For decades BeBe Winans had uplifted millions of people with his gift of song. During his early years in show business he befriended a young Whitney Houston, and their bond continued and only grew stronger throughout her tumultuous career.
Winans spoke and delivered a heartfelt tribute to the “I Will Always Love You” singer during her funeral in February. “We spent a lot of time together and we talked about her voice and we talk about her talent,” he said. “Which was a beautiful thing, but what I’m going to miss is crazy Whitney.” He went on to sing “I Miss You,” with his sister CeCe Winans.
Today, Winans has released a tribute of another kind for Houston, a book he wrote entitled The Whitney I Knew. In an interview with theGrio, the Grammy Award winning gospel singer talked candidly about his relationship with Houston, and revealed what he believed to be some of the highs and lows of her life. He also said that he did not write to book to profit off of Houston’s death.
theGrio: Can you just summarize briefly the journey that this book is going to take readers on?
BeBe Winans: Well I think first of all it will paint a real picture of who she really was. She was a simple girl with an enormous gift, an enormous gift that brought a lot of laughter but at the same time brought a lot of pain. And in that you know she lost her way, she found her way, she lost her way, she loved like no one better and was one of the greatest, generous people that I’ve met. So that person that the world saw on stage in the gowns and heard through the records and other media outlets was even greater than what they saw. She was one of the greatest human beings that I’ve ever met. And I miss her terribly, the reasons why you’ll find in the book.
Did you speak to Cissy Houston prior to writing this book and did she give you her blessing to proceed?
Yes I speak to her on a regular basis. I mean I was encouraged. One of the things I would not have done, is write this book if I did not have the blessings of the family.
Take me back to the night that you heard that Whitney had died, what went through your mind?
You know, unbelief, and not just because she was a close and very dear friend, but because it’s happened before. It’s a tragic thing when people pronounce you dead over the airwaves and you’re not. So there’s been maybe twice before this actual incident that I received a phone call saying Whitney had passed, and one particular time I called and she answered. I said “well I guess the rumor is not true since I’m talking to you.” She said, “yea unless I’m speaking to you from heaven it aint true.”
So you kind of get used to things being said and rumors that are outrageous when you’re dealing with someone of that status of notoriety. Sad, but true. So when I received the first phone call, actually from my cousin she asked if I was near a television and I was out to eat at dinner with my son, and she told me what was going on and I immediately hung up and started dialing Pat [Houston], her sister-in-law. When my mother’s number showed up on my phone and I answered, she told me they had just got finished talking with Pat and it was true. Still with that I stood there thinking all ya’ll crazy. This is not true, you know but you allow reality to sink in.
Sometimes whenever someone is suffering and having up and downs in their lives, their loved ones say they feel at peace when the person passes because they know they are no longer struggling. Did you feel that way at all with Whitney when she passed?
Not necessarily and I think sometimes if we’re honest with one another when we do lose loved ones, The pain is pretty much selfish because we have learned to live with these individuals and they become very dear to us. It wasn’t a thing of peace because one reality is that Whitney had come through such a dark point and that period where we thought the phone call might come in had passed us by, that cloud had passed us by, so it really caught us totally off guard.
Is there one thing that you didn’t get to tell Whitney Houston that you wish you could have said to her
Not at all, one of the things I’ll cherish is my last phone call from her which I didn’t get a chance to answer but she left on my machine. She said, “this is just sis, I just called to tell you how much I love you. I love you so much.” And that’s something that keeps me going because we both knew without any hesitation or reservation that we loved each other, loved each other truly. So, I think that it is an accomplishment when it comes to any relationship is for that person to know they are loved unconditionally.
Being in the entertainment business as long as I’ve been, one of the things that I do not do is react or put voice to rumors because it’s a part of that lifestyle. So that’s one of the things I wanted to accomplish even with this book. For a lot of people, the only reality they have is what the tabloids have said and drug abuse may be five percent of her life, ninety-five percent of it was not.
One of the things that people forget is that Whitney was a mother, Whitney was a wife. How many mothers and wives go through difficult times? And so if we multiply that with the tabloids and everywhere, you turn around there’s a picture, there’s a quote from people who don’t know you. It will bring you to a depressed state and then dealing with the realities of a miscarriage and various other things. Those things that are experienced by all but never really given a pass. You know, it’s a very difficult thing so in the book I address some of those things so people can really understand what Whitney really had to endure.