Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Missing Talent: FAMU Drum Major & Whitney Houston

Getting the scoop from high school and college classmates of FAMU drummer Robert Champion
Thirty minutes after my mom told me that Whitney Houston had passed, I got a call from my editor at Jet Magazine. Late that night I began working on my assignment to chronicle the major moments in the life of the singer, who's vocal talent seemed boundless. From her spine-tingling rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" to her cringe-worthy interview with Diane Sawyer, gathering together those highlights was surreal.

I didn't think I'd get emotional over her death because after an initial wow moment, her demise didn't shock me based on what I'd witnessed about her life mostly from afar. Maybe I interviewed her or we crossed paths during my stint at BET in the late nineties. Honestly, I don't remember.


What I do recall is tearing up sometimes as I belted out "The Greatest Love of All," while washing dishes, folding clothes, or doing other weekly teen chores. Surprisingly, those tears reappeared during some parts of Whitney's home going services. I was genuinely touched by the remembrances of Tyler Perry and Kevin Costner. I gained a lot of insight about the non-tabloid Whitney from the testimonies of her loved ones - and I appreciated their perspective. Even though I've interviewed tons of notables in the last 20 years, it's still hard sometimes to remember that celebrities are just people.

Through Whitney passing I learned something about myself - from my mother, who told me that in the early eighties she'd been wondering whether my brother or I would inherit my father's singing talent. Turns out that she realized it was me when she heard me singing "Saving All My Love For You" in the backseat of her car. While I sang solos in church and school choirs, singing went the way of dance and softball by the time I reached the 11th grade. Boys and college - specifically Howard University - took over.


While I was at Howard, my mother had an impact on my decision not to pledge a sorority. The thought of hazing frightened her and her threat to shut down the offending line and the chapter scared me - because I knew she. was. serious. College hazing became a thread in another article I recently wrote for Jet Magazine, as well as a video interview [filmed by fabulous Spelman College student Raynette Palmer] that I did with two Florida A&M University alumni, who were classmates of Robert Champion, the FAMU drum major who is alleged to have died from a hazing incident.

I was moved by the commitment of Cassius D. Kalb and B. Rossi to honor their friend through their stance against hazing and a song that they'll use to raise funds for a scholarship in his name. Having won a Grammy award and worked with all types of high profile artists, I am glad to see these brothers use their powers for good.

Superfantastic producer Raynette Palmer, Cassius D. Kalb, Me & B. Rossi. It was nice to connect with some brothers literally from my side of town - the Dec!
Connections matter. I didn't attend the suburban Atlanta Southwest Dekalb High School, like Cassius, Rossi and Champion - but I grew up nearby and hung out with a SWD crew. And my brother is a graduate of FAMU. I feel some kind of closeness to this young man with such promise who lost his life so young. While any song on Whitney's debut could drive me into an emotional frenzy as a teen, my closeness to her had waned somewhat over the years - only to be rejuvenated by a celebration of her life through sincere remembrances of those who truly knew her.

As I'm getting older and watching my daughter grow, I guess I'm getting wiser - and appreciating just how much life means. I'm determined to keep on Enjoyceinglife. I hope you are, too.

For more information visit, please visit Drum Major for Change! Robert Champion.

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