Decorated Singer Whitney Houston left her loyal fans throughout the world heartbroken when she passed away on Feb. 11. However, autopsy reports revealing that Houston had used several drugs including cocaine before her death threatened to put a cloud over her legacy as a multi-Grammy award winning artist with several chart topping albums.
Gospel Singer and personal friend to Houston BeBe Winans hopes to unveil the New Jersey singer's true nature in his soon-to-be-released book The Whitney I Knew.
The gospel legend and his family forged a friendship with Houston 28 years ago and maintained an open line of communication until her death. Brother Marvin Winans preached at Houston's funeral while he and sister CeCe Winans sang.
Now months after her death BeBe Winans writes that Houston was a devoted friend who loved people and God but was often "defiant" and "unruly."
CP: You talk about going from hearing the songstress on the radio and not knowing her name to having a deep, family-like connection to Whitney Houston. What is that made you to click so quickly and deeply?
Winans: I think there were a couple of reasons -- musically [talented was] one of those reasons and the others were [our joint] upbringing. I knew [she had also sung in church] because there is depth and place that [people who grew up singing in church] pull from.
CP: You mention over and over in the book that Whitney had a voice that betrayed her gospel heritage. Talk about the distinctness of singing gospel music. What separates it from performing any other style of music?
Winans: I think there's a couple of things that you can relate the difference to. I think there's a depth that comes from church as well but there's a depth also that comes from African Americans.
When you look at different movies, documentaries and history books, singing for us was a way out of depression, a way of escape from a lot things that African Americans had to endure.
Church was a part of the community. You had gangsters that still went to church on Sunday. It was just a part of something we did.
So you can hear that emotion, you can feel that emotion, you can be moved by it because it's not just a lyric. It's an experience. It's something that one way or another we have experienced. So I think she had that. When you're singing something, when it comes from a pure place the masses are moved.
CP: You mention in the book that you and your sister CeCe Winans were present the day that Whitney accepted the Lord as her Savior. Please describe that experience.
Winans: One of the things that I learned in the relationship with Whitney also that I've learned in relationships in general, that God is a big god. And as much as sometimes people, church people assume to know everything about God, I laugh because I'm always reminded that His Word says ... your thoughts are not my thoughts. So I approach every relationship with that understanding and when you do that, you're not judgmental.
One of the things that was funny to both CeCe and I – I think mentioned it in the book as well – Whitney was very observant and we didn't know how observant she was of us from the get-go. As the relationship grew, I just remember the day when she said, "I got to ask you something." I said, "What?" She said, "Y'all don't cuss." She said "I haven't heard you say one cuss word," and we both laughed. I said, "Yea, and you probably won't either because that just wasn't part of our upbringing."
It caused her to change in some of the things she would say and it gave her the freedom. And that's the important part as Christians as well as being human beings, that we allow people to be who they are. My job is to love you. God's job is to change you.
So when she that day, that morning service at the church when she answered the call of the pastor if anyone wanted to give their life to the Lord, I was shocked like "Where is she going?" But the most important thing about that to me was this woman was not ashamed. She was already Whitney Houston as the world knew her, but she was not ashamed to stand and to walk because she said never in her adult life, as she put it, she could remember giving her life to the Lord and it was important for her to do that. Like we all … some of us were raised in the church but don't have that personal relationship and she wanted that. It really spoke volumes to who she was.
CP: What was the timing of that experience?
Winans: It was in the 80s. It was probably 1987, 88.
CP: From what you could tell, what was Whitney's relationship with God like?
Winans: That's a question that I don't even try to answer. When it comes to someone else's relationship with God, I think that's personal. What I mean by that is that I can't answer that with the knowledge of her walk with God.
What I can say with the time that we spent [together] is that ... my mother would punish us by not allowing us to go to church. So the love that we had for the church was the love that she had. The singers we loved to hear were the singers she loved to hear.
I mentioned in the book too that it became funny to me because as Whitney was on stage, singing songs from her album, she could not escape from relating sometimes songs that really had no relations to. She be singing "The greatest love of all is happening to me," and then she'd say, "Thank you Lord." I used to remind her, "That ain't in the lyrics." [That was] hilarious to me. But that was a part of her and she couldn't get away from it if she tried.
CP: How did Whitney use her voice to "give God the honor that He is due" as you encourage readers to do in the book?
Winans: One of the things I had the joy of watching and watching closely as I traveled around the world – there are some videos now that people can go and witness and see – unpopular situations, and I've heard audience boo, when Whitney would stop in the middle of her concerts and say, "Alright I got to church now. This is my belief and I'm not afraid to tell all of y'all that I love Jesus Christ" and would get boo-ed.
But [Whitney] was so bold and determined where her gift came from and in that moment used it to give Him the honor. It takes guts to do something like that. Especially when you're being told you can't do that. I witnessed her defy everybody in the record company and everything else and say this is what I'm going to do because He's my Lord and Savior. So I saw her not only appreciate the gift and understand that it was a gift, but give back not only through singing but through a lot of charity things.
We forget that there's so many ways to honor God – by feeding the poor. It says when you clothe this one, you clothe me. When you feed the needy, you feed me. So it was important to her and she didn't want people to know a lot of the things she [was doing] and I admired that because sometimes we want everybody to know that we are helping so and so and this one. That's your reward. So she did a lot of things in secret which made her even more special.
CP: Speaking of how bold Whitney was, in the book you write about how that boldness even translated in the way she was a friend to you and CeCe. Talk about the bold friend Whitney was when your sister was feeling homesick while you both were on tour in Russia.
Winans: Unbelievable, and [Whitney] had called before CeCe had come to my door. CeCe called her and told her – and you know I didn't have children at the time so I understood a little bit. But after I had children, I understood a little bit more that whole scenario that CeCe was on. She was truly missing her children and we were going to be away for a good month overseas touring. She had made up her mind [that] she was going home. So she called Whitney and said, "I'm coming home; I miss my kids" and she was crying. So she told Whitney, "You're going to come up here and finish this [tour] with BeBe."
So she hung up with Whitney, and Whitney called my room and the phone rang and I said "hello" and Whitney said, "Look, I don't have time for you to say nothing; CeCe [is] probably on her way to your room now. All I want you to say is 'yes.' Don't be smart." I was, like, confused. "I was like what are you talking about?" [Whitney said] "I'm coming over and CeCe is coming home. She's coming home. Don't worry about it, I'll fly over there and finish it (the tour) with you."
And while she was speaking with me, there was a knock on the door. I said, "It's somebody at the door" and she said, "It's CeCe; I'll just hold. Don't be sarcastic; just say yes."
So I opened the door and CeCe's just crying. Her eyes were full of tears and she just told me "I'm going home, I miss my kids and Whitney's coming to finish the concert with you." I just remembered what Whitney said, and I said, "Yes, OK." And she turned around and went to her room.