Many years ago when I first moved to Los Angeles, I got a call from my dear friend Suzee (I called her CoCo) inviting me to go hear a new singer rumored to be "the next Diana Ross."
CoCo worked for what was then known as Avalon Attractions, and she often invited me to many of the big shows of the day. They were mostly always held at the Forum, and I felt like a big shot picking up my Forum Club passes and mingling with all the V.I.P.'s of the eighties.
I remember this particular invitation to a small club on Sunset as if it were yesterday, because I almost didn't go. I thought to myself "That's not the Forum!" But I made my way to the Roxy just the same, and I waited for CoCo to bring me inside. And am I glad I did.
The club was indeed small, but the minute I spotted Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick sitting at a nearby table, I knew we were all in for something BIG.
I think my heart stopped when she walked to the stage, and that was before she even sang a note...
Of course we were all there to see a young singer named Whitney Houston.
I can't remember being so moved by a LIVE performance, and I knew I was forever changed by what I'd witnessed. She would do two shows that evening.
One at eight, another at ten.
I stayed for both.
I walked home alone that night, stopping behind a church on Holloway Drive called Saint Victors. It was there, as a fellow twenty-something-year-old singer, I sat feeling somewhat fragile and broken. I can still remember wiping away tears thinking of the young girl who had just shared and bared her soul through her voice. That night before I left, I prayed that my own voice might one day touch someone the way hers had touched me.
As the world spins back into working order and "life as usual" (its hard to live in Hollywood and not know on some level 'the show must go on'), I am suddenly that twenty-something-year-old singer behind that church, again feeling fragile and broken -- forever changed.
This time not because of a voice I just heard, but because of a voice I'll never hear again.
We'll forever have the records and the memories, but just knowing that sacred gift is no longer among us, is another melancholy reminder of just how fleeting and temporary this life really is.
When I think of Whitney Houston, I think of that young girl who took the stage so bravely that night. Singing from a place even the most seasoned of singers can only dream of finding, she cracked open our collective heart. As I look back, the real message of that voice for me was, "This is a fleeting and fragile journey, be gentle with each other."
I will always remember that night on Sunset, hearing an extraordinary voice before the world discovered it -- and seeing a soul before it lost what many famous friends count among their greatest gifts and blessings: anonymity.
This morning I had coffee with a friend not far from where I first heard that unbelievable voice. When we finished, I decided to walk back to my hotel so I could stop along the way at that little church on Holloway Drive.
How fitting that it would be Ash Wednesday.
So many, many years have passed since that night I first heard her, and as I approached Saint Victors, a great still peace came over me as though in some strange way, I were returning home.
As I left today, I had a different prayer. Filled with gratitude that I was able to ever witness such a Gift, I prayed that in spite of what feels like such a tragic and untimely end, a beautiful and sacred soul named Whitney Houston may have also found a great still peace.
A great still peace that hopefully awaits and embraces us all --
especially upon "returning home"
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and to dust we shall return."
~ Thank You CoCo