When Mariah debuted, people in the media couldn’t wait to compare her to Whitney. I heard Mariah early on because my good friend, Rhett Lawrence, produced her first big single. I was at his house in California when he was raving about this new singer. Well, as we all know, when Mariah came on the scene, she hit hard. And instantly the media created a “hate” between Whitney and Mariah. They were both going to be at the American Music Awards, and people were expecting some kind of fireworks because supposedly there was this massive tension between them. Again, this was a fabrication. They didn’t hate each other; they didn’t even know each other. I could convince Whitney to do anything—pranks or whatever. We’d be hanging out and I’d tell her to do something, and she’d say, “Why do you think you my father? You think I’ll just do whatever you tell me?” To which I’d reply, “Shut up, I am your father”—all in good fun, of course. We were at the American Music Awards, and I had persuaded Whitney that after her performance and her category were over, we would go to dinner. I’d also informed her that when we exited our seats, she would be the last one out, and that we were going to pass Mariah Carey.
“Here’s what you do,” I said. “You gonna stop and you gonna put out your hand and you gonna speak to her.”
“I’m not gonna speak to her,” Whitney replied.
“Yes, you are. You’re going to be bigger than this whole situation.”
“I’m not . . .”
“Yes, you are.”
Her category finished and our little foursome started marching out to go to dinner—CeCe in front of me, Whitney’s assistant, Robin, in front of her, and Whitney at the end of the line—just like I said. And Whitney did exactly as I told her to do. I didn’t stop to listen to or watch their interaction; I just kept moving. The three of us piled into the car, and then Whitney blew in like a storm and slammed the door behind her.
“I’m going to kick your tail!” she said to me.
“I’ll never listen to you again.”
“Tell me what happened!”
“I did everything you said: I stopped. I put out my hand and said, ‘Hi Mariah, I’m Whitney.’ And when I stuck out my hand, she turned her head like she didn’t hear anything I said and looked up at the sky.”
“Oh no,” I said. “Tell me that’s not true.”
“Oh, it’s true. I was so embarrassed. There I stood, looking like an idiot. I’m never going to do what you tell me to do again.”
Thank God the media didn’t see this. If they had, Whitney’s and Mariah’s brief exchange (or lack of it) would have been blown into epic proportions. They would have hated each other and not even known why—and all because it may have been so chaotic in that moment that Mariah didn’t even hear Whitney. Unbelievable. My idea didn’t go very well, but we laughed at that whole awkward affair years later. And this incident didn’t end up stopping those two from getting together in the future . . . after some further persuasion.
When Whitney was approached with the opportunity to record a duet with Mariah, I encouraged her to do it. She wouldn’t hear of it. “You crazy,” she responded. “You know what happened last time I tried to do something nice. You don’t know what you’re saying, boy. You’ve lost your mind. It wasn’t that she disliked Mariah; she just didn’t want to be embarrassed again. We talked a little more about it, but she finally said, “That ain’t going to happen, BeBe.” Then, only a few months later, she called me and sheepishly informed me of her latest news.
“Well,” she began, dragging it out a bit, “you said it a few months ago—that I should do a duet with Mariah.”
“No,” I interrupted, “don’t tell me you’re doing it!”
“Yeah, Babyface wrote the song, and it’s on.” I could tell she was very happy about the whole thing.
“Wow,” I replied, “ain’t that something! That’s going to be incredible! But wait, you said you were never going to do something like that.”
We both laughed and laughed. Oh, how Whitney loved to laugh. Finally the two superstars met—two musical powerhouses who knew who they were outside of the pop world. And when they performed that Oscar-winning song together (“When You Believe” from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack), it was the catalyst for a great friendship between them. When I looked at Mariah at Whitney’s funeral, all those memories came flooding back.
I share that story for two reasons. First, as an example of the gross exaggerations the media likes to spin on celebrities and also to communicate Whitney’s honest love for her peers. She loved other singers and was always up on who was new and fresh. Second, I wanted to depict the scene within the church the day of her funeral. Each person sitting in that sanctuary represented both the good and the bad of Whitney’s life.
When I say good and bad, I simply mean the wonderful makeup of this life in general. That’s what makes life so beautiful: the fun and the boring, the misunderstandings and the epiphanies. All of it mixes together on the canvas of our lives. When I saw Mariah at Whitney’s homegoing, I saw a specific brushstroke of Whitney’s life. That brushstroke touched other brushstrokes. Together the strokes formed a masterpiece. All masterpieces have certain tensions or contrasts on display— that’s what makes the painting dynamic and memorable. Whitney’s life told a dramatic story filled with contrast and beauty, a life truly lived.
The seclusion of fame damages people the most. Fame causes its inhabitants to live afraid—to fear their reputation being marred— which makes seclusion seem the only real alternative. Look at how Michael Jackson faded into eerie reclusiveness, buying a monkey and other exotic animals as pets. For me, that seems far removed from reality and true human connection. But he also endured a level of celebrity that few people on earth can relate to.
One year Whitney threw an exclusive party—a BIG party. You may ask, who throws a party for their twenty-sixth birthday—complete with a who’s who of attendees, loads of food, a beautifully decorated tent, and excellent music? Well, she did, because she was on the road during her twenty-fifth birthday.
The invitation had a spectacular picture of Whitney on the cover. You had to be on a list, and there were different security checkpoints. CeCe and I just stayed on the sidelines of the party, watching her enjoy the evening and all the love as she mingled with everyone. That was also the night we discovered that Michael Jackson had given Whitney a monkey as her birthday present. Everyone seemed amused, but I’m sure they were all thinking the same thing I was— This is crazy! Who gives monkeys to people for their birthdays? The thought is funny and ridiculous at the same time. Of course Whitney didn’t need a monkey! It was all she could do to take care of her cat! But perhaps Michael was so far removed from people that he thought Whitney could use the companionship of a monkey. Whitney couldn’t believe it. She read Michael’s card, looked at me, and said, “What am I going to do with a monkey? We both laughed. “As soon as this party’s over, that monkey is getting dropped off at the zoo!”
Did this gift make sense to Michael? I don’t know. Perhaps. The amount of fame that Whitney had garnered already as a twenty-six- year-old had propelled her into a lonely way of life. But can you imagine thinking that another person would be so lonely that they’d need a pet monkey? This was someone’s reality? This is what seclusion does to a person. Whitney didn’t struggle with the inclination toward extreme reclusivenes like Michael did, though I can see now how that gift from Michael was a foreshadowing of darker days ahead for Whitney.
BeBe Winans is a groundbreaking inspirational, R&B, and gospel vocalist, writer, and producer whose albums have reached platinum status. He has won six Grammy® Awards, three NAACP Awards, 10 Dove Awards, six Stellar Awards, and was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with sister CeCe Winans. He has recorded with such entertainers as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Pink, Brian Wilson, Barbara Streisand and many more. Winans’ new album, America America, which honors our nation’s heritage, was released by Razor & Tie on June 19th, 2012.