I remember it like it happened yesterday. I probably begin a lot of posts in this way, but this memory is especially vivid.
It was February of 1986, which was my senior year of high school. My father had agreed to drive my sister and I up to Evanston, Illinois the next day, since I had been accepted at Northwestern (more on that here), and I had to give them my decision by March 1. It was one of my last remaining days of high school, and instead of roaming the halls I would be on a college campus instead. That was a very big deal for me.
Watching the Grammys, on a Sunday night that felt like a holiday in some sense, I saw–and heard–Whitney Houston for the first time. She looked positively stunning, but somehow she sounded even better than she looked. It hardly seemed possible for any person to have a voice like that. It was sweet and powerful, in equal measures. My words alone can’t really do it justice, so watch the clip above and hear it for yourself.
As my father drove our rusty, light blue Impala northward the next day, on a trip that was to ultimately change my life, I heard Whitney Houston’s voice inside my head and realized that the future held great things for her. And for several years, I was right about that.
I had nearly forgotten, as all of the madness swirled around her in later years, how amazing her voice was. But hearing the news of her passing on the radio, followed by the inevitable tribute songs, brought it all back to me. As Jackson Browne sang in one of his songs, “That girl could sing. She could sing!”
I never really was a Whitney Houston fan, because teen-aged males weren’t allowed to publicly say that. But I realize now, as I did back then, that her voice was indeed something special. And for the next few days, I’ll be hearing a lot of it on the radio and on TV. But for me, at least, it can never sound any better than it did inside my head, during that car ride from many years ago.