A Valentine Tribute – Whitney, I Will Always Love You
I have never been one to celebrate Valentine’s Day. And no, it’s not because I am jaded about love. My four long-term romantic relationships total about 16 years and were for the most, filled with unconditional love and beautiful lasting memories. Yet, I never get fussy about February 14. When anyone asks why, I’ve always tried to justify my lack of enthusiasm by saying, I’m so constantly showered with love, I don’t need a holiday to commemorate it. Corny, I know, but that’s how I feel. But I get why people are excited about celebrating their love on V-Day. And I don’t think these celebrations are or should be limited to romantic connections.
My fondest V-Day memory is actually from when I was 16 years old and still in secondary school. I was class prefect for some junior students, who on the one hand adored me for my jovial nature and on the other hand “feared” me for being a strict disciplinarian. I was also well-regarded for my punctuality; I’d arrive daily to school about 90 minutes early. On Valentine’s Day that year, I got there at my usual time and standing on the steps by the main entrance were about 12 little boys holding single-stemmed red roses. They were waiting for me. Each handed me a rose as I walked in and one of them, Neil – my colleague in the school’s choir, serenaded me. He knew it was one of my favorite songs and at the time, an anthem for many of us – “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston. That day, like so many others in my teenage and young adult years was made all the more special because Whitney was part of it. Today, like millions of fans around the world, I mourn her death. Anyone who knows me, knows that I loved Whitney and her music. So for once, I am celebrating Valentine’s Day; I’m celebrating my love for Whitney Houston.
Like so many other little girls I knew, I too used to stand in front of the mirror holding a brush or comb as a microphone belting out Whitney songs. Every adolescent crush or heartbreak I had was dramatized through her tracks, be it “How Will I Know” or “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” or “Saving All My Love For You” or “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.” Her music always moved me. Hers was “The Voice” that gave me goose pimples, the earnest sentiment in every note that convinced me Whitney was experiencing everything about which she was singing and I was accompanying her on that journey. One such moment was the Seoul Summer Olympics, 1988. As a track athlete then and athletics being my favorite sport, I had anxiously looked forward to watching the games. They featured the most magical commercial – Whitney singing “One Moment In Time.” I swear, every time I heard that song during the Olympics, I cried. Perhaps, it’s because it was played amidst many of the triumphant stories told of athletes throughout the competition. Perhaps, it’s because I loved Flo Jo, who emerged as the female track star of those games and the song epitomized her. Perhaps, it’s because every time it filled the airwaves, it made me feel like I could be whoever I wanted to be, accomplish whatever I wished. Perhaps, it’s because of its inspiring lyrics and haunting melody. Perhaps, simply put, Whitney sang the heck out of that song and with each crescendo evoked deeper emotions within the listener. That song, those games, that era are etched in my mind and nestled in my heart.
As I got older, those performances in front of the mirror ceased. But my Whitney moments continued. The day I heard strains of the U.S. anthem on a Barbados radio station, I stopped in my tracks, wondering what momentous occasion was unfolding. It turned out to be Whitney’s performance at Super Bowl XXV, 1991 and indeed it was an epic event – the quintessential rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Words cannot describe the emotions that took hold of me. For all my patriotism to Barbados, for those moments, Whitney made feel like I wanted to be an American. She also impacted my budding love life. My romantic experiences were all being expressed through a Whitney song. I remember the early 90’s fad on evening radio shows in Barbados, where disc jockeys would have “Request Time” and listeners would dedicate ballads to their sweethearts. I’d often call in declaring my love for my boyfriend, each time asking the DJ to play Whitney Houston. A highlight of that time was when she released her remake of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” I recall countless evenings where almost everyone requested that song. The DJ had to beg callers to chose a different tune. Still the requests continued and for weeks that selection remained in rotation. It is as fresh today as it was then. Similarly, I love Whitney now as I did in my childhood and throughout the years as she evolved, endured and in some ways overcame. The Voice is now silenced. The heart has stopped beating. And her face, I will see no more. For ages to come none will compare and especially on occasions like today, her music will play on louder, sweeter and echoing my Valentine sentiment – I Will Always Love You Whitney Houston. Rest in Peace.
~ I Keep it Irie ~