At Whitney Houston’s funeral on Saturday, her godmother, Aretha Franklin, will pay tribute to the late singer in the song.
And at Franklin’s New York City concert Friday night, she acknowledged Houston’s passing, calling her “one of the greatest singers that ever stood behind a microphone. She’s moved on up just a little bit higher now.”
But first, the Queen of Soul shared an exclusive tribute to Houston with PEOPLE, in which she remembers “Nippy” as a child, a troubled celebrity, and a superstar.
Here, and in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Franklin shares – in her own words – the Whitney she knew.
Whitney (Nippy was her pet name) was the daughter of a dear and old family friend and colleague, Cissy Houston, whom I came up with recording in the 60s at Columbia Records, as well as with the late Dee Dee Warwick (Whitney’s aunt and noted recording artist). Later, I would also meet and become label mates with celebrated recording artist Dionne Warwick (Whitney’s cousin).
Cissy brought Nippy to one of my recording sessions to meet me and I thought, ‘What a cute, darling little red-headed girl, Cissy’s baby!’ She was very quiet after our meeting as I believe Cissy instructed her to be. She was later introduced to Clive (Davis) and auditioned for him – with great success!
From then on I watched her growth and development as an artist. It became apparent that she was the signaling of a younger generation coming in and a role model for many young vocal aspirants. A rose who came into full bloom.
It wasn’t just the hits – where some are defined by their hit records alone, Whitney knew how to be a star and she was one of the brightest stars in the universe.
We were all aware of her challenges and I was always rooting for her. Seeing previews for the new Sparkle movie I thought, ‘Boy she looks good, healthy, fresh, and has that twinkle in her eyes!’ I felt for sure she was really on her way again and had overcome.
But in looking back now, I recall her European tour, which had to be totally devastating to her as a singer. Still exciting, but being unable to sing what she wanted had to be disheartening. And yet she stood night after night and endured unappreciative audiences with the heart of a champion. I followed the tour online to see how she was faring and I believe she was totally devastated after that.
I remember Natalie Cole saying how overwhelming overnight success can be for some. And of course, Whitney had phenomenal success, overnight and perhaps too much too soon. As well, I believe that for very young and highly successful people – particularly in entertainment and those at the highest level of income – the money is not always going to be there.
It isn’t always going to keep coming, as my father cautioned me early on. He said to be prepared for the day when your records are gonna stop being played. No matter how good you are, no matter how successful you are, one day the applause is going to die down. The amens and hallelujahs will no longer be heard, and the fans may no longer be there. Save and invest your money and know what you’re going to do when that happens. Have plans A, B, and C ready and in place.
Let us all applaud and remember Whitney for the beautiful, giving, and caring young lady and the talented artist she was, the great music, and the performances. Remember the hits. Forget the misses. A true superstar has gone on, flown away on the wings of love.
Keep her family in your prayers, Aunt Ree