by Marpessa Kupendua
Rhyanne Green and the Grio owe Chaka Khan and their readers an apology for the intentionally misleading headline on their Feb. 14 article, entitled, “Chaka Khan’s favorite memory of Whitney Houston: ‘Getting high together’.” The Grio, whose contributors include well-known MSNBC pundits, is alleged to have been created to “satisf(y) the desire of African Americans to stay informed and connected with their community.” However, far too often these high-minded offshoots of mainstream media feed from the same trough as Black internet sites best known for photos of massively obese women in disappearing thongs and belly shirts.
Chaka Khan appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan broadcast on Feb. 13, two days after the death of her “little sister,” Whitney Houston. This was a privileged and rare moment, as she spoke vividly, yet calmly, with the soul that we know her for, despite Piers’ acting out his shtick of “hard-hitting” rudeness. Tales of Chaka’s past no-shows and hazy performances are legendary and she, obviously pained and weary, frankly discussed being a recovering addict. She also anecdotally talked about “getting high” with Whitney and Bobby, although the humor they shared was the primary focus of her remarks and not the drugs. In fact, Chaka spoke on her dismay that Whitney hadn’t been better sheltered from temptations and shared her own coping mechanism of avoiding parties, drugs and alcohol by arriving at celebrity-laden events just prior to their commencement so that she wouldn’t fall victim to her own demons.
Chaka also discussed the macabre Clive Davis pre-Grammy party, where gussied-up celebrities red-carpeted and guzzled champagne after only learning of Whitney’s death a few short hours before, her corpse a few floors above them and Whitney’s devastated daughter fighting to get in to see her at the full-fledged police scene, in one of the most bizarre and unseemly displays of narcissism and arrogance ever recorded. “I thought that was complete insanity,” Chaka Khan told Morgan. “I don’t know what could motivate a person to have a party in a building where the person whose life he had influenced so enormously, and whose life had been affected by her … I don’t understand how that party went on.” Even after Piers’ defense of Davis and the insensitive “mourners” – who partied long into the night – Chaka stood firm and continued, “A more honest tribute, in my opinion, would have been, maybe, call everybody together, say a prayer, let’s eat dinner and go home.”
Chaka also discussed the macabre Clive Davis pre-Grammy party, where gussied-up celebrities red-carpeted and guzzled champagne after only learning of Whitney’s death a few short hours before, her corpse a few floors above them and Whitney’s devastated daughter fighting to get in to see her at the full-fledged police scene.
The next day, Feb. 14, The Grio’s tawdry and sensationalist headline burst forth onto Facebook – and is still being quoted as fact to this day: “Chaka Khan’s favorite memory of Whitney Houston: ‘Getting high together’,” complete with a garish photo as the cherry on top. Like a tattling child, The Grio demonized Chaka by purposely inflaming her remarks for a heightened reaction of righteous indignation. The pay-off? Hundreds of Facebook comments where at least 90 percent of respondents were livid, sickened, name-calling and even threatening to boycott Chaka.
Others in the Black internet press also created false intrigue instead of standing with and even applauding Chaka for not towing the corporate line and embracing the boldness with which she outed the callousness of the industry and her peers. This is what we get from having “our own” spaces fronted by white mainstream media on the web: neo-Black press in “post-racial” America.
“I think we all, as artists, because we’re highly sensitive people, and this machine around us, this so-called ‘music industry,’ is such a demonic thing, it sacrifices people’s lives and their essences at the drop of a dime … I had a manager once say to me, ‘ You know you’re worth more money dead than alive.’” – Chaka Khan
As we condemn celebrities for their excesses and an industry rife with corruption, exploitation and drug dealing of every sort, can’t we handle the truth when they tell it? The deletion of 31 categories of mostly ethnic music from the Grammys is impetus enough to put Hollyweird on full blast instead of piling on in condemnation of one among them who dares to speak out.
Others in the Black internet press created false intrigue instead of standing with and even applauding Chaka for not towing the corporate line and embracing the boldness with which she outed the callousness of the industry and her peers. This is what we get from having “our own” spaces fronted by white mainstream media on the web.
Media Take-Out.Com, touting itself as “The Most Visited Urban Website in the World” and whose founder has no problem admitting that “we get 90 percent of our stories from insiders looking to spill the beans, like hairstylists, bodyguards or bitter ex-girlfriends” headlined: “Chaka Khan REFUSED to Perform a WHITNEY TRIBUTE at the Grammys!!!” even though her widely circulated tweet stated: “As I grieve the loss of my friend and ‘little sister,’ I don’t feel it appropriate to perform at this time. Continue to pray for the family.” She also told Piers Morgan that she was not willing to perform “I’m Every Woman,” because she “felt it was ridiculous and very inappropriate.” Is this the dirty mattress on which The Grio wants to lie?
The Grio should reflect upon our great Black divas such as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Esther Phillips, Phyllis Hyman and carefully consider on what side of history their published offerings to the international community will fall when students and researchers read reports of the tumult surrounding the death of Whitney Houston in years to come. Mimicking the lowest common denominator and caring not the cost to the spirit of a grieving woman telling her very personal story is certainly not anything remotely resembling a true griot (keeper of history).
As the Black internet press regurgitates what the tabloid press puts out to lure in readers, they are just as scurrilous as any rag on the supermarket shelves. Not a mind-blowing revelation, to be sure, but during momentous times like these it would behoove all of our writers to take out the trash more often.
1. “Whitney Houston: 1963-2012,” Dream Hampton. “Modern stars are simultaneously coddled and mocked for their addiction. Our collective voyeurism, schadenfreude and hypocritical rush to judgment would suggest that our own families are junkie free … Addicts need strong, supportive, sober friends who circle them and then rejoin that circle when the addict relapses.”
2. “Didn’t We Almost Have it All?” Terry Howcott. “Not only did her voice lift us up out of our shoes, but she reflected our collective talents and our complex struggles, our sober focus and our cunning and baffling addictions.”
3. “We Don’t Really Know Their Lives,” Thandisizwe Chimurenga. Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Marjorie Hendricks, Phyllis Hyman and others of our “beautiful, fierce, regal and gifted Black women whose (voices have been) stilled far too early.”