by Raj Rudolph

It's really hard to put into words when someone who was influential on your life's music soundtrack passes away.  Last night, right before I went to bed, I read my Twitter feed only to find it bombarded with news of Whitney Houston's death.  For a minute, I went into deep disbelief.  Then there was the feeling of "what is happening to this world?  First Michael Jackson, now Whitney?"  Sleep was the only option to deal with this news of powerful grief.

It's no secret that Whitney Houston had problems with drugs, a problem that was reduced to horrendous reality TV and was sickingly documented by the tabloids and media.  Despite her bad decisions in the later part of her life, Whitney Houston's voice was unmistakable, the definition of world-class and one that I will never forget for as long as I shall live.

Some of my first music explorations involved the music of Whitney Houston.  The very first 45 inch single record I ever bought at my local Payless store was "How Will I Know".  I remember the feeling of holding it proudly in my hands in my mother's car after I had purchased it – the artwork being a sign of positivity in all it's pastel glory and Whitney's sparkling smile beaming through.  On a trip to Portland, Oregon in high school, I purchased the very first cassette single ever produced which was "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" – a smash hit for Whitney Houston that proved she was setting the standard for fun pop records which were led by a strong, belting female vocal.

Her debut album "Whitney Houston" was a staple in my music collection that stood out from the rest,  dressed in Arista Records uniquely orange coloured cassette packaging.  The album itself was legendary with such hits as "Saving All My Love For You", "You Give Good Love", "All At Once" and the the mega smash "The Greatest Love Of All" which portrayed Whitney as an inspirational goddess in her shimmery white gown singing to the MTV generation about how the children are the future, how we need to teach them well and let them lead the way.

During my college years, the music of Whitney Houston continued to resonate strongly with me.  Dance remixes of her mega hits "It's Not Right, But It's Okay", "Queen Of The Night", "Heartbreak Hotel" and her Dolly Parton cover of "I Will Always Love You" and Chaka Khan remake of "I'm Every Woman" filled gay discos worldwide with a fierce confidence that gave many people like myself a soundtrack to those familar feelings of betrayal and unrequited love: anthems that made each and every one of us self-appointed divas incarnate.

As I am writing this, it's painful and impossible to not feel the immense loss of Whitney Houston.  She will remain an inspiration and is the benchmark for any young female vocalist with their sights set on a credible career in the music industry.  As a celebrity and vocalist, she may have sang about love, loss, triumph and heartache, but as a human being, she was just like every one of us – struggling with the pressures of every day life, whilst living under the scrutinous microscope of judgement and public intrigue and curiosity.

The journey may have come to an end on this Earth for Whitney Houston, but she has died a legend and will continue to inspire for many generations of vocalists to come.  The picture above is how I will choose to remember Whitney Houston – happy, beautiful and a sparkling smile on her face.