Open Letter to Whitney

Dear Whitney Elizabeth Houston,

I was more than shocked upon hearing about your sudden departure from this world on Saturday.  I literally stood still for a moment to take it all in.  My first thought was,  “could this be a joke?”  But sadly, it wasn’t. Your death was confirmed by a local news reporter who started his “Breaking News” commentary with “we have tragic news for you . . . “ Whitney, it seemed like he was speaking directly to me.  I didn’t want to believe it.  But it was indeed true.  Sadness enveloped me.  I texted a few friends and called my wife (she loves you Whitney) in an effort to reach out in the midst of my sadness.  Whitney, everyone was in shock about your passing.  Folks texted back saying “Oh no,” “What?? . . . No!,” “What happened?,” “When?,” and “How?”  My brother from Atlanta texted me saying, “Please tell me this is all a bad dream!!!”  They loved you Whitney.  My wife stated to me in sadness, “why does this keep happening to us?”  She said “to us” Whitney.  You were a part of our lives.

Whitney, you will be missed.  I will miss your voice.  I know the past few years you’ve had a tremendous struggle with recapturing and maintaining your God-given gift . . . your voice.  Now that you are gone I will not have the opportunity to observe you battle back from that dark place where all seems lost.  Somehow, I felt in time, you would regain that wonderful voice that once demanded my attention.  I know you needed just a little more time to get well and back on top of your game.

Whitney, as I reminisce, I can easily recall how effortlessly you were able to release the magic of your voice.  I remember on several occasions when you were about to belt out a final last note, you would sturdy yourself in a strong stance, take a deep breath, stretch your arms out toward the crowd, and then actuate a sound from your throat and mouth that would give the choirs of heaven goosebumps.  Your voice was only limited by the physical confines of the human body.  Whitney, your gift, that immutable passion, and confidence will be missed.

Whitney, you must know that every time you sang your song you brought joy not only to my life but to the lives of others as well.  You were the voice of my generation.  You were the gold standard that all aspired to come close to.  Whitney, I watched your majestic rise to success and your awful demise.  The witnessing of this fall has been painful for me.  I wished and prayed that you received deliverance from the evil that taunted you.  Girl, what was it that gripped and cast such a dark shadow on you and led you to the horrors of addiction?

Whitney, now that you have moved beyond this world my thoughts are with you and your family.  I sympathize with your daughter Bobbi as I have lost a mother too.  Bobbi will struggle with your passing and in time she will make sense of your life.  She will remember everything you taught her.  Whitney, my heart goes out to your mom who has lost a child.  I cannot truly understand the dept of her loss for you.  I hear that to lose a child is devastating to ones soul.  Whitney, I have a daughter and at this moment cannot phantom the thought of losing her without great great sorrow.  Whitney, please know that their grief is out of an irreplaceable love for you.

Cissy and young Whitney 1979

In the end, Whitney, I know at this moment you are in a good place.  You are now a member of that heavenly choir.  You are in full embrace with the one who gave you your gift.  Knowing this gives me great comfort and eases my sadness.


One of but many who love you!

P.S., Jennifer Hudson laid it out for you at the Grammys!

Gramps Remembers The Blues

Two weeks ago I traveled to Buckeye, Arizona to attend my wife’s grandmother’s birthday party.  She is truly blessed and fortunate to celebrate her 90th year of life.

Buckeye, AZ.  landscape

She was born in 1922 in Bastrop, Louisiana in Monroe Parish and lived most of her adult life in Oakland, California.  Today she suffers from acute dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.  Of course her memory is not what it used to be.  She needs skilled nursing assistance for 12 hrs. a day and is wheelchair bound.  This year her family decided it would be a great idea to get everyone in the family together to celebrate this momentous milestone in her life.

To make a long story short, there was plenty of family and friends who traveled to Buckeye to celebrate her special day.

Ha! What u know about this?

The food cooked and served that day was easily standard fare in any Southern kitchen, which ranged from fried chicken to seafood gumbo, rice, candied yams, greens, gravy, cornbread and . . . (Ooh, I just had a flash back).  Anyway, there was cake and a bit of E&J as well.

My wife’s grandmother, whom I’ve affectionately called “Gramps” for years now, seemed to be enjoying her special day.  Although she struggles with her memory, she did have brief moments of lucidity where she made great remarks about the going-ons around her. Gramps knew it was her birthday.

Throughout Gramps day of celebration the radio was on and playing in the background.  So called “oldie-but-goodies” and “grown folk” music filled the house with sound.  As I listened to the music another grandson-in-law, like myself, mentioned he had one of Gramps favorite old blues CDs she used to listen to when she lived in Oakland.  I immediately encouraged him to get it and play it.  He did.  We played it.  The look on Gramps face when she heard her long lost blues was priceless.  She smiled, started bouncing to the rhythm of the songs and more impressive, dementia and Alzheimer’s be damned, she began to lip-synch the words of the songs.  Suddenly all eyes were on her.  This was her music!  I remembered years ago Gramps would listen to this CD over and over again.  It literally played non-stop all day in her home in Oakland.

I sat back in a chair filled with great joy to watch her sing and groove to the music.  Some people began to laugh, however, not at her performance, rather at the song she was grooving to.  You see she was lip-synching to Theodis Ealey’s 2004 hit song “Stand Up In It” (a guitar driven, sexually charged song, which essentially instructs clueless men how to please a woman).  I thought to myself she’s 90 and can sing whatever she wants to.  Go on Gramps!  Soon her old CD revealed a line up of some of the best blues songs ever recorded.  Tunes such as B. B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” Muddy Water’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Freddie King’s “I’m Tore Down,” and James Elmore’s “Shake Your Money Maker” were among many that bellowed from the house speakers.  Gramps lip-synched every cut on the disc!

King All Smiles!

My wife and I returned to L.A. reminiscing about the great time we had.  I held on to the image of Gramps singing the blues.  With that image in mind I wondered, what does this music mean to her?  Why does she love it so much?  And, how does this music make her do what no medicine ever could?  How could it?  Gramps knows the blues and the blues knows her.  She’s had an intimate relationship with it ever since she was a little girl running through the grass fields of North East Louisiana.  For Gramps, the blues facilitates her unique character.  It allows it to fly.

The blues has served in this capacity for years as a significant part of the African-American music culture.  As such, it has voiced the sentiment of aching dark souls as they struggled through a life of racism and second-class citizenry.  Certainly Gramps knows this struggle all too well.  Scholar Amiri Baraka (né LeRoi Jones) wrote about the beginnings of the blues and how it developed as a response of Black bodies being ripped from their homeland and brought to shores of unknown places.  Their sorrows birthed the blues!

The blues serves to express varying degrees of sorrow and at one time played this role in Gramps life.  However, I think the blues for Gramps now is an audible reminder of a time gone by.  Today the blues for her  provides the musical framework to reminisce cherished moments in a long life.  These are not sad moments; they are simply moments to be remembered.  Gramps listened to the blues on all occasions: when she was fired; when she was hired; when she found a love; when she lost  love; after funerals, and at birthday parties.  The sound of a driving guitar, a syncopated harmonica rhythm, a shuffle drum pattern, and minor key melodies uttered from the mouths of grown folk are all that Gramps needs to hear to catapult her back fifty years or more to her days filled with promise.  The very rhythm and tone of the blues holds familial capital with her soul.  Gramps’ smile, rhythmic bounce, and lip-synching was more than a reflection of how the blues made her feel, but was also an outward sign of her remembering those precious moments only known to her.

Yes! Gramps remembers the blues.

Update: Gramps passed away in Dec. 2013 listening to the blues!

Happy Birthday Gramps!