It was The 36th Grammy Awards.
That year they were held at Radio City Music Hall and I was backstage talking to winners and losers, trying to get the biggest stars I could for my piece the next morning. And there was Whitney leaving after her wins.
I was determined to talk with her.
Her husband, Bobby Brown, her personal assistant Robyn Crawford, plus four refrigerator sized security men. And Whitney. Slowly moving towards the exit.
I'd never met her but I had met Bobby.
It was back in the 80s. He'd tasted fame with New Edition and really became huge with his second solo album, Don't Be Cruel. Its first single, "My Prerogative," was on every radio, the video seemed to play every hour on MTV. He came on our show on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. He spoke eloquently about Dr. King, said the kinds of things you wouldn't expect Bobby Brown to say.
Since I knew him I said, "Could Whitney come back to talk with me?"
He replied, "It's up to her."
The scrum kept moving towards the exit.
"Whitney, could you talk with me for a second?"
"It's up to Robin."
"Up to Whitney."
Whitney finally said the line that changed everything. "It's so hot in here."
"We have air conditioning in our booth."
She looked at me and said, "Okay."
I led her gently back to my CBS area, all the time feeling like I was holding lightning in my hand. While we were setting up, I told her Aretha Franklin had just been there and was happy she'd won.
"Aunt Re-Re?" Whitney asked.
I knew we had to be fast so I asked her what winning that night meant to her. She answered and as I began my second question, I felt someone from her team poke me in the back. I knew that poke. It meant time is up. When that happens you can do one of two things. You can either ignore it and continue, because hey, you've got Whitney Houston, and she's a huge get.
And you'll never talk to her again.
Or, you can wrap it up and be thankful that she stopped by and hope her team remembers how professional and accommodating you were. How you wound down the interview when they said to wind it down.
I chose option number two.
As they were leaving I thanked Bobby, I thanked Robyn, and I especially thanked Whitney.
The next morning I was able to not only promote my piece on The Grammys but with Whitney, as well.
The last time I saw her was six years later, again at The Grammys.
They were held in Los Angeles this time. Whitney won the Best Female R & B Vocal Performance for "It's Not Right But It's Okay." She also performed on the show.
Although Carlos Santana was the big winner that night (he won a boatload of awards for his album Supernatural), Whitney Houston was still Whitney Houston. I asked her earlier if she would come back and talk to me later. She said, "Sure," smiled, and blew me a kiss.
All the press was in an area backstage. The big boys were there--CNN, Today, Good Morning America, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight and us. Whitney came to talk to me as promised and the air started crackling because a huge star was on board. She had on a pink dress that included a pink stole.
It was hugs and air kisses between us as she sat down.
I said, "How's it feel to win another one of those guys?"
Whitney responded, "Great, simply great. It never, ever gets old."
"And singing in front of that audience?"
She smiled shyly.
"You always want to impress that bunch."
We talked a bit more, then she got up, more hugs, and she was gone. And every other reporter was not very happy because she spoke only to me.
Oh well, that's life.
I've always held her in a special place in my heart. She was supremely talented, yes, but she was also a special person.
Throughout her struggles, I always expected her to mount a comeback and show us all that the joke was on us.
When I learned she was gone, I had to stop what I was doing and just sit down. I had never been affected like that by an artist.
Not like that.
The once in a lifetime shooting star, Whitney Houston.
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