “So Emotional.” Her producer Narada Michael Walden,  “Houston headed to New York City to lay down vocals for “So Emotional” at Right Track Studios, and her powerhouse pipes caught the ear of the Rolling Stones frontman. “Mick was recording next door and he had to come in and witness it,” says Walden. “He started jumping around, as he does, and he just couldn’t believe the sound. Whitney was so excited about that.”

Sometimes it isn’t the studio versions or the huge live concert performances that show Whitney’s pure talent.  Take a listen to this clip with Paul Shaffer on the show Friday Night Videos from 1986.

It was recently the 30th Anniversary of Whitney Houston’s iconic Whitney album this summer.  There were a lot of articles that you probably missed (hahaha, but I didn’t) about this album, like, rating the Whitney album’s 11 songs.  Also with the new documentary coming out there have been articles rating her 25 best songs.  NPR recently rated her Whitney Houston album as the 14th best album by a female artist out of 150 albums.

‘Whitney’: Ranking every song on Whitney Houston’s seminal 1987 album

The 25 best Whitney Houston songs

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So here are my lists of Whitney songs.  We all have our favorites.  What are yours?

Top 5 Whitney Pop Hits

  1.  I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
  2.  I Will Always Love You
  3.  How Will I Know
  4.  So Emotional
  5.  The Greatest Love of All

My Top 5 Ballads

  1.  All the Man That I Need
  2.  I Have Nothing
  3.  Didn’t We Almost Have It All
  4.  You Give Good Love
  5.  Where Do Broken Hearts Go

HM. Exhale(Shoop Shoop)

My Top 5 Uptempo Songs

  1. So Emotional
  2. I’m Your Baby Tonight
  3. I Wanna Dance with Somebody(Who Loves Me)
  4. I’m Every Woman
  5. My Love Is Your Love

HM. Million Dollar Bill

My Top 5 Performances

  1.  All the Man That I Need – Welcome Home Heroes Concert 1992
  2.  Star Spangled Banner – Super Bowl 1991
  3.  One Moment In Time – Grammy Awards 1989
  4.  I Love You Porgy, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, I Have Nothing – American Music Awards 1994
  5. Didn’t We Almost Have It All – Saratoga Spring Concert 1987

HM. Loverman, My Man, All the Man That I Need – Billboard Awards 1991

My Top 5 Favorite Whitney Songs

  1.  So Emotional
  2.  All the Man That I Need
  3.  You Give Good Love
  4.  I’m Every Woman
  5.  Where You Are

HM. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do

*In future blog posts I hope to explore each of these lists with thoughts and insights and clips.

So here we are celebrating Whitney on her birthday.  Whitney was and still is so important to me.  People just know and have since I was in elementary school that I am her biggest fan.  The night she died, between Facebook and text messages I had well over 150 condolences.  I don’t know why but I just connected to her and here is why.  The Whitney Houston persona took over her life and led her away from her greatest gift.  We lost a legend and I lost a hero the day she died.  I will always continue to sing her praises and will always remind people that she was a gift and there was so much more to her than the negative 2000s.  She was a performer, a vocalist, a talent like we have never seen before.  Whitney was at her prime in this video and it is one of my all time favorite video clips.  Enjoy and always remember Whitney the way she should be remembered — for the gift of her voice that she shared with us all.

 

Equal Dignity — June 26, 2015

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It’s been 25 days since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of equal rights and equal dignity for all Americans. Call it Gay Marriage, call it Marriage, call it what it is, a Human Right that is afforded to Americans based on our Constitution. I’ve been meaning to write about this momentous day for a few weeks, but just haven’t had a chance. I also wanted it to settle in and I wanted to feel it. On June 26, 2015 LOVE did win.

We should never let anyone into our hearts if they don’t enter with love. With all the hatred around the SCOTUS decision and the fight over equal rights, “Love Wins” is one of the truest messages. As the late, great Whitney Houston once sang, “Your love is my love and my love is your love.”  We all love. We all want to love. We all want to feel love. If two men or two women find love, let it be, please! Who’s to say that your love is more right than my love or my love is more right than your love? Life, this journey, is hard enough, why make it harder by fighting over love? Let love be. Let us move forward allowing everyone to love.

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So here’s my perspective as a non-religious gay man, it’s a separation of church and state.  Our forefathers wrote that into the constitution for a reason.  For so many years I have been arguing the point that I’m not asking to get married in your church. I’m not religious, so I would never get married in a church. If you want to that is wonderful, for you. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is part of the Constitution(state, “government”), and if my happiness means marrying a man, then I get to do that. Marriage comes in two forms.  There is a ceremony(the church if you choose) and there is the license. With the legal part of a marriage license come rights that heterosexual couples have always had. These are the law, not the Bible. These are the state, not the church. No matter what you believe marriage is, one man, one woman…two men or two women…everyone should be given the same legal rights of marriage because we live in America and we all should be afforded the same rights.  Now, because SCOTUS ruled in favor, it is the Law of the Land, as it should be, as it always should have been, as it now will be forever more.

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Ever since President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, I felt things would pick up speed, and they sure did. People have differing opinions on when and how Obama “evolved” into believing in the right for gay men and women to marry. He is a politician and our country is so divided that of course he didn’t come out and fully support gay marriage until after he successfully won his second term. Say what you choose, but what matters to me is that he did and I always felt he would, once he was a second term President. When President Obama took office two states recognized gay marriage, seven years later, all 50 states recognize it. I believe that when the leader of the free world came out and supported equal rights, the slope slipped in the right direction. Call it political posturing, or whatever, Obama had to do it the right way and he did. Thank you Mr. President!

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Several years ago, my friend’s son wrote a letter to President Obama. He asked the President to pass a law so that I can get married. How wonderful, right? E has known me since the time he was born. He and his sister have grown up in a time that gay men and women have just been part of social media and their personal life. In my opinion, he’s been lucky enough to have several “Guncles” in his life, and we are lucky enough to have him in our lives.  This now middle school boy just accepts love as love, couples as couples, people as people.  My hope is that his generation is growing up knowing that “love is love”. They are going to be the first generation that doesn’t quite remember the time of marriage vs. gay marriage. He and his generation will know only, MARRIAGE.

Speaking of the younger generation, did you see this 7 year-old girl stand up to a homophobic preacher?

It’s quite wonderful that I was home in Michigan visiting my family the day of the SCOTUS decision. My five and six-year-old nieces’ take on the day’s events, “Can we be your flower girls and wear pretty dresses?” Again, this young generation will not remember a time when marriage was talked about separately. They will only know marriage as a celebration of love. How wonderful is that?

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The sidewalk in Bronson Park, Kalamazoo, Michigan-June 26, 2015

So what does this all mean? I think Frank Bruni writes about it best in his article “Our Weddings, Our Worth” from the New York Times. It’s about worth. It’s about EVERY American feeling worthy and feeling noticed and feeling dignified. This blows my mind because it is exactly how I feel when Bruni writes, “And that’s because the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.”  So what it means is that our young gay men and women can grow up in a time knowing that they belong and that they are normal and that they matter. And for me it means that I can get married and have cake!!

As all of this settles in, there are still haters, some of whom want to lead our country like Ted Cruz who is calling for states not to follow the law. Um, Ted, it’s the law. You have to follow it. Sorry dude! We must push that nonsense away(and not vote these bigots into office)and forge our path to love!!  LOVE! While we do that, I would like to share some of my favorite moments and images of June 26th, 2015 and the days following via social media.

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The White House

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Our President 🙂

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Our Next President–Please?

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Police raising the Pride flag at City Hall in Chicago

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Niagara Falls

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What a week in US history

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A lot of work yet to accomplish

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This Instagram post from Bey

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That’s right, what makes being American and living in America so wonderful is that we can all have different opinions and we don’t have to agree on any of them. But, we should always be kind to one another and we all deserve the same rights. In the end, it’s about every American knowing that he matters, that she is worthy, and that we are all dignified. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the most beautiful final paragraph in his majority opinion ruling.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

Now we move forward. Let’s call it marriage. Let’s call it celebrations of love. We’re all equal and we’re all deserving of human rights. We are all deserving of the rights afforded to all Americans. So go ahead, you can just call it MARRIAGE now.

Be In Love With Your Life!

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my toiletry bag, a gift from my boyfriend 🙂 and a constant reminder

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For so many reasons, I’m excited about life right now. My 97-year-old grandmother just celebrated her 80th high school reunion. And she’s going to meet my boyfriend, for the first time in my life. I’m about to celebrate my 20th high school reunion. And we’re having lunch with my 4th grade teacher too and that is just amazing. Summer vacation is upon us and that is just exciting because for six weeks I won’t have to pack my lunch, set my alarm, I can drink lots of “summer water” commonly known as rosé, and I can finally watch Jimmy Falon! Annnnnnnnd The Supreme Court of the United States is about to rule on equality, gay marriage, and that is reaaaallllly cool! Life is exciting ya’ll!

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So get this, my grandmother is 97 years old!!! She is truly amazing. Back in the day, she and my grandfather got me my first pair of cowboy boots and my first microphone. They took me to two county fairs to see Barbara Mandrell perform and she introduced me to Regis and Kathie Lee back during a summer visit in 1990. When I was a teen my grandmother and I would sit on the porch in Fostoria, MI, looking at the big red barn and the corn fields and we would talk about her ”story”, Days of Our Lives. I watched too and had a lot to say. Patch and Kayla’s wedding, when Kayla got her hearing back? Forget about it. The “Cruise of Deception,” that was entertaining. Stefano? Marlena? Duke who really wasn’t Duke because he was John Black? Jack and Jennifer? Bo and Hope? All of it and the juicy details were discussed on that porch. I was about 13 and she was about 73. It was a 60-year difference, but we were on the same page. Anyway, the point is, my grandmother is really cool. And why is this exciting? It’s exciting because in a couple of weeks I’m going to introduce my grandmother to my boyfriend!

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You see, several years ago, at a very different time in my life, and for many reasons, I wasn’t allowed to tell my grandfather that I’m gay. Since that time, he passed away. Whether he “knew” I was gay or not probably doesn’t matter. Would he have understood? Would he have thought of me differently, who knows? What I can’t let happen is for my grandmother to not know me as a completely happy man, living a very lovely life. I have led a past of academic challenges that I overcame. Grandma and Grandpa are forever grateful for that. I have led a very successful life living and working in Chicago for 15 years. Grandma is so very happy for that. But ultimately, grandparents want their grandchildren to be happy. I want Grandma Bea to know that I have a great life and that I am very, very happy and that I am loved. I think she’ll be cool with that.

Good lord, where did 20 years go? Is it possible that I graduated from high school TWENTY YEARS ago? I’m excited to see what a 20-year high school reunion looks like. In the small town that my grandmother grew up in, they celebrate reunions yearly at the Alumni Banquet. It is one of my grandmother’s favorite things to do, to attend that banquet yearly. Now she has celebrated EIGHTY of them. EIGHTY people! My 20 years certainly pales in comparison, but I’m still excited. Who is going to be there? Will some of my childhood friends come? Will my high school crush still be as cute as he was back then? Will my boyfriend fall in love with Portage, MI? Ok, ok, let’s not get all crazy here. I do hope that some of the people who were important to me back then are there. I want them to know who I have become and I want to know who they have become. I believe it is an important life event, to celebrate 20 years since graduating high school. At that time, it was the most significant thing that had happened to most of us. Now, 20 years later, most of us, hopefully, have a lot more to share. It’s just exciting to me. Oh, and I can’t wait to take my boyfriend on the tour of Portage. Lake Center Elementary (now demolished and rebuilt), Portage Central Middle School, Portage Central High School (now demolished and rebuilt), Westnedge Ave., TCBY where I spent a lot of time loitering, and of course Lloy St. where I proudly grew up as one of the “Lloy Boys.” There are so many parts of my life back then that were great and should be celebrated. I really can’t wait!

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Did I mention, we are having lunch with my favorite teacher of all time, my 4th grade teacher. How many of you are still in touch with YOUR 4th grade teacher? Mrs. Greene was an amazing inspiration in my life. Here’s the thing, every summer, about a week after school let out we would get our grade report. It was on carbon copy paper and was handwritten. Each year we would wait with excited anticipation with the answer, “Who would be our next teacher?” Moving from 3rd to 4th grade, I have to be honest, everyone wanted Mr. Root. He was the newer, young and fun 4th grade teacher. I remember getting that report card in the mail on a warm, sunny June afternoon in 1986. I didn’t get Mr. Root and I was so disappointed. However, what a shortsighted almost 4th grader didn’t know then, that he knows now, is that he was very lucky because Mrs. Greene would change his life.

Let me start with this bright red skirt suit that Mrs. Greene wore. She was the best dresser I had ever seen. Obviously as I have grown, fashion has become important to me. Well, let’s get real, even back then, my 4th grade picture is of me in suspenders that my Aunt bought for me. But Mrs. Green was always dressed to the nines, as a teacher. She always looked great and honestly, there are days I get dressed, when I don’t necessarily care if I look nice, and I think of her presence in that 4th grade classroom and how it has stuck with me some 28 years later. Mrs. Greene was also just a powerful, strong presence in the classroom. When I was a teacher, I feel that I modeled my classroom presence after her. No-nonsense yet caring, Mrs. Greene had a way of teaching us so many life lessons on a daily basis. One day, I will never forget, is the day Mrs. Greene’s life changed.

Our principal, another strong female role model, came into our classroom. She pulled Mrs. Greene out into the hallway. Soon after they both came back in and Mrs. Greene quickly gathered her things and left the classroom. Our student teacher at the time, Ms. L(I can’t quite remember her last name) took charge of the room. Mrs. Greene’s husband had suffered a heart attack. She was gone for about two weeks as she helped him recover. I remember missing her so much during those two weeks. Back then I probably didn’t quite understand that my teacher also had a life outside of school and that things happen in life. But I distinctively remember her being gone and me missing her as my teacher. Shortly after the two weeks Mrs. Greene was back. Her first day back, what did she wear, the red suit! Over the years I have stayed in touch with Mrs. Greene. In fact, when I was a senior in high school I would go to her classroom and work with her and her students. I always say, “I knew I wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade.” I’m pretty sure it was because I wanted to dress as great as Mrs. Greene.

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As I consider the excitement in the air this June, I can’t help but write about the most important decision the Supreme Court of the United States has ever made, concerning me personally, in my life. This month, SCOTUS will rule on gay marriage and if gay people nation wide should have the right to marry. Certainly, I hope, most of the people in my life believe that I should have the same rights as they do. My home state of Illinois allows me the right to marry, but still, too many other states in the United States do not allow gay people to marry. Some people might argue, just get married in a state that allows it, or move to a state that allows it. Years ago I used to think that State’s Rights was fine and that individual states could make their own decisions. Back then it didn’t matter to me because I lived in a very Democratic state. If I get married in Illinois and live here, it doesn’t matter. But, hold on a second, that isn’t fair. If I get married in Illinois, a state that recognizes gay marriage, but move back to Michigan, a state that doesn’t, it won’t be recognized. That isn’t fair. My straight counterparts in the United States can get married anywhere and move anywhere and it is still recognized. So now, the Supreme Court will rule on this matter by the end of the month. For obvious reasons, this is an important issue to me, but for historical reasons, the fact that the decision will come in June is really exciting.

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I guess it goes without saying that I’m excited because I think the Supreme Court is going to rule on the right side of history. They might not, but fingers crossed, I hope they do. Why it’s exciting that June is the month is because Pride is celebrated across the nation each year the last weekend of June. Back on June 28th, 1969 the gay community of New York City took to the streets in a violent protest against the police raid that took place the early hours of that day. The Stonewall Riots started the slow change that has rapidly picked up speed in the last few years. The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was known to be a place for the most dismissed people of the gay community. On June 28, 1969 the gay community took part in what is considered the most important event leading toward gay liberation and the fight for LGBT rights in the United States. So what will SCOTUS rule? I guess we don’t know, but we can hope that they will rule in favor of equal rights for all people in the United States. I’m excited and hopeful to hear their ruling!

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Excited about life…right now…I am. I’ve certainly learned that life evolves and changes, but what we have to do is enjoy the moment. Life ebbs and flows. There are happy times and sad times, bright times and dark times. Everyone goes through those ups and downs in life, but what I try to remember is that when you’re down, as Oprah has said, “the sun will rise tomorrow.” The sun always rises. And when you are in one of your up cycles, enjoy the hell out of it. Relish those moments. Recognize how it feels to wake up in the morning and get your day started. Soak in those high on life feelings, because inevitably, the down will come back, it will be more difficult to get out of bed and you have to work much harder to choose your attitude. If we can just remember when we are in a down, it will get better.  The sun will rise tomorrow.

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Right now I’m excited and I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this feeling. This summer I’m going to enjoy time with friends and family, my 97-year-old grandmother and my 4th grade teacher. I’m going to enjoy the man I love and the life we have together. I’m going to hope for a great ruling on equality from the Supreme Court. I’m going to enjoy sleeping in and not packing my lunch and staying up late. I’m going to enjoy going back home for my 20th reunion and all it has to offer. I’m going to enjoy a bottle or two of rosé. I’m going to enjoy the moments I have in life with those I love. As we know all too well, life is short so we have to seize the moment, enjoy what we love, and who we love and Say YES to Life!

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