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Remembering An Artist

The large meeting hall in Vail was cold: Clive Davis, the most famous pop music record man in America, believed cold kept audiences awake. And he wanted us Bertelsmann music executives from around the world alert: He was about to play the first single from his star Whitney Houston’s new album, “The Bodyguard.” Silence in the darkened room was broken by that amazing voice: “If I should leave, or if I should stay....” she sang a cappella, yes, astonishing a cappella for the first 45 seconds, giving key syllables her unique melisma. Even as the arrangement threatened to overwhelm, Whitney kept it together. Always the servant of the song, her technique never got in the way of meaning. Just think of her imitators — Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Rihanna — fine singers all, but more concerned about their singing than what they’re singing. For my money, Whitney’s wondrous voice and her power to communicate are best recalled in her appearance at Super Bowl 1992. Dressed in white sweats, a white scarf tied around her curls, she sang every word of “The Star Spangled Banner” clearly, slowly at first, slightly behind the orchestra, then building volume and emotion, and finally, triumphantly to a nation newly at war in Iraq. She raised her arms wide above her head and held “brave” an unwavering 11 seconds. You can listen to it on YouTube.

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