Friend of Whitney Houston discusses her life, legacy

Feb 14, 2012

Live chat with DC radio legend Donnie Simpson, a personal friend of Whitney Houston. Houston was found dead in the bathtub in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, hours before she was supposed to appear at a pre-Grammy gala.

Simpson will take questions about Houston's life, legacy and more. Submit your questions, comments and opinions now.

- AP Sources: Whitney Houston's body to be taken home to NJ on Monday for funeral at end of week
- Finding cause of Whitney Houston’s death could take weeks; body released by coroner

How will we know what her last wishes were? Had she made peace with Our maker? Who will help Bobbi Kristina through it all?

I think only Whitney knows if she made peace with her Maker.  In my opinion, she made peace with her Maker long ago.  She was very spiritual, and I have no doubt that she's gone home.  As far as who will help Bobbi Kristina is concerned, I think she has very good support group - her father and her family.  It's going to be tough of course, as it would be for anyone, but with God's help, she will be fine with time. 

How long did you know Whitney? What was it like watching her rise and fall?

I've known Whitney since mid or late 80's, so almost 25 years.  Watching her meteoric rise was wonderful.  I always enjoy watching peoples success, especially when they are as nice and down to earth as Whitney was.  When I watched her on Bobby Brown's reality show I was broken hearted because obviously she was someone struggling with addiction.  Her and Bobby.  And Bobby is a friend of mine too.  I've known him for as long as I've known Whitney.  At the same time, I always remained hopeful. I know that addictions are tough.  I watched an older brother go through that.  Classic Vietnam case - came home from the war a heroine addict.

I only bring that up to say this: Through him I learned that all things are possible because he has now been recovering for 28 years, and he was in a really bad place where we weren't sure he was going to make it, but he did.  And now he's started a program in Detroit to help drug addicts.  He went on to teach doctors in the state of Michigan how to deal with patients with addictions and AIDS.  So to see someone's life turn around like that is a great example that all things are possible. 

What do you think will be Whitney's enduring legacy? Beauty, Voice or Tragedy?

Without doubt, her music and her voice and her smile will be her legacy.  All of this other stuff will be footnotes to her legacy.  It's sad that her tragedy seems to be so much focus in the media, although I understand it, because it is tragic.  We all watched what she went through.  At the same time, for me, I choose to rejoice in this wonderful spirit that was Whitney Houston.  To rejoice in her success.  Incredible success.  And her influence.  If you look at the coverage on TV, it's amazing.  It's the lead story for the past couple of days has been about her.   It speaks to her impact on the world.  And I think that's her legacy.  The gift that God gave her that we were then fortunate enough to share, and the inspiration that she gave so many.  My daughter was, the night that Whitney died, very upset.  She reminded me that when she was a little girl I had arranged vocal lessons for her because she too wanted to be Whitney Houston.  In those classes she would sing "The Greatest Love of All.  So you know, there were millions of little girls." and boys around the world who wanted to achieve the same level of success of Whitney Houston.

So many times over the last few days I've heard that there will never be another one.  And of course, like snow flakes, we're all different.  But my hope that there will be one even greateer.  That there is some child out there right now that has dreams of being the next Whitney Houston.  Or dreams even bigger than that!  And for me  to say that no one will ever match her success would be giving up on them, and I could never do that.

Do you know if Whitney was affiliated with a particular charity or organization? I am sure that many in the public would like to send a donation on her behalf.

I know that she was very charitable throughout her career.  I know she did a lot of work with the United Negro College Fund.  She had her own foundation set up, although I'm not sure what it was.  But with some research online, I'm sure you could find it and make donations through that. 

When was the last time you spoke with her? Were you worried about her come back? Do you think her "handlers" pushed her to come back too soon?

The last time I talked to her was about two years ago.  She seemed like she was in a great place to me.  As far as her handlers pushing her too soon - I don't know.  I would imagine that push was also from Whitney.  She wouldn't have been doing it if she didn't want to do it.  I couldn't imagine someone forcing her to do something she didn't want to do.  She was a singer.  That's what she did.  I think it's something that she  wanted to do, just as much if not more than her handlers.

What's your favorite personal memory of Whitney?

I have many great memories of Whitney.  I guess my favorite would be one year I was at her house (or her mansion, ha) in New Jersey for her birthday. Bobby Brown and I were walking around out back and he says "Man, can you beleive all of this? This is off two albums." And we were amazed at how she was living off of two albums.

But later on I find myself in the kitchen and it's me, Whitney, and a couple of others. And she said, "Hey

Donnie, you gotta hear this." So I go over and she's on the phone and she holds it kind of open to her ear so  I can hear. We're standing there cheek to cheek.  And it's the group Take 6 singing Happy Birthday to her in six part harmony.

Everyone who knows their music knows how incredible they are - possibly the best acapella group ever, and for me it was amazing that they would call her and sing Happy Birthday.

The princess gets a call like tha from Take 6.

And I was also thinking how blessed I was to share that moment with her.  It was just special to me.   It was very sweet.

And she was giggly about it. She was very humble and she just thought it was the coolest thing that they would do that. And it was.

Donnie, will you attend the memorial service for Whitney?

I am gathering information on that now. I hope to.  As a matter of fact I just recieved a text about it (with some sketchy details).   I would love to attend.

Donnie, I think everybody would agree that Ms. Houston's voice was a gift from God. Amazing vocalist. Where would you rank her among the all-time greats?

I think that Whitney belongs on a very short list.  I think she's right there right behind her God Mother, Aretha Franklin.  Of course, as any sports fan knows, just like you would have to argue Magic, Michael, Russell - you have to have a discussion that would include Aretha, Whitney, Chaka, Streisand, and Gladys. 

And that's just the females.  It's a whole other conversation if we include the guys.

When Whitney died, I really wanted to hear you on the radio talking about all the joy she'd brought us over the years. Please come back!

Well, my Facebook wall was just covered with people saying that it was times like this that "we wish you were on radio."  That's very flattering to me and I really, really appreciate that.  But please know that I feel the same thing.  While I miss you guys, I don't miss doing my show.  This is one of just maybe two or three times that I've missed it at all because I would have liked to honored Whitney on the air.  But in statements like that, when people say they miss me at times like this, I understand that because we went through to many things together over the years I was on air. From the loss of Marvin Gaye to Sept. 11 to Michael Jackson.  We shared those moments together.  So I miss you at times like this, too.

What are your thoughts on the media? Do you feel they try too hard to prove that celebrities are worse off than they really are, just to make their money?

I think that it's the world that we live in these days.  Unfortunately, it seems to be focused on the negative.  And that saddens me.  Whitney had her struggles, but to me the level of success she achieved and the talent that she displayed far outweigh the negative. And of course I'd like to see the media focus more on that, but I can't just sit here and point a finger at the media when it's the consumer also who chooses cat fights on reality tv instead of moonwalking. 

I don't know if it's the media that force feeds the consumer the brand of entertainment that they get now days, or if it's the consumer asking for this brand of entertainment.  So it's hard to point a finger at someone, but I just, for me personally, I am just kind of amazed at what passes for "celebrity" these days. You used to have to be able to sing like Whitney Houston or moonwalk like Michael Jackson to be famous. 

If you were still on the radio, what would be your final song and thoughts played on your show dedicated to Whitney Houston?

That's a really good question.  Of course her signiture song is "I will always love you" and I'm sure that's the easy way to go - and maybe I shouldn't say "easy" but "appropriate" way to go.  But I think as any of my listeners woudl know, I try to do things a little different. I try to go a little deeper. 

I might pick "You Give Good Love," which is her first song.  Because that was the birth of Whitney Houston's career and that's what I would choose to honor - the birth of this star. 

Plus, for me it held special significance, which I would talk about.  Whitney's first interview on television was with me, and it was for that song. I played it on radio a week or two before it was released to radio, and I had a gold record on the wall in my office that said "Thanks for the being the first in the world to play Whitney Houston."  So with all of those memories and significance of that song, and being the birth of Whitney Houston's career, that's probely the song I would play.

And to add, the song is just absolutely freaking incredible.  Excuse me for going on and on about this, but to add to that, it was written by a young women named Lala, who got a grammy for it, that it was recorded by Kashif, in the studio in his house in Stanford CT, and the house used to be owned by Jackie Robinson.

So for all those reasons, I think tha twould be my final choice.  Take it back to where it began. 

Plus, she did give good love.

What are your thoughts on the Grammys tribute to Whitney?

Five minutes after I had found that that Whitney had died, I was sitting with friends and said, " I'm sure they're scrambling at the Grammys right now to honor Whitney.  They have to get Jennifer Hudson.  She's the only one that can do this."  They had to do "I Will Always Love You," and you can try Dolly Parton because it's her song, but this is a spiritual moment, and you have to have that soul and voice.  So when I got up and heard that's what they had arranged, I was just thrilled.  She did an incredible job.  She is one incredible singer. 

But still - this speaks to the greatness of Whitney Houston - that as great a job that Jennifer did on that song, you still sat there and thought "It ain't Whitney."

As the original host of Video Soul, we've got to know...What was your favorite Whitney music video?

Actually, that's hard for me to answer for two reasons:

1 - I haven't seen many of her videos in many years. I did watch some on BET last night, though.  So I don't remmber them all.

2 - As crazy as it sounds, even when I did the show I didn't really watch the videos much.  Let me explain: I'm a music man. I love music. So when I would introduce the videos, I would sit there with my eyes closed listening to the music.  I love music and music makes me close my eyes.  I missed so many videos by lsitening to the music!

It's interesting to me that when an iconic figure such as Whitney Houston passes away, such wonderful emotions and expressions of appreciation are given. I often wonder if the entertainer themselves understand the impact they had on so many people. Do you think Whitney understood her impact in the music industry and how her vocal ability set a standard for so many aspiring vocalists?

Yes, I do.  I think that with as many records as she sold, with as many concerts as she's sold out around the world with the love people gave her on a daily basis, I have no doubt that to some degree she understood her impact.  Now, I say to some degree because I think that (and this is going to sound like me tooting my own horn, but I assure you it's not) when I go out and see the reaction of people to me, the love I'm given, it took me many, many, many years to realize that this is not the norm.  Not everyone gets this.  I don't understand it still, and it really surprises me.  The point I'm trying to make is to use the link from Elton John's Rocket Man, "In all the science I don't understand, it's just my job five days a week, a rocket man." 

I think that people that are in the public eye, like a Whitney Houston, when you're idolized lik that, you don't get caught up in it. It's just your job five days a week.  You understand people give you love everywhere you go, but still, it's just what you do.  That's all.  I think for the most part, you don't view it as any more special than what anyone else does for a living.  You may be blessed because you're not sweating slinging a sledgehammer all day, but it's still a job. 

And that's what I find in most celebrities that are friends of mine.  They say the same thing.  It's just what you do, even though you're very blessed and thankful that people dig what you do.

I think that's why everyone who knew and who talks about Whitney talk about how bound to earth she was.  While all of these wonderful things happened, these things are not you.  There's still a human being in there who did the same things we all did as kids.  I just never saw Whitney as one who got caught up in it.  She was so down to earth and cool.

I have no idea if I've answered your question, ha, but there you have a rambling thoughts of a retired mind. Oh god, I shouldn't have used the word retired!

Donnie, I can't believe you didn't include Patty and Mariah in your top voices! On a related note, wouldn't you agree that Whitney sang the all-time best version of the Star Spangled Banner? It brought tears to my eyes when I watched it live and every time since.

First of all, I could think of a lot of voices we could have in this argument, but yeah, the ones you mentioned belong there.  But at the end of the day, for me it comes down to Aretha and Whitney. 

Her rendition of the national anthem is, to me, without doubt the greatest version I've ever heard.  And I know some people are going to bring up Marvin Gaye (which was also great - cool and different), but the beauty of Whitney's to me was that it was different, yet the same.  She didn't take liberties with it that many people take with it now.  She sung it like it was supposed to be sung, but it's Whitney singing it.  It's effortless.  That is a stroll in the park to her.  And I don't sing. I don't know how to sing.  But I know singers always say how difficult that song is.  Not for her! It was a piece of cake, and she nailed it.

So now maybe I can answer one of the previous questions: My all time favorite video Whitney Houston is Whitney singing the national anthem.  Over the past few days, every time I saw it, it made me cry.

How would you describe Whitney's personality and what were some of her most endearing qualities?

I'd say that Whitney was one of the most down to earth people I've ever known.  And that's the quality you hear spoken about most when you hear people who knew her talk about her.  She was just a real down to earth sista.  She was very funny, very kind and incredibly sweet.  That statement stands throughout her career.  That's who she was and that never changed.  She was a very very special person. If she didn't have that incredible voice, I'd still be saying the same thing about her.  She was very, very sweet.

Donnie, you knew Whitney from the very start. At what point during her rise did she seem happiest to you? Can you pinpoint a peak? (From a Post staffer)

I don't know that I can answer that.  Obviously by the time everyone knew of her struggles with addiction she didn't appear to be as happy then as years prior to that.  So I would just have to say before that time was when I thought she was at her happiest, but I also have to say that when I talked to her two years ago, she seemed very very happy. 

You know, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out that her happiest times were pre and post addiction era.  And in my opinion, I think there was a post-addiction era. There's so much in the media right now - it seems like every time they do a Whitney story - drugs are brought up.  People are so quick to jump to conclusions.  The coroner said they'd let us know in six to eight weeks. I wish the speculation would stop and wait to see what they say.  To me personally, it doesn't matter what took her from here.  The only thing that matters to me is that she's now home, and this is truly the happiest Whitney has ever been.  Right now.

Whitney's singing always appeared to be so effortless, so sooth, just like breathing. Such a beautiful voice. Do you know if she had a favorite song that she liked to perform?

No, I don't.  I have no idea if there was a favorite that she liked to perform.  From my experience with many artists through the years, the one thing I find is like this:

I remember when talking to Anita Baker and she said picking her favorite song was like picking her favorite child - she just couldn't do it. 

I know it may be too early to say, but if a Whitney movie is made, who do you think would be the best actress to portray her?

Aunt Esther.  No, I'm kidding of course.

Jennifer Hudson.  With Jennifer, you could have her actually singing instead of putting someone ele's voice in.  And she has acting credits.  She's done pretty well. She has an Oscar!  So I think Jennifer would be a great choice if they were to ever do a Whitney Houston story. 

I just hope they think about me if they're looking for someone to play bad ass Bobbi Brown!

And since I brought up Bobbi Brown, it saddens me to hear so many people point fingers at him when they talk about Whitney's downward spiral.  I'm a pretty simple man, and I just feel that it's wrong to blame someone else for someone else's choices.  This is not Bobbi's fault.  This is no one's fault.  It's a set of circumstances that make people what they are, and that influences the choices that they make.

I really want to thank you all for spending this time with us here this afternoon.  I've really enjoyed it.  Your questions have been insightful and informative.  And I really appreciate it.

I also want to thank Haley Crum for helping me type this.  My wife Pam got me through college with her typing.  Haley got me through this online chat today. 

So I thank both of them, and I thank all of you for this online chat today.  God bless you, and thank you.

In This Chat
Donnie Simpson
Donnie Simpson is a longtime American radio DJ as well as a television and movie personality. He hosted The Donnie Simpson Morning Show on Washington, D.C. radio station WPGC-FM from March 1993 to January 29, 2010. He was Billboard's "1998 Air Personality of the Year". He is also known by the nickname "Dr. Green Eyes" for his luminous light green eyes.
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