Diva paved way for Canadian stars

14-Feb-2012 | SHARE:

Growing up, it wasn't easy for Jully Black to find companionship on Canadian radio. Seven years old and living in a Pentecostal Christian household in Toronto's Jane-and-Finch neighbourhood, the Junonominated R&B singer says Whitney Houston was her entranceway 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 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."

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 Black, who recently took to YouTube to find clips of Houston singing All at Once and 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."

Houston's sound, captured most famously on the Clive Davis-produced self-titled record in 1985, would go on to be the recipient of six Grammy Awards, and it's been viewed as ironic by some that Houston passed away at the Beverly Hilton only a day before the music industry's biggest night.

Melanie Fiona, a 28-year-old R&B singer from Toronto nominated Sunday 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 Fiona, who calls 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."

Not only like Michael Jackson, but also like the recently-deceased Amy Winehouse, it might be impossible to separate 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 Houston's death. Her daughter wants to grow up and become a musician, but Brown says that she'd prefer her teenager follow in any footsteps but her own.

"With all of the things I've seen, I'm petrified about becoming addicted to any substance, but it's not an easy industry and an artist has to walk a fine line and not lose themselves in what this business has to offer," says Brown, who relates a story of a local neighbourhood singer who lost everything after becoming addicted to drugs.

"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," says Brown, who grew up wanting to emulate Houston and, while using her as a cautionary tale to her daughter, still believes that Houston is one of the most important female artists of all-time.

"What she was doing as a black woman in the pop field was fantastic: You wanted her hair, you wanted her beauty, you wanted that power and you wanted that range, but in terms of educating my daughter, I've tried to use this as an example of her understanding the dangers of drugs."

GLEE TO HONOUR DIVA

Making the most of an unfortunate coincidence, Glee producers have announced they will dedicate tonight's episode to recently deceased singer Whitney Houston.

The episode, which features Amber Riley doing a cover of Whitney Houston's hit, I Will Always Love You (which was written by Dolly Parton), will now end with a card honouring Houston's memory, says Glee music producer Adam Anders.

"It's a really crazy coincidence," Anders tells EW. "We are shellshocked. I was talking to Amber last night, and she was really in a daze about it. It really flipped her out. She just met (Houston) on Thursday. Whitney had a huge impact on her."

- Postmedia News

Credit: Ben Kaplan; Postmedia News

Illustration

Handout / Whitney Houston performs during the Billboard Awards at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Dec. 7, 1998. Houston's death on Saturday has touched many around the world, including Canadian R&B stars.; Postmedia News / Jully Black performs inside BC Place during Winter Games festivities in Vancouver on Feb. 12 2010. Black says Whitney Houston was her idol.;; Caption:

Copyright CanWest Digital Media Feb 14, 2012