'I held onto [her] with both hands': Jully Black

13-Feb-2012 | SHARE:

Growing up, it wasn't easy for Jully Black to find companionship on Canadian radio. 7-years-old and living in a Pentecostal Christian household in Toronto's Jane-and-Finch neighbourhood, the Juno-nominated R&B singer says Whitney Houston was her entrance-way into the music world.

"To be hearing a black woman, let alone black music, resonated within every bone of my body and I held onto Whitney with both hands," says MS. Black, 34, who tearfully describes receiving the news that on Saturday afternoon her idol was gone. "For me, show-and-tell wasn't dolls, it was singing a Whitney Houston song and I say this very truthfully: without Whitney Houston, there is no Jully Black."

Ms. Black, however, describes having a difficult relationship with her hero, and mentions that, like with Michael Jackson, the Whitney Houston that she chose to hold onto wasn't the singer in her later years--the one dogged by whispers of drug abuse, eating disorders and public arrests.

"It was like I had to preserve her and compartmentalize, same as with Michael," says Ms. Black, who recently took to YouTube to find clips of Ms. Houston singing All at Once and The Greatest Love of All to rekindle her drive after feeling frustrated by the response to her latest disc. "I wanted to go back to being six or seven and find something that inspired me. You see Whitney and it looks effortless, just a bead of sweat on the top of her lip and this incredibly big sound."

Melanie Fiona, a 28-year-old R&B singer also from Toronto nominated last night for two Grammy Awards, is currently in Los Angeles with her family for the ceremony, and says that Houston is the only topic of conversation.

"It's everywhere, it's on the streets, in the bars, all over the news -- television crews are camped outside the Beverly Hilton," says Ms. Fiona, who calls Ms. Houston her single biggest influence. "That this happened the day before the biggest night in music, there's something very significant about that. We know what she contributed to the music industry, I hope her contributions are what we remember and what's given justice, honour and respect."

However, not only like Michael Jackson, but also recently-deceased Amy Winehouse, it might be impossible to separate Ms. Houston from her private life. Divine Brown won the 2009 Juno Award for best R&B record and says that she was with her 13-year-old daughter when she first found our about Ms. Houston's death.

Her daughter wants to grow up and become a musician, but Brown says she'd prefer her teenager follow in any footsteps but her own.

"I used to stand around and just watch in awe -- she was able to hold a note forever -- but being addicted to crack made her unrecognizable."

bkaplan@nationalpost.com

Credit: Ben Kaplan; National Post

Word count: 468

Copyright CanWest Digital Media Feb 13, 2012