by Allan Wigney
Leaving us as she did literally on the eve of the Grammy Awards ceremony, Whitney Houston assured herself a centrestage status she had essentially abandoned in recent years. Tragically, it was her offstage behaviour that brought her there, one last time. But at the Grammies, every tribute was sincere, and surely deserved.
Ms. Houston was unquestionably a rare vocal talent — rare, that is, except within her gifted family. As a singer, her pedigree was impeccable: mother Cissy was an R&B legend; cousin Dionne Warwick was one of pop music's most distinctive and greatest voices.
Much is already being said in obituaries about Whitney Houston's having wasted her talent. Fair enough. Though, I would argue that using her god-given instrument to bludgeon Dolly Parton's beautiful ballad I Will Always Love You was, in itself, a waste of a great talent. The influence of her remarkable natural talent is, alas, less great than her influence on the Mariahs and Celines that followed her lead in oversinging otherwise-melodic songs. Yet, and with respect, Ms. Houston can no more be blamed for those injustices than can Bob Dylan for inspiring rock and roll lyricists to believe they have something to say.
Thus, we mourn her talent. And if, in a way, that mourning has already been as over the top as the aforementioned singing, well, it was Grammy weekend. Better to pay homage to Whitney Houston than to, say, the latest auto-tuned Grammy darling. The Grammies, in some respects, made Whitney; they may as well bury her.
As for me, I will remember the artist not for her music, much less for her struggles with addiction — hardly a rare thing in the show business. I shall instead remember her name as one checked by a singer of no fixed talent and influence, whom I interviewed a decade or so ago. The American singer-songwriter called me from Japan for a chat, and mid-way through our conversation she brought things to a forceful halt.
"Wait," she said. "Before we go on I have to make sure I have your name right. It's Wigney?"
"Yes," I replied. "Wigney."
"So," she said, crafting a thought far more clever than any she had to date put into song, "it's like Wigney Houston. But with a Wig."
And that, folks, is my Whitney Houston story. Never got to see her perform. Never will. Never, frankly, wanted to. But I appreciate that she will be missed. Certainly, far more than the singer whose name I cannot recall.
Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet uses video projection design to send its dancers down the rabbit hole.
Local photographer Joy Kardish preserves, and reveals, all-but-forgotten spaces.
The 2011 visual and media arts laureates speak for themselves at the National Gallery group exhibition.
The renowned Japanese percussion ensemble, celebrating its 30th year, comes to the NAC March 7.