Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thank you Whitney...

I remember being in 9th grade the Monday after the 1991 Super Bowl and everyone was talking about Whitney Houston's stirring rendition of the National Anthem. Now granted, the whole country was still very emotional and full of patriotism because the first Gulf War starting not too long before, but I think even in a time of peace Whitney in that white track suit and headband would've made Radio Raheem from "Do the Right Thing" drape himself in an American flag.  It never crossed my mind to even attempt to sing the National Anthem anywhere, but the radio played it like it was a studio recorded single, so just like most other songs by her that came on the radio at the time, I heard it once or twice and would sing along note for note. The only subconscious intention I had was to drive my siblings and parents crazy singing in the bathroom. (I didn't know I had such a big mouth)
By the time the next school year rolled around I had made a few friends (I was new to the school my first year) and because birds of a feather flock together I met some other people who loved to sing. They were in the chorus and I was not, but somehow we turned our gym class into a bootleg chorus class. Our gym teacher didn't enjoy it but we had a BALL! We sang ALL the time.
That spring the chorus sponsored a talent show. Some how my friends convinced me to audition. I didn't even sign up to audition cause I had never planned to audition, but I remember them coercing me into the chorus room one day after school and telling the chorus teacher she had to hear me sing. I only agreed to this if they stayed in there with me and when she asked what I was gonna sing, I panicked and I thought to myself "What do I know all the words to???" Before I could think of something basic like "Mary had a little lamb" or I say "The Star Spangled Banner" by Whitney Houston. The chorus teacher looked at me with a look like "Yeah right" and to myself I thought the same thing: "Oh you gonna sing Whitney?: Now I had sang in public before but only at the small local church in my grandma's town and most of the congregants and choir were family so that wasn't much different from singing around the house which we did all the time anyway. Singing and music has always been natural for me, but never outside of my audience being family...until now.
All I could think was if I don't sound good my friends are going to boo me and I can't run out of this room... SHAME!!!
The teacher asked me did I want her to play for me on the piano and I said no. I took a deep breath, focused, closed my eyes and heard Whitney singing in my head. When I opened my mouth I simply started to sing Now I'm not saying I sounded just Whitney, but at 15 I knew nothing about range or tone or vocal technique. I was simply imitating Whitney Houston, and I did just that.
I remember coming home to tell my parents I was gonna be in the talent show and it was laughable. I wasn't the "entertainer" I am now and the thought of being at a microphone to talk or sing in front of a crowd would cause me to shake and my knees to knock and my mouth would turn into cotton. A mumbly shaky mess (as we discovered one year when I had to introduce my mother and her sisters at their anniversary a year earlier. FAIL!)
But if I sang in front of my friends in gym and in the chorus room surely I could do this talent show. I don't even know if there was a prize involved but I did it anyway. And I was on first... They introduced me, I took the mic, closed my eyes, my knees were shaking and I felt like someone was choking me... utter shame was about to come upon me. I didn't start of too bad, but let's just say "the rockets red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" was a metaphor brought to life because my nervousness cause those notes to bomb. But my friends knew I could sing, they heard me in the locker room, on the bus, in the hall... and they cheered me on and when they did, I felt my Whitney imitation take over me and finished the song to thunderous applause.
From then on I've always fallen back on my Whitney Houston renditions when I need an old standby. I sang "The Greatest Love of All" countless times at last minute "black events" in college, seen many brides and grooms gaze into each other's eyes singing I believe in you and me, and turned out karaoke contest singing "All the Man I Need" (do y'all remember FUN FLIXX?) and even auditioned for the college choir with "The Star Bangled Banner" (which the director informed me is in B-flat if anyone asked)
Of course my voice, technique and style have matured over the years. I've come into my own as a vocalist. There are many other singers who can sing circles around me, but I don't take my talent for granted. I thank God for my gift but I will always credit THE VOICE, MS. WHITNEY HOUSTON for helping me discover my own voice. That's the Whitney I want to remember and will never forget...

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