When Whitney Houston died tragically this February at the age of 48, along with great sadness, the world lamented the lack of a proper goodbye.
Here was music’s most enigmatic pop star, gone without even a whisper and marred by public scrutiny over her personal life. Now, six months later, she will have the chance to take her final Hollywood bow with the opening of Sparkle, the last project before her passing and what many are calling her utmost “labor of love.”
Hitting theaters Friday, the movie brings Houston back into spotlight as both an actress and chanteuse, two roles that made her a legend in entertainment and earned her six Grammys, two Emmys, and 30 Billboard Music Awards. In Sparkle, the iconic singer plays Emma, a single mother struggling to lead her daughter, a musical prodigy played by Jordin Sparks, to success in Motown era Detroit without succumbing to the social struggles around her. Inspired by The Supremes and executive-produced by Houston, the film is a remake of the original 1976 edition, set in Harlem during the 1950s.
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“She always loved the movie,” co-executive producer and writer Howard Rosenman tells theGrio. “When she was a little girl, just 13 or 14, she would go to the matinee and watch it all day long, and it kind of inspired her to become a singer and it gave her hope.”
Rosenman met Houston during her younger years, when he was invited by industry legend Ahmet Ertegun to hear The Sweet Inspirations, her mother Cissy’s gospel group, perform. A young Whitney made a guest appearance on stage, and, as Rosenman remembers, her talent was beyond striking. He befriended her backstage, and soon became witness to the early growth of her career.
In 1971, Rosenman wrote the script for Sparkle with Joel Schumacher, and says, for Houston, when the movie eventually came out, the story was not only aspirational to her as an emerging singer, but as an African-American woman.
“In those days, they were making movies that depicted African-Americans as drug dealers, pushers, or pimps and prostitutes, and this is a movie about girls from the ghetto who get over their problems to become big successes,” he explains.