History Buzz February 13, 2012: John Covach: Rock, Pop Historian on the Death of Whitney Houston

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Rock, Pop Historian John Covach on the Death of Whitney Houston

Source: University of Rochester, 2-13-12

University of Rochester Music Historian John Covach describes Whitney Houston as “a trailblazer and a song stylist, much in the tradition of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley or her cousin, Dionne Warwick.” Covach, a professor of music and chair of the Department of Music at the University of Rochester and professor of music theory at the Eastman School of Music, is the author of What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock and its History (Norton, 2006) and the co-editor of Sounding Out Pop (University of Michigan Press, 2011). He reacted to Houston’s sudden death on Feb. 11 with this assessment:

“In these days after the tragic death of singer Whitney Houston, authorities cannot be certain of the precise cause of her death at the age of 48. Some suspect drugs played a role, since the singer had a history of addiction. But her death in a Hollywood hotel bathtub just hours before a Grammy party hosted by her mentor, Clive Davis, could also have been an accident. We can, however, be relatively confident of what did not kill Whitney Houston. It wasn’t music that killed her, or singing, or acting, or performing. In all likelihood, it was celebrity that killed the popular singer.

“Few artists survive the level of celebrity Whitney achieved without being damaged, and singers seem the most prone to emotional injury in this regard. Houston’s story is similar to those of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, both of whom died young and some years into the downslide from their respective career peaks. It is also true that many others, such as Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, continue to survive such superstardom, or at least are able to manage it.

“As shocking as such tragic deaths can be for fans and admirers, however, much of the gossip and scandal of current reports will be forgotten within a few years and Whitney Houston will be remembered for her accomplishments as a singer and actor. As a singer, few have dominated the charts as Whitney did in her prime, and her virtuosic approach to singing has had a significant impact on the development of popular-music history. Houston’s exceptional vocal prowess took control of every song she sang. It almost didn’t matter what the song was; once she began to sing, the focus of the performance was the singing itself. Like musical virtuosi throughout history—Niccolo Paganini, Franz Liszt, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane—there was a sense of wonder at what she could do, an expressive and technical command that astounded as it delighted.

“For all that’s been said about Whitney Houston as a trailblazer, her career was in many ways very old school. She was not a singer-songwriter, writing songs that reflected her own thoughts and experiences as so many rock singers have done since Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Whitney was a song stylist, and this is very much in the tradition of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley or her cousin, Dionne Warwick. Song stylists depend on others to write the songs and the arrangements; a song stylist’s job is to put his or her own personal stamp on a song. Back in the first half of the 20th century, many different singers would record the same hit song; the way to get fans to buy your version was to make the song distinctively yours. Song stylists had a trademark approach to performing and they depended on that to make their mark; nobody, however, expected them to be songwriters, producers, or arrangers. When Whitney sang a song, there was no doubt who was singing.

“Whitney was able to diversify her career by making films, beginning with The Bodyguard. Again, this is a tried-and-true approach to help insure a singer has a career after her first wave of success has subsided. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and Diana Ross all moved into films later in their careers. Among her 1980s colleagues on the pop charts, Prince and Madonna both turned to films before Whitney. But Whitney’s films were blockbusters, and the songs that went with the movie soundtracks were chart-topping hits. All of this combined to make Whitney Houston one of the biggest stars in the world—a celebrity recognized wherever she went.

“Whitney Houston’s music and success are what she will be remembered for, but the overwhelming intensity of that success is probably what painted her into the celebrity corner that led to her demise. In the years following his death, nobody really thought much about the “fat Elvis”; it wasn’t long before our memories of Elvis were of the dangerous young man swiveling his hips on national TV. And only a year after Michael Jackson’s death, nobody much cared about the scandals and spectacles of his last years. He would forever be the fantastic performer of his “Billie Jean” video. Likewise with Whitney Houston: after all the hubbub surrounding her death has passed and the reporters have moved on to the next celebrity scandal, we will still marvel at that fantastic voice, and the phenomenal performances that made her one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music.”

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Full Text October 20, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Speech, Remarks on the Death of Former Libyan Dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama speaks on the death of Muammar Qaddafi and the opportunity for the Libyan people to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.

The President on Libya

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 10/20/11

President Obama’s Remarks on the Death of Muammar el-Qaddafi

For 42 years, Muammar el-Qaddafi ruled Libya, but today, he died a fugitive — chased from power by his own people.

Just after 2:00, President Obama delivered remarks from the Rose Garden:

[This] is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted. And with this enormous promise, the Libyan people now have a great responsibility — to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship. We look forward to the announcement of the country’s liberation, the quick formation of an interim government, and a stable transition to Libya’s first free and fair elections.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President on the Death of Muammar Qaddafi

Remarks by the President on the Death of Muammar Qaddafi

Rose Garden

2:07 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Today, the government of Libya announced the death of Muammar Qaddafi. This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.

For four decades, the Qaddafi regime ruled the Libyan people with an iron fist. Basic human rights were denied. Innocent civilians were detained, beaten and killed. And Libya’s wealth was squandered. The enormous potential of the Libyan people was held back, and terror was used as a political weapon.

Today, we can definitively say that the Qaddafi regime has come to an end. The last major regime strongholds have fallen. The new government is consolidating the control over the country. And one of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more.

One year ago, the notion of a free Libya seemed impossible. But then the Libyan people rose up and demanded their rights. And when Qaddafi and his forces started going city to city, town by town, to brutalize men, women and children, the world refused to stand idly by.

Faced with the potential of mass atrocities — and a call for help from the Libyan people — the United States and our friends and allies stopped Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks. A coalition that included the United States, NATO and Arab nations persevered through the summer to protect Libyan civilians. And meanwhile, the courageous Libyan people fought for their own future and broke the back of the regime.

So this is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted. And with this enormous promise, the Libyan people now have a great responsibility — to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship. We look forward to the announcement of the country’s liberation, the quick formation of an interim government, and a stable transition to Libya’s first free and fair elections. And we call on our Libyan friends to continue to work with the international community to secure dangerous materials, and to respect the human rights of all Libyans –- including those who have been detained.

We’re under no illusions — Libya will travel a long and winding road to full democracy. There will be difficult days ahead. But the United States, together with the international community, is committed to the Libyan people. You have won your revolution. And now, we will be a partner as you forge a future that provides dignity, freedom and opportunity.

For the region, today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end. Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights. Youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship. And those leaders who try to deny their human dignity will not succeed.

For us here in the United States, we are reminded today of all those Americans that we lost at the hands of Qaddafi’s terror. Their families and friends are in our thoughts and in our prayers. We recall their bright smiles, their extraordinary lives, and their tragic deaths. We know that nothing can close the wound of their loss, but we stand together as one nation by their side.

For nearly eight months, many Americans have provided extraordinary service in support of our efforts to protect the Libyan people, and to provide them with a chance to determine their own destiny. Our skilled diplomats have helped to lead an unprecedented global response. Our brave pilots have flown in Libya’s skies, our sailors have provided support off Libya’s shores, and our leadership at NATO has helped guide our coalition. Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end.

This comes at a time when we see the strength of American leadership across the world. We’ve taken out al Qaeda leaders, and we’ve put them on the path to defeat. We’re winding down the war in Iraq and have begun a transition in Afghanistan. And now, working in Libya with friends and allies, we’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century.

Of course, above all, today belongs to the people of Libya. This is a moment for them to remember all those who suffered and were lost under Qaddafi, and look forward to the promise of a new day. And I know the American people wish the people of Libya the very best in what will be a challenging but hopeful days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Thank you, very much.

END
2:12 P.M. EDT

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