Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Ariel Sharon 390.
(photo credit: Reuters/Gil Cohen Magen)
“I can’t believe she died!” I exclaimed from behind my sister’s computer.
“Who?” my teenage niece asked.
“Whitney Houston,” I answered. “It says here that at the age of 48, the singer died of as-yet unknown causes at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel on the eve of the Grammy Awards this weekend.”
“Whitney who?” my niece asked.
“You’re kidding, right? You know who Whitney Houston is, don’t you?”
“Somebody famous, I guess,” my niece shrugged, “Didn’t they also say that Amy Winehouse died of ‘unknown causes’?” She said, before putting her earphones back on and bobbing her head to the latest Beyoncé song playing on her iPod.
I pondered trying to explain Whitney Houston to a teenager of the Facebook generation. I’d grown up on her music, but these kids of the new millennium hadn’t. Maybe I’d start by saying that before Beyoncé, before Mariah Carey, before YouTube - or even before the internet - there was Whitney Houston.
I could try showing my niece videos of some of Houston’s hit songs, like "Saving All My Love for You" or “I Will Always Love You” - the latter being the theme song of her hit movie, The Bodyguard. But aside from laughing at Houston’s ridiculous eighties and nineties hairstyles, I don’t suppose I’d get much of a reaction.
It’s not hard to play word association when I say the name “Whitney Houston.” But apart from “Grammy,” “talent,” or “the greatest voice of all time” (the accolade that is most often attributed to this singer), there are a number of negative associations with the singer that contributed to her fall from grace, including a history of drug abuse or her terrible marriage to singer/rapper Bobby Brown.
Actually, one of the things I personally remember about Whitney Houston was her visit to Israel in 2003. Houston and Brown toured the country’s Jewish and Christian holy sites and even met with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. Houston was quoted as telling the prime minister, "I've never felt like this in any other country. I feel at home, I feel wonderful."
But the main purpose of the couple’s trip was to visit to the Hebrew Israelite community, known as the Black Hebrews, in the southern town of Dimona. The community of 2,000 African-Americans, whose members have all been converted to Judaism, has lived in Dimona since the early 1970s. They are controversial because of their practice of polygamy, and as a result, Israel hesitated to give them permanent resident status. Nonetheless, over the decades, many community members have integrated into Israeli society, and it is for their musical performances that the Black Hebrews are particularly popular.
Perhaps the strangest thing to come out of that visit was Houston’s remarks to reporters just prior to her leaving the country. She told the media that since she planned on visiting Israel frequently in the future, she was intending to build herself a house in Dimona.
That never actually transpired.
There is a very telling quote in the film “The Bodyguard” in which the character of Rachel Marron, played by Whitney Houston, says, ‘"I don't trust discipline. I know, at that crucial moment, I'd cop out."
Whitney Houston was no doubt a special talent and one that people might ask the following rhetorical question: “didn’t she almost have it all?” But perhaps she lacked discipline in her personal life and, indeed, in her own convictions - like the one to set up home in the Holy Land. Perhaps, at the crucial moment, Whitney Houston just copped out. The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University.