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Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Voice" Silenced

On the eve of Music's biggest night, the world lost of one our most beloved, celebrated and respected voices, as Whitney Houston was found dead at 48. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Whitney is the most awarded female artist of all time, with with two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards among a total of 415 career awards through 2010. She is also one of pop music's best-selling music artists of all-time, with more than 170 million combined albums, singles, and videos sold worldwide.

Another accolade that may never be surpassed is her standard-setting rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, performed at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa Bay in 1991. Due to overwhelming response to her rendition, it was released as a commercial single and video of her performance, and reached the Top 20 on the US Hot 100, making her the only act to turn the national anthem into a pop hit of that magnitude. Houston donated all her share of the proceeds to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund. Her rendition was considered the benchmark for singers and critically acclaimed. Rolling Stone commented that "her singing stirs such strong patriotism. Unforgettable", and the performance ranked No. 1 on the 25 most memorable music moments in NFL history list.

Unfortunately, her mainstream appeal began to fade by the late 90's as missed performances and weight loss led to rumors of drug use which were later confirmed. In 2000 at a Hawaii airport, Marijuana was found in both Whitney's and husband Bobby Brown's luggage. In a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, Whitney addressed the rumored drug use and firmly denied tabloid reports that she had used crack cocaine. "Crack is cheap. I make too much for me to ever smoke crack," she said. "Let's get that straight, OK? I don't do crack. I don't do that. Crack is whack." She also told Diane that she was determined not to let drugs become a problem in her life again, but when asked if she will completely stay off drugs, she said "Well, I'm not going to tell you that," but added that she is not self-destructive and does not want to die.

Prior to the Diane Sawyer interview, back in 2001, Whitney had just signed the biggest record deal in Music history, for $100M to deliver six new albums. The first album on the new contract, "Just Whitney" was released in December 2002, which went Platinum in the U.S. and sold 3 million albums worldwide but remains her least successful album. In 2006, Whitney separated from husband Bobby Brown, and quickly filed for divorce, gaining custody of their only daughter, Bobbi Kristina, when the divorce finalized in April 2007. Whitney gave her first interview in 7 years with Oprah in September 2009, after just releasing her album "I Look To You", with her best opening-week sales of 305,000 copies, marking Houston's first number 1 album since The Bodyguard soundtrack, and Houston's first studio album to reach number 1 since her 1987 album "Whitney". During the interview she admitted to using drugs with her husband, including Marijuana laced with Cocaine, and said that "By 1996, doing drugs was an everyday thing...I wasn't happy by that point in time. I was losing myself."

In December 2009, Whitney began what would become her last tour, billed as the "Nothing But Love World Tour", her first in over 10 years. Whitney canceled some concerts due to illness and received widespread negative reviews from fans who were disappointed in the quality of her voice and performance.

Her final days were filled with both joyous and erratic behavior from Whitney, as she and daughter Bobbi attended a party for Grammy nominee Kelly Price at the nightclub Tru Hollywood where she and Price performed a duet, her final performance. Later that night, she was involved in a tense exchange with X-Factor finalist Stacy Francis and R&B singer Ray J and was escorted from the club, appearing disheveled and agitated. As reported by TMZ, she spent most of Friday night at the bar of the Beverly Hilton Hotel with friends, drinking and being very loud. Whitney was staying at the hotel to attend music industry executive Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy bash on Saturday. On Saturday, during morning or early afternoon, Whitney spoke to her cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, and spoke with her mother just 30 minutes before she was found unresponsive in the bathtub by hotel security. Police, who were already onsite in preparation for Clive's party, arrived quickly and after 20 minutes of CPR she was pronounced dead at 3:55pm. Officials have reported that she died from what appears to be a combination of Xanax and other prescription drugs mixed with alcohol.

Whitney's death is one of many alcohol and drug-related tragedies that have shaken the entertainment industry and the fans of its most beloved talents. The list is long and distinguished, yet no matter how shocking or tragic, the pattern continues. Her untimely death, like many before her, is a haunting reminder that no one is immune to the long-lasting harm that drugs can do. Even after years without using, even the slightest relapse or an evening of heavy drinking is all it can take, once the damage has been done.

Regardless of her struggles, Whitney's legacy will always be her stunning voice and film career, both of which shattered racial barriers and captured the attention and respect of fans and peers. To remember her any other way would be a dishonor to the indelible mark she's left on the world.