When I arrived at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday afternoon the VH1 network crew was abuzz with news that singer Whitney Houston would soon be gracing that very room with her presence. She’d agreed to do an interview for Behind the Music on Brandy, and all had to be just right for the legendary diva to sit down for a chat. We joked among ourselves that we hoped she’d indeed show up and that “you never know about Whitney.’’
None of us could have known that less than 45 minutes later, Houston’s assistant would interrupt our taping. “Whitney can’t make it.” Then later, “Whitney won’t be able to do it.” And finally, “Whitney’s dead.”
Her words hung in the air for a good long while before anyone could catch their breath. The four of us in the room at that moment repeated them to ourselves and then to each other aloud as we tried to process the news of Houston’s demise.
We all had our stories of “unique” encounters with the singing icon and we knew all too well the intimate details of her fight with substance abuse and addiction over the years. After gathering our thoughts, fighting back a few tears, and texting our bosses and friends, we made the short trip to the lobby to see if the stunning news had hit everyone around as hard as it had hit us.
So many weren’t aware that just four floors up, one of the most beautiful voices of this generation was simply no more. Preparations for the party Houston’s mentor Clive Davis holds each year continued. It didn’t seem to matter that Diddy was frantically calling others in the business to make sure it was in good taste. Clive would have his party.
While his most celebrated artist remained upstairs, covered by a white sheet and guarded by the LAPD, the red carpet sizzled with some of the brightest stars of movies and music as the day moved on. Tom Hanks, Toni Braxton, Gladys Knight, and Peter Fonda all paused to pay their respects to the woman whose vocal talents dwarfed most of her peers—and whose personal life often dwarfed the millions of albums she sold.
As Cee Lo Green performed at Davis’s dinner and Diddy called for those in attendance to party in the way Houston would have done herself, hundreds of fans lined the sidewalks of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, hoping to catch one last glimpse of a woman whose voice shaped a generation.