The acclaimed documentary Can I Be Me tells the story of Whitney Houston’s life and career. The tale opens over Los Angeles. Flying high over a cathedral and the city lights, the lofty image works to connote the soaring power of Houston’s voice and a presence that moved millions. From her great triumphs to her most desperate final hours, this “peach-faced angel” as her once-close friend, Robyn Crawford, described her, is remembered and celebrated by director Nick Broomfield in a retelling of the joys, successes, pain and heartache of a tumultuous life.
Whitney Houston was one of the most successful black female artists of all-time. At the start of her career she was moulded by Clive Davis and Arista Records into a pop icon that would be accepted by the masses, appealing to all generations.
Among those interviewed for the documentary is Pattie Howard, who once served as Houston’s bass singer. She says that the late singer paved the way for others. “Whitney’s voice broke barriers. We did not have Beyoncé [or many other] African-American female artist that can now top the pop charts: that absolutely would not have happened before Whitney Houston. She changed history for us and she paid a price for it.”
Her debut album was declared a best-seller and she was touted the most awarded female act of all-time. Yet amidst the fame and accolades, Houston was a vulnerable girl from the hood, born in Newark, New Jersey. It was never really about talent in the beginning; it was about how she looked and whether people accepted her. Her own saying ‘Can I be me?’, which has been adopted for the film’s title, was her expressing her desire to sing and create music made by her, not for her. Defining herself further, Whitney Houston once said: “You gotta find the happiness in yourself. You gotta know who you are before you step into this business, because if you’re trying to find that out, you’ll probably end up being someone else…that you probably don’t even like.”
Despite the dark memory of her drug addictions, Whitney Houston was a loving and generous person, and is remembered for her great appreciation and musical contribution to the world. “Her mother was Sissy Houston and her cousin was Dianne Warwick. She was classy,” recalls R&B Promotional Executive, Doug Daniels. “She was able to play her part with style and gain fame,” he adds, “but at the heart of it, she was still Whitney.”
Too true. Jesse Short
‘Can I Be Me’ is in cinemas now.
Photo courtesy David Corio.