Whitney Houston was found dead yesterday in a room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. She was 48. For some years before her premature death, her life had been blighted by cocaine abuse.
It’s as if, writes the New Yorker‘s Sasha Frere-Jones in perhaps the most thoughtful reaction to Houston’s death so far, “we’ve watched Whitney Houston die in front of us, slowly and unmistakably, for more than a decade”. Frere-Jones goes on:
Her second album, Whitney, laid out the rough scheme she followed for the rest of her career: ballads as the crossword puzzles she would complete minutes before you, and dance numbers as her firing range. Michael Jackson represented the ecstatic and the untouchable; Whitney Houston was always human, along every axis. Her triumphs felt like things you could imagine, just barely. The peak of Whitney was “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which forms a perfect companion to [Michael] Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” his expression of loss of self within the joy of dance. Houston’s spirit never made her seem distant, so it was plausible (the pliable listener wanted to believe) that she might dance with us, though by the time she got to the chorus she might easily be anywhere, with anyone. Her voice was good to vowels, and this time around it was “o” that won the lottery.
Here is that voice being good to the vowels in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (1987):