A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston is the long-awaited memoir from the person who probably knew Whitney best. Robyn and Whitney were bffs, and spent nearly 20 years of their lives together. Over the decades, rumors swirled about their friendship and if it were something more than that. No matter what happened, Whitney could not escape the rumors that surrounded their relationship and that she was gay and/or bi-sexual. Of course Whitney was the star and had to deal with the rumors publicly, but behind the scenes was Robyn, who had to deal with them too. And even once she left Whitney’s side, the rumors never stopped. I know people are BIG MAD about Robyn telling her story. And, I understand. However, I also understand that this is indeed HER story, too. She was with Whitney for an entire TWENTY years of HER life, and in that time and in her post-Whitney life, the rumors never ceased. I did not view this book as a “tell-all.” I did not feel that Whitney’s life or legacy was diminished in any way by it. Whitney’s life was a semi-open book all along (even though she tried to be private). What I did appreciate about this book was that it did help connect the dots between the stories and rumors that that I have heard my whole life. In the years after Whitney’s death, we got a book from her Mama Cissy, a book from her friend Bebe, a book and a movie from her ex-husband Bobby, a horrible Whitney movie on Lifetime, and two documentaries/movies. I think that Robyn’s book is most closely aligned with the last documentary on Whitney’s life, which focused more on Whitney’s humanity and the forces that led to her tragic end.
While I was reading, there were quite a few things that stayed with me. So…I figured I would give yall my 2 cents.
What was it like to hear Whitney sing? I loved the way Robyn described the experience of hearing Whitney sing. When she went all the way back to the first time she heard Whitney sing at New Hope Baptist and how the church reacted to lil Whitney singing…chile. I can only imagine. I have seen footage of Whitney in her choir robe and effortlessly singing. When she described Whitney’s SuperBowl performance of The Star-Spangled Banner that ended up being released as a single because it was so fiyah, she took me there. I am always amazed and amused by all of the stories leading up to that moment. The wardrobe change, the fact that Whitney barely practiced, the homage to Marvin Gaye… I just love the whole story. I smiled as she mentioned all of the tours and all of the songs that literally led me through my childhood. It was a great trip down memory lane.
Robyn actually had a job? I thought Robyn’s only job was to be with Whitney. It never dawned on me that she actually worked for her check. But she was a for real assistant. She did real work in putting together tours and shows, etc. Designing alphets and all. I had no clue. She even got credit on some of Whitney’s projects. Who knew. I mean…good for her, but…I thought she was JUST a friend.
Drugs. Lawd, the drugs. We already know that drugs played a huge part in Whitney’s career and ultimate demise. For years, her drug use was blamed on Bobby. Let’s be honest. He was the perfect scapegoat. After Whitney’s death, her brothers broke their silence on their drug use and the fact that THEY introduced Whitney to drugs. But what I did not know was how young she was when that happened. Cocaine at FOURTEEN? Lawd. I also didn’t know that Robyn was a user, too. I guess I always assumed that she was always clean. At the point where Whitney’s star was about to rise, they made a promise that the drugs couldn’t go where they were going…but that didn’t happen. They both continued to use, but Robyn had a better handle on her drug use and at times knew she HAD to stay clean because somebody had to handle Whitney and her affairs with a clear head.
The Tea on Whitney’s Men. The men that came and went did a number on Whitney’s self-esteem and were a constant source of rejection. I had heard the rumors about Eddie Murphy. But I will have a forever side-eye for him now. It seems he played with Whitney’s emotions and was a constant source of rejection. He gave her a diamond ring, but they were never “engaged,” constantly stood her up, belittled her and then had the nerve to call her on her wedding day. Jermaine Jackson, with his married azz, wasn’t any better. He played her, too, and I do believe he had big plans to use her to get what he wanted professionally. Robyn does point out that even back then, Whitney was concerned about what the hell Jermaine was putting in his hair. We are still concerned about that foolery. For real. Like…wth is that stuff? Later, Michael and Whitney became friends and Robyn detailed their first visit to Neverland. But when Whitney wanted to do a project with him, Michael declined and didn’t even have the decency to make the call to tell her that himself. And then, there’s Bobby. We kinda already know about all of his cheating and abusive behavior. They had that toxic kind of love, but Whitney didn’t want to see that. I was surprised that she didn’t mention Randall Cunningham….hmmmm.
Acceptance. I think that is all Whitney ever really wanted, but rarely got. When Cissy thought her daughter might be gay or bi-sexual, she wasn’t having it. When she was just starting on the road to fame, they made her get a weave because her beauty wasn’t enough. Cissy went off the deep end when she took her weave out…because her hair wasn’t sufficient. Her first album cover wasn’t good enough for the music execs because she wasn’t smiling. Her music wasn’t good enough or soulful enough for the black community at first. All of the men who came and went never accepted her for her. Everybody wanted her to be somebody that she wasn’t. That’s hard. There was an endless stream of rejection and heartbreak.
Dem Houstons. I don’t even know where to start, but lemme just gon head and give Cissy the number one spot. Ya’ll! In the beginning, we were made to believe that Cissy didn’t know nothing about these drugs until the later in Whitney’s life. Well, according to this book, she knew all along and she wasn’t worried about it. On several occasions, Robyn told both of Whitney’s parents. At one point, Robyn’s mother called Cissy (because Robyn was knee deep in narcotics too) and Cissy was like…whatever. I don’t know if it was denial or just not wanting to deal with it or what, but Cissy (and the fam) failed Whitney on so many levels. And then there’s Gary. Gary was on drugs too (no shocker) and he was a backup singer and on Whitney’s payroll during the tour years (and prolly after that too). Except Gary had an extreme drug problem (which they all knew about) and sometimes, he didn’t even show up or would show up high for performances. Nonetheless, Cissy always gave him a pass. Michael was a drug addict, too. He was “security” on the tours, etc. Per Robyn, Cissy allowed the boys to do whatever they wanted. Whitney ended up carrying both of them. And let’s not forget John Houston. He really wasn’t mentioned too much. But I just wondered where the hayle was he while all of his kids were outchea doing drugs. The one bright spot was that Whitney and John had a good relationship (in comparison to the one she had with her mother) and Whitney would go to him and talk to him about things she couldn’t or didn’t want to discuss with Cissy. Later, rumors would leak about how John wanted someone to break Robyn’s kneecaps. Apparently, Whitney handled the situation and Robyn’s kneecaps stayed in tact. However, for much of their relationship, none of the dem Houstons liked Robyn or her proximity to Whitney.
What kinda love is this? I kept asking myself this question. So…Robyn and Whitney met when they were teens and their romantic relationship happened then. When Whitney’s star was about to rise, she told Robyn they just couldn’t be in a relationship together and that God didn’t like this. So, they ended that part, but maintained their love for each other. They remained friends, shared homes and tried their best to bury the fact that they wanted to be lovers. But all of this was so toxic. Like…I cannot imagine the kind of torture both of them must have felt as the years passed. Whitney dated several men. Robyn dated men and women. In many instances, neither one of them handled their jealousy well. Robyn watched as Whitney married Bobby and was the Maid of Honor at her wedding. Whitney was big mad when Robyn went out with a dancer on one of the tours. To me, it seemed like torture. How did the two of them endure that? To be that close to the person you love, but not be able to love them like you want to…that’s tough. And Robyn saw Whitney slipping away and tried to help her and get her family to help her, but was always ignored. I cannot imagine how frustrating that must have been. And yet, this went on for 20 years. I don’t even understand.
What’s the lesson? Beyond getting some understanding of what was really going on with Whitney, the biggest takeaway of this book for me was the importance of self-preservation in relationships. Robyn got caught up in Whitney’s world! Because this relationship started at such a young age, I totally get it. They were so young and so in love. As time passed, Robyn became Whitney’s protector, or at least she tried to be. She stuck around even though she was treated like trash by the Houstons. I do believe she genuinely loved Whitney, and didn’t want to leave her side. And before you know it, a decade or two has gone by. Robyn stayed in that situation waaayyyy too long. And when she finally decided to leave, she didn’t even know who she was…or where her next check was coming from. Her entire identity and “career” was linked to Whitney. A lot of our situations may not be as extreme as hers, but I think this happens often. It’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s hopes, dreams, career and life and then look up one day and have no idea who you are.
I LOVE Whitney Elizabeth Houston. I mourned for her like she was family. Her music was the soundtrack of my life. “The Greatest Love of All” was the first song that I really learned ALL the words to. I was in elementary school. The Bodyguard came out when I was in middle school and blew me away. And who can forget “The National Anthem” (the only version that I acknowledge) at the Superbowl! My Gawd. I begged my piano teacher to play “One Moment in Time” for my recital one year, because…Whitney. My debutante ball dance song was none other than “I Believe in You and Me.” When my grandmother passed away, it was “The Preacher’s Wife” soundtrack that got me through. Whitney and The Georgia Mass Choir literally led me through grief. And, later on it would be “My Love is Your Love” that I would sing to my first child every night. When Whitney made her triumphant, but short-lived return, I cried and prayed that all was well. And when Sparkle hit theaters, I left work early to go see it on that Friday. I say all of that to say this. I, like many of her fans, am not here for folks talking bad about Whitney. But what I am here for is learning more about who Whitney REALLY was. What was she really like? What was her rise to fame really like? What was it like to hear her sing in intimate settings (like church and in the car and around the house)? What made her smile? Who was the real Whitney? And this book answered many of those questions. The tone of this book is one of adoration. You can hear it in her voice and in the words she chose to describe how great Whitney was. And even when she was told that it was Whitney who kept her from getting a job after she left the Whitney Houston camp, she refused to believe it…because that’s not what Whitney would have done. I appreciate this telling of the story because finally someone humanized Whitney Houston, and she deserves that.