December 13, 2012
By: Nicole Williams
It started off as a partnership between Emmy and Grammy award winning producer Narada Michael Walden and chart-topping singer, Whitney Houston that would lead into a friendship full of unforgettable memories. After the singer tragically died in February 2012, Narada, along with family and friends spent time dealing with the grief of losing someone they loved. He then felt inspired to share the moments he had with the singer that he says, would have never been known without writing a book.
“My inspiration for writing this book on Whitney called, “Whitney Houston: The Voice, The Music, The Inspiration,” is really to tell the story of how we worked in studio and to keep alive her music legacy and how much heart she has, how much love she has and to just speak about that.”
Narada was at the Grammy Museum Wednesday, December 5 for a book signing and performance. His book officially hit shelves November 27. Before the performance and book signing started, Narada was interviewed by the Billboard Magazine Senior Editor Gail Mitchell in the Clive Davis Theatre. During the interview, Gail Mitchell asked Narada of his start in the music industry, his role as a producer and specific details of moments with Whitney in the studio.
“Every one of us who are producers has our own way of doing it, our own way of doing magic. Really, you’re trying to ask the good Lord to come and bless your recording, so however you can do that, you do it. At my heart of it, I’m a coach. When Whitney sings I’m like a cheerleader. ‘That was phenomenal.’ ‘How did you do that?’ Then she wants to do it again,” he said.
Narada was involved with the Houstons in the very beginning of his music career. Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston was a background singer for his debut solo album in 1976 titled “Garden of Love Light”.
“Tom Dowd who produced that record with me, said we have to have Cissy Houston on this song and record. So in she comes with her singers and a little Whitney kind of tags along, the most beautiful, angelic-faced little girl. I had no idea that she’d be this one, but I was just stunned at how beautiful she was at thirteen years old,” he said.
Narada described the powerful voice that Cissy Houston had and that it took on a “raw churchy vibe”. It was no surprise that when first working with Whitney, he experienced déjà vu as the power in her voice mimicked her mother’s.
That very same Whitney once again walked through those doors, only amidst Narada working with Aretha Franklin. After Narada was given a sense of urgency to hear Whitney’s voice, he accepted the meeting of the two once again.
On the stage of the Clive Davis Theater, Narada stood up out of his chair as he described Whitney’s features.
“Thin chick. Boots. Hair. Confident. Glowing. And knows it. She comes into the control room and sits down like ‘Hey what’s up?’ That one take was your record,” he said.
The audience laughed as he used hand gestures to describe the presence of Whitney. He was referring to the singer recording “How Will I Know” which only took one take at the studio in 1985. Before Whitney even recorded the hit song, Narada asked her if she was sure she wanted the key to be so high. He said that normally singers don’t like to sing at such a high pitch, but she was fine with it. After she nailed the song, that began the two’s journey together.
While Narada spoke, you could hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice, which made it clear that his partnership with Whitney was more than just on a professional level, but also a level of friendship.
“Friendship is really built around trust because when you’re in a recording studio you have headphones on, you have microphones on everybody, you have cameras. You have to find a partnership where you can kind of relax yourself and feel like you can give your very best and that’s what I tried to give her. If it meant giving her flowers, a teddy bear, or rubbing her neck or whatever would just calm her down so she could be her best and do her thing. So that was really our friendship, to find that balance,” he said.
The friendship the two had allowed him to learn more about the singer. He realized that Whitney was a beautiful, yet humble girl and what he describes as a “true music lover.”
He said that he was able to become a fan of Whitney.
“It’s not easy to do all the doubling. I’m telling you y’all don’t know. That’s why I put this book together because you don’t know. To double yourself, to triple yourself, to harmonize with yourself so it can sound like what you hear 20 years from now…it’s hard, but she didn’t care,” he said.
Narada helped produce huge hits for Whitney such as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “How Will I Know”. Those songs would later be performed that evening in a medley by up-and-coming artist, Shelea. Narada also joined in on the performance as he played the drums. Shelea says it was a privilege to be a part of the event.
"I was honored to be a part of the phenomenal tribute to Whitney Houston, a woman and artist who inspired me tremendously. I know her spirit was in the room that night and my hope is that we made her proud. I thank Narada for the opportunity and look forward to doing more with him," she said.
The music had the audience feeling the true presence of Whitney Houston as many clapped along with the songs and danced. By just merely watching Narada play the drums, you could see in his face the passion and love of the music that him and Whitney made together. It was a beautiful performance to witness and a wonderful surrounding vibe to feel.
The last time Narada and Whitney worked together in the studio was a song for the film “Sparkle” that Whitney starred in. The movie came out in August 2012. Besides that last memory of working together, other memories can be relived by reading the book. He says that he hopes readers will take away whatever they want from reading the book.
“I don’t put a limit on it. I just want people to look at it and read it and kind of just take whatever they get from it because really, Whitney Houston was a skyrocket, so I say just jump on the skyrocket and ride it. Ride this love story that she touched our hearts,” he said.
The book is currently on sale at bookstores and proceeds will benefit Narada’s charity called the Narada Michael Walden Foundation, which helps music education for children.