Exclusive Book Excerpt: BeBe Winans, 'The Whitney I Knew'
"It was the best therapy to deal with the pain and loss," BeBe Winans says of writing The Whitney I Knew, the Grammy-winning gospel singer's inside account of the deep friendship he shared with the late Whitney Houston. Winans, who spoke and performed at Houston's funeral in February, had a tight-knit bond with the singer ever since the two met backstage at a concert in the Eighties. The book offers readers a glimpse of a free-spirited Houston beyond fame's glare.
"She wanted to be crazy," Winans tells Rolling Stone. "She loved going to movies and talking in them. She would just comment on everything. Loved to laugh, loved to be just silly, like a kid." Houston was also generous, says Winans: she gave him $50,000 towards the down payment on his first house and regularly assisted fans in financial distress. "It was a joy for her to help people," he explains.
In this excerpt from the chapter "Whitney's Weight of Fame," Winans explores his close friend's aversion to public notoriety, the pressures of celebrity and how Houston was often falsely protrayed by the media. To illustrate the scrutiny Houston was under, Winans recalls an ill-fated first encounter between the singer and an up-and-coming singer at the time, Mariah Carey.
Close your eyes. Imagine yourself walking down the street. Any moment a person with a camera could appear – skeet-skeet, skeet-skeet – capturing your image for the world to see in the tabloids the next day. There you are, plastered on cheap paper for everyone at the grocery store to gawk at as they pay for their fruit and toothpaste. Imagine how you would think about your day. How it would change your routine to have to prepare yourself for the possibility of being stopped by anyone and everyone, just so they can have a picture of you.
Now imagine that you're intensely relational – a real people person. You love connecting deeply with others. You love your friends. And not just with a "you're a great person" type of warm fuzziness, but a savage love that wants and pursues friendships – that longs to be inside the hearts and minds of others.
Keep your eyes closed and continue imagining. Not only do you love people with every ounce of your being, not only do you thrive on personal loyalty and get lost in the security of your friendships and family, but you're stalked by the international media. Suddenly, it's hard to keep friendships private and family loyal.
In fact, it's hard to keep anything private. You're cut off from a normal life. Why? Because you pursued fame? No. Because you possess a gift.
This gift was given to you by God, and you know it. You sense it when you use it. You communicate to people on a beautiful and mysterious level when you sing, and you love to sing. And suddenly millions of people the world over love to hear you sing. They love your gift. Oprah calls you "The Voice" and will say after your death: "We got to hear a part of God every time she sang." The first time Tony Bennett hears you sing, he phones your mentor, Clive Davis, and says, "You finally found the greatest singer I've ever heard." Music critic Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times calls you a "national treasure" and writes that yours is one of those voices that "stands like monuments upon the landscape of 20th-century pop, defining the architecture" of your era. New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica calls your gift not just "rare" but "impossible to mimic." Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson tells Newsday that you have taught her "the difference between being able to sing and knowing how to sing." Lionel Richie states to CNN that you knew how to "turn a . . . melody into magical, magical notes." Fellow songstress Mariah Carey deems yours "one of the greatest voices to ever grace the earth." And Celine Dion – a peer if ever you had one – describes your voice as "perfect."
You are honored by your industry, your peers, your fans – and even MTV (they put you third on their list of the 22 Greatest Voices) and Rolling Stone (which says that your true greatness was in your "ability to connect with a song and drive home its drama and emotion with incredible precision"). What's more, you become the most awarded female artist to ever walk Planet Earth, with hit songs in nearly every Billboard genre and sales of more than 170 million albums, songs, and videos.