At the televised New Hope Baptist Church funeral for Whitney Houston, celebrated gospel singer BeBe Winans gave the world a glimpse of the vivacious and generous friend he would miss. While Whitney Houston was celebrated as an award-winning pop singer, Winans told the crowd that he knew the real “crazy Whitney”: a svelte, feisty, and loyal friend. The kind who burst into his brother Ronald’s funeral shouting, “Family!” and who insisted on singing background for Winans and his sister, CeCe on their tour at the height of Houston’s career.
The stories brought knowing and appreciative laughter from friends and family at Houston’s service. But when Winans was asked to collaborate on a book, The Whitney I Knew (Worthy, July) with Timothy Willard, he immediately said no, then changed his mind after talking to her family.
Winans’ seventh solo album, America America, released this month, features “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which evokes the memory of Houston’s superb performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Winans writes he spoke to her just before that performance, encouraging her. He later won a Grammy Award for co-producing the song “Jesus Loves Me” on Houston’s smash-hit film soundtrack for The Bodyguard.
When they weren’t working together, the two friends traveled together, and Winans got to see a more playful, private side of the mega-star. Writing the book in the five months since her death allowed him to “break the pain” of losing her, he says. “When Camille Cosby [wife of Bill Cosby] lost her son, one of her friends told her she had to embrace the pain to come out the other side. Writing this book was my therapy and helped me to get to the other side of my pain.”
As he mourned the loss of his friend, he contemplated the way she was treated by fans and media when her career took a dip. He writes about her 14-year marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown and, in a cursory way, about her drug addiction. Winans, who came of age as part of a legendary gospel family, had his share of bad press for a publicized spat with his ex-wife. Even that was minor compared to the scrutiny Houston faced, he writes.
By sharing his memories and personal reflections on fame, Winans uses the bulk of The Whitney I Knew to warn those who dream of fame to consider Houston’s demise as a cautionary tale. “Whitney just happened to have an incredible gift, and because of that gift, it garnered all of this stuff,” says Winans. “She found herself trying to separate what was true and what was false about herself to herself. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but count up the costs.”