Whitney Houston’s biography shows why it’s absurd to think she didn’t make ‘Black music’.

Kasi Lemmons’ “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” biographically depicts the life of the greatest voice of her generation, or The Voice for short. Snapshots of Whitney Houston’s (Naomi Ackie) struggle as an addict, queer woman, huge pop star, and Bobby Brown’s wife all raise their ugly heads.

Looking back at the singer’s legacy, the aforementioned are the most glaring examples of tabloid fodder that arouses grief and anxiety. However, while researching the film, Houston faced ruthless criticism of her Blackness, which also affected her deeply. Murmurs and shouts from the Peanuts gallery to social justice leaders accused the singer of “selling out” to appeal to white audiences.

The idea of ​​it being a box office has always been an absurd narrative that does little more than flatten and upset an enormous talent.

“I Want To Dance With Someone” suffers from subtle dialogue and predictability—the boring embellishments typical of biographies. However, it’s best when it acts as a celebration of Houston’s beautiful voice and reminds us of the line Black artists (usually Black female artists) are expected to walk when pushed into the public eye. For Houston, the idea of ​​it being a box office has always been an absurd narrative that does little more than flatten and upset an enormous talent.

A pivotal moment in “I Want to Dance With Someone” paints a pivotal 1989 evening Houston spent in a room full of the recording industry’s biggest Black stars (and Kenny G). She met her husband-to-be Bobby Brown at the Soul Train Music Awards hosted by her cousin Dionne Warrick and has performed twice, once with New Edition and the other as a solo artist. Boobs are heard from the gallery during the presentation of the Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Single award for a female artist. It was received with the same reception at the previous Soul Train Music Awards. Neither example was unanimously cynical; You may hear some applause, but when are the highest vibrations inside an artist’s head not teasing?

Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”Emily Aragones / Sony Pictures

Houston’s longtime saxophonist Kirk Whalum recalls the event as “emotionally devastating” for him in “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” a 2017 documentary about the singer’s life. “I don’t think so [she] never got rid of it. “When one of the checked boxes eventually died, it was because of those boxes and it was a big box.” His mentors, Clive Davis, and his Arista company steered his music in a direction that would appeal to as many people as possible. In the documentary, Kenneth Reynolds, the advertising and marketing veteran who helped launch Houston’s career in the ’80s, said that Arista deliberately avoided sounds similar to George Clinton or Parliament. Recordings that looked like something “Too Black” were sent back to the studio. Reynolds said label heads “don’t want a female James Brown.” Even with this information, the humiliation he faced at the Soul Train Awards seems without reason.

Another scene in “I Want to Dance with Someone” reads like a fictionalized account of the various media appearances in which Houston had to defend her music. A disc jockey asks what he thinks of the accusations of being a sold out person. real black artist Houston asked, “If I’m not a black artist, then what am I?”

It’s a hit in the movie that perfectly sums up the absurdity of this claim surrounding his career. Houston came from a long line of Black vocalists who began her journey in the Black church, where she received guidance from her mother, Cissy Houston, who was a talented singer in her own right, and had a great enough voice to serve as a backup singer for Aretha Franklin. and countless others.

Witney Houston was a Black woman – Black ate, Black slept, Black lived, Black cried, Black walked and Black died. I wonder how Houston could do anything other than sing Black as well. Houston supposedly appealed to mainstream audiences for being The Voice. Crafted by Davis, Reynolds, and the Arista team, the “girl next door” image was built to get her into a wider range of homes, but Houston’s unique talent was the chief representative of her success. And who can say that a Black woman can’t be a “girl next door”? This is silly and just blunts the beauty that there are countless ways a person can be Black.

Houston was a pop princess, but the accusation that something like that made her a non-Black star by nature is odd for a number of reasons. While funk was never her thing (funk isn’t exactly the genre known for its divas of vocal caliber), R&B was a force that was always present in her music from Day One and during the peak period of the days when she was referred to as “”. oreo” and “Whitey Houston.” After all, her first single was “Hold Me”, a duet with Teddy Pendergrass. The strangest aspect of this criticism is that almost all American music is Black music. Black people are the architects of countless loud sounds, from rock ‘n’ roll to country, and pop is just one of them. Houston made all the music he could.

The spirit of that indictment lives on today, though Houston has often dismissed criticism that there isn’t enough Black or that she doesn’t make Black music. Musicians like Lizzo and Doja Cat receive the same complaints Houston did more than three decades ago, but added to the instantaneous nature of social media. What do these and other considerations of black accomplish, other than its ability to break one’s soul?

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