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African American Publicists Remember Whitney Houston (Jackie Rhinehart)

*In this five part series, “African American Publicists Remember Whitney Houston,” Whitney’s former label [Arista Records] publicists Ken Reynolds, Tracey Jordan, Mary Moore, Jackie Rhinehart and Gwendolyn Quinn recall the genius and brilliance of a one-of-a- kind icon—one of the best voices of all time!

Whitney Houston and Jackie Rhinehart

Amazing Grace

By Jackie Rhinehart

*I’ve heard ministers say, “God is no respecter of person(s).” Preachers say this to remind their congregations that despite the vagaries of life, God’s grace, is available to us all. What is available to me is thus available to you. And although God is not a respecter of title, position or wealth, fame certainly is.

I am reminded of this because Whitney Houston has died, and now fame dictates that she be either besmirched or revered. The reality is that she was a phenomenal singer but also a real, multidimensional – and therefore, complicated – person. Fame often got in the way of how the media and fans honestly perceived and interacted with Whitney Houston, as if they could ascertain only a sliver of what she was or comprehend only the most superficial aspect of who she was. How could she be this and that?

Unable to fathom a multilayered person, many built their reverence for Whitney upon her princess brand, fueled in part by her true princess genealogy. (She was, after all, born into true musical royalty.) At times, Whitney was as self-contained as a lioness, being the true Leo she was. She could be as poised and cool as her cousin Dionne could sing. Her brand was propagated in part by a great music label doing its job. But her image also was supported by the media and fans all yearning for an archetypal female icon to be our musical bridge from the cool polish of Diana Ross and the Supremes to the gritty rawness of Mary J. Blige.

Whitney Houston certainly fit that bill.

I worked with Whitney during my two tenures at Arista Records. Coming aboard in 1989, I was her black label publicist when the audience booed her at the ’89 Soul Train Awards for supposedly “not being black enough.” It was at that same show that she met Bobby Brown.

Katie Couric asked her about the incident:

KC: Why have people booed you in the past? Did they not think you were black enough or something?

WH: (Sarcastically) Sometimes it gets down to that, you know? You’re not black enough for them. You’re not R&B enough. You’re very pop. … I don’t know. The white audience has taken you away from them.

I was glad to be her publicist at the time because she needed a black publicist that was not afraid to face that conversation head on – and I did. I let the black press know that if they really wanted the white audience to take Whitney – and they could – then they better get over their limited perception of what “real black” was. For the next year at music conferences, I would take on Whitney distracters that dared to follow that limited definition of what was black or culturally “real.” I readily took them on because it irritated me that the media and fans could be so duped into believing that Whitney – like the rest of us – was unable to have and show several faces and dimensions. After all, black folks do “wear the mask” and many of us do a superb job, speaking in “corporate-ese” when necessary and hood lingo when warranted. Whitney was no different. She was just excellent – and at ease – with her transitions.

What first impressed me about Whitney was her strong will. You could sense that strength immediately. She was not weak, a pushover or easily beguiled. She was a Leo woman and could give a look that let you know it – like a real sister girl! I loved that about her.

With her passing, I only hope that we will look upon Whitney – and others whom fame has sequestered – with the knowledge that God is no respecter of person(s) and therefore awe, envy, jealousy nor reverence should ever stop us from remembering that she, too, was only human.