The Greatest Love: Whitney Houston and Robyn Crawford

 


I hesitated to read Robyn Crawford's book A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston, primarily because I was preoccupied with the launch of my own book. But when I read recently that Whitney Houston's final recording contract was worth 100 million dollars, I dropped everything to rush out and grab that book.

Evidently, 100 million dollars was not enough to keep Whitney alive. Hers was a story of addiction. She had her first taste of cocaine when she was only 14. It is so tragic that she never received the help she needed to get healthy and stay alive. She was vilified in the media as the good-girl-gone-bad who let her talents go to waste. But Robyn Crawford, who witnessed her meteoric rise, felt the need to set the record straight and "lift Whitney up" after the media chose to put their energy into tearing her down.

Imagine the stress and pressure Whitney must have felt knowing that she was losing her voice, after having been paid a hundred million dollars for her album, and knowing that she would have to tour to promote that album. During her final concerts she faced bad reviews, boos, and walkouts. I can imagine how she felt she needed to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the humiliation.

Whitney and her mother Cissy Houston

While she was in high school, there were at least two incidents of blatant racism. One involved a sleepover at the home of one of Whitney's white classmates. When the girl's father came home, he snapped, "What's that nigger doing in my house?!" The other incident involved her being invited to sing at a classmate's wedding, and again, a racist parent disinvited her. By this point, Robyn had already witnessed how Whitney could hold an entire church congregation in the palm of her hand with her voice. People were shouting, speaking in tongues, collapsing, and Robyn knew then that this woman possessed an otherworldly power.

The Sweet Inspirations
But Whitney's demons went deeper than just worrying over her voice. Her mother, Cissy Houston, founder of the Sweet Inspirations, had enormous success as a background singer for several famous performers including Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Elvis Presley. She was determined that her daughter would be a star, and did not want any gossip or rumors to tarnish her daughter's fame.



Unfortunately, Mrs. Houston was more concerned about her daughter's obedience than her happiness. She didn't want Whitney to have contact with Robyn because Robyn boosted Whitney's self-esteem, and gave her the confidence to stand up to her mother. Cissy was very involved with the New Hope Baptist Church Choir, and had Whitney sing as a soloist with the choir when she was a young girl. Even at that time, Whitney was carrying a secret that was too burdensome for most people to bear.

Dee Dee Warwick
Recently, it has been confirmed that young Whitney Houston had been molested as a child by her older cousin, Dee Dee Warwick, who was 20 years her senior. Whitney's half-brother Gary admitted in interviews that both of them had been molested by Dee Dee. Whitney's longtime assistant Mary Jones has said that Whitney admitted to her that Dee Dee molested her, and that she never told her mother or Dee Dee's sister, Dionne Warwick. Supposedly, Whitney was worried that her mother would seek revenge against Dee Dee if she knew what had happened. Her way of keeping peace in the family was to remain silent.

Children often blame themselves when they are the victims of such abuse. Survivors often turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Imagine being a child, feeling like a "sinner," and standing before a church congregation hoping that no one can see just how guilty you feel. Whitney's mother's church did nothing to help her. It simply made her feel like she needed to hide.

Robyn tells the story of Whitney handing her a blue Bible the day before Valentine's Day of 1983, and announcing that it was the end of their physical relationship. She didn't want to have to worry about rumors that they were lesbians circulating, and potentially destroying her career. She was only nineteen, and she wanted Robyn to commit to a life of celibacy so that they could stay together as "friends." Robyn wrote of being slapped by Whitney when she thought that she was sleeping with one of her dancers. (Meanwhile, Whitney was rumored to have had multiple sexual relationships with men including Jermaine Jackson, Eddie Murphy, and Bobby Brown, whom she eventually married.) After Robyn was an employee, Cissy also slapped her for leaving Whitney alone in a hotel for a day. If Cissy could slap her daughter's assistant so easily, one can imagine the kind of physical abuse that Whitney herself was subjected to. Whitney definitely comes across in the book as a woman who was afraid of her mother.

I hope that Robyn Crawford feels that she accomplished what she set out to accomplish. Now she is married to a woman she met while Whitney was filming The Bodyguard, and they have two children. But when I think of all the singers we have lost to drug addiction, it makes me wonder exactly what it is about this industry that is so toxic, that forces performers to need to escape. Whitney Houston was one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, with sales of over 200 million records worldwide; and at the time of its release, The Bodyguard was the tenth highest-grossing film of all time. The soundtrack album went on to win Album of the Year at the 1993 Grammy Awards. But Whitney had no peace. She was afraid of her mother, afraid of losing Robyn, afraid of being outed, and afraid of losing her voice. I truly hope that she has finally found peace.



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