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.
I went back to the phone and Whitney said, "What, was that her?" And I said "Yea." She said, "What did she say?" I said, "Everything you said she said." She said "OK. Now if she changes her mind, then we're all good. But if she comes home, I have a reservation. I'm going to come up and finish the concert."
That was huge for me. I mean, it just again showed the commitment. I think friendships are things [that] you have to invest in, and she invested so much into our relationship and vice versa. So when she needed someone to talk to – and Whitney would talk a lot and it was always in the wee hours of the night. One phone call, I think I put this in the book, I remember she called me from Hong Kong and we talked for five, six hours. I got nervous in hour three. I said, "Whitney if they make a mistake at the telephone company and charge me, I want you to know my phone is going off" and she said, "They ain't going to get it wrong" but we were there for each other. I just finished an interview and he said, "Why do you think the relationship was so important?" and I said because what we found in each other was a sanctuary. She knew as well as I knew, I can tell you any and every thing and know it will stay right there. And when we think of God, that's why we love Him as much as we love Him. He knows everything about us and yet He still chooses to love us right where we are and so that's the kind of love that we shared with each other.
CP: The relationship that you just described flowed out of a "pact" mentioned in the book among Whitney, CeCe and yourself. The pact stated that each one of you promised to share every major life decision with each other. So, did Whitney tell about you about her relationship with R&B Singer Bobby Brown and what where your thoughts when she shared that relationship with you?
Winans: One of the things when she made that pact and agreed to make the pact as well was nothing was off-limits and we would talk about anything and everything. And so long story short, when it came to Bobby, we had our talk and she knew I didn't believe that he was the husband for her. I could be honest like that and she respected my opinion, and I respected her opinion and her feelings. She fell in love with him. Yet and still we had the commitment with each other to say any and everything through the whole marriage.
I know one thing about love and people: when you make up your mind about someone and something, you're going to do it. When you do, one of the things that we committed to each other is that I'm going to be there whether I agree or not. Whether I understand or not, I'm going to be there. I'll tell you the truth, and I'll be there.
So, it is a great loss, but one of the things I can rest in is that no-regrets style of commitment and loyalty and friendship and love that we shared with each other.
CP: In the book, you discuss the media frequently and state that the media had various perceptions of Whitney. One of the perceptions that the media had even while she was alive but especially after she died was that her relationship with Bobby changed her. What are your thoughts on that notion?
Winans: I think to answer that correctly [you have to ask] "do people change in a relationship?" Yea, I think we all change especially in marriage. Sometimes we change because we want to and the older you get, you evolve. So the Whitney of 45 was different from the Whitney of 25.
Yet and still the honest answer for everything is [she was] grown. We respected each other's opinions but yet and still we gave each other space because you're an adult and you can choose to do what you want to do.
So in that freedom, Whitney, just like any of us, made some good choices and made some bad choices. But when it comes to Bobby Brown particularly, I don't think he is deserving of any blame because Whitney – I believe I said in the book in the beginning – as sophisticated as she was, she was unruly. She was defiant. When she made up her mind, she made up her mind. So that was way before Bobby.
Were there good years? Yes. Were there good times? Yes. But in any situation, in any marriage you're going to have dark times and bad times, and something I wrote for the wedding and sang at the wedding addressed those issues.
CP: What were the lyrics of that wedding song?
Winans: It was called "Enough Said." The lyrics are in the book. But it told them feelings come and go, it's just a marriage trait. But you must communicate. Sometimes the vows that you just now pledged, you're going to dread but enough said.
CP: Do you feel that struggles that you have with your own family and your own marriage drew you closer to Whitney during her marriage?
Winans: No, not really. When we met, I was just married for about three years or so. I was married for 18 years. I've been divorced/separated for 12 years. But I think anyone who is married or has been married can definitely speak to someone who is married and going through situations. So I could speak into her life and draw from things I endured. That is the reality of life and the world that we live in. What I can say more than anything is don't say nothing, just pray. I learned that if you try to justify yourself like the Bible says, with those same words, you'll condemn yourself. People want to believe what they want to believe and I learned that a long time ago. Most importantly from the scriptures we say, "If God be for you, who can be against you" and that's the truth.
CP: What was Whitney like as a mother?
Winans: Oh gosh. I think every mother, every parent, when your first become one, you are extra careful. She was extra, extra, extra on our nerves careful. When Bobbi Kristina was first born and we came over, we just laughed because not only did she have a mask for you, she had gloves like it was a hospital. We were like, "Really? OK, give you about two weeks and you're going to pass this baby to people who got germs."
We just laughed at her but she was happiest in her role as a mother. And then, as times went on, she called a couple times and said, "I'm going to kill that girl."
But she was an incredible a mother – a mother that wanted to stay home more than she was afforded to. And that's what's made what she did so difficult and who she was (as a singer) became so difficult.
CP: What would Whitney say to Bobbi-Christina Brown now?
Winans: I miss you and I love you still.
CP: You talk a lot in the book about the media's propensity to exaggerate and fixate on celebrities. How should the media treat celebs in your opinion?
Winans: The media is going to be the media. I hope and I anticipate but I don't think that they're going to change their ways. There may be one person.
If anything, I would love to say why don't we first of all get the truth first before we speak and just remember that we all are human beings and words can hurt. In doing that and caring for each other, I think that the media and even beyond the media we would make things more from the heart instead of the head.
CP: Was Whitney sensitive to the media?
Winans: I don't think [she was] sensitive, I think [she was] insensitive because after a while you learn to protect yourself from certain things especially if it's not something that good.
At the same time, I understood the importance of the media. A song just came into my head, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." You really have to understand how to react, what to do and when to do it. That's a little more put on you than the average Joe. But you learn that comes with the territory.
CP: While the book talks so much about the Whitney Houston that was not visible to the public, it also talks a lot about God and spiritual lessons that you both learned together and in the wake of her life. So what do you want readers to take away from this book?
Winans: I think what the readers will find is a simplicity. Sometimes we make God something that is more confusing and difficult when it's so simple. The reality is God loved. He loved us and this is before and this is while we were yet in sin and when we fall. So it's easy and I understand that God loved her and she loved God because that's who He is. And whether through song or through this book or whatever, I want the readers to know that they are loved by that same God.
CP: In the book, you wrote that you were still in the early stages of the goodbye process, where everything hurts. Where are you in the goodbye process now?
Winans: I'm on the other side with more laughter and smiles than tears. What I've learned through my brother's passing and my father is that no one can replace her and I'll think of her every single day of my life.
CP: How will the pact of friendship and openness that you had with Whitney live on?
Winans: One of things that I learned though the loss of my brother Ronald is it's a mystery how when you lose someone is how the physical touch, which you assume is greater than the memory, they kind of trade places. I found with my brother's passing and my father's passing is that I appreciate you more. I even love you more. I think it's just human nature that we don't miss what we have until its gone, and so I think of him more – when I think of my father. I get the lessons he was teaching me now, you know, now that he's gone. I think it will be the same way with Whitney. I'll love her more, I'll think about her more than when she was living.
And it's a lesson that if we can learn to appreciate and love those [people] while they're here, it would be such a greater experience between the love of loved ones.