Was Whitney Houston gay?

Yolonda Ross

Editor’s note: This week, the Lifetime TV movie Whitney — directed very ably by Angela Bassett — makes its debut. For a TV biopic, it’s pretty good, though many fans will be disappointed that it doesn’t delve into her life much before or after she met Bobby Brown (it’s really a love story). But Deborah Cox, who dubs the singing of Whitney, does great with the numbers and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

But some folks may wonder what, exactly, was left out, which is what freelancer Mark Dawson asked about when he interviewed Yolonda Ross, who plays Whitney’s (rumored) lesbian lover in the movie.

There’s one thing Yolonda Ross — the actress who plays the role of Whitney Houston’s (rumored) lesbian lover in the upcoming Lifetime movie, which premieres Saturday — knows for sure about Whitney and her gal pal, Robyn: “They were two people that deeply loved, cared for and respected one another,” she says. “Theirs could have been more than a friendship and if so, it’s really unfortunate if others got in the way of it or compromised it.”

Directed by Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston will focus on the singer’s rise to stardom and her stormy relationship with Bobby Brown.

To prepare for the role, Ross feverishly studied Houston and her longtime assistant, Robyn Crawford. According to reports, the two met at 16 during a summer job in East Orange, N.J., and allegedly soon began a romantic relationship. They purportedly broke up when Houston married Brown in 1992.

“Robyn seems to be a straight-up, very grounded person,” Ross says, “somebody who, no matter what the situation, has got your back or is gonna set you straight. She offered security to Whitney and uncompromised companionship.”

The film is the first-ever produced about the life and death of Whitney Houston. Ross predicts it will be a piece of history. “Like The Jackson’s movie, The Temptations and The Five Heartbeats: three movies every black person in America has seen at least once in their life. This will be one of those, but reach an even wider audience due to today’s global media.”

Ross made her feature film debut in 2001’s Stranger Inside. The film earned the actress her first Film Independent Spirit Award nomination, along with the IFP Gotham Award for breakthrough performance.

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Ya Ya DaCosta and Arlen Escarpeta as Whitney and Bobby

She went on to appear in Denzel Washington’s Antwone Fisher, Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, David Mamet’s Phil Spector, HBO’s Treme and the independent film, Yelling To The Sky. In 2014, she starred in John Sayles Go For Sisters, a film that has done what no other has — featured two black women leading a buddy film. This role earned the Omaha native her second Spirit Award nomination (for supporting actress). She has several films slated for 2015 including the indie drama Meadowland with Olivia Wilde and Lila and Eve starring Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis.

“I’ve always been creative,” she says. “I paint, write, sing and play instruments.” However, she never imagined she’d pursue a career in acting. “I have always been painfully shy. Getting in front of people and acting something out was nothing I ever thought I would do.”

That all changed when she moved to New York City and realized she would need extra money to get by.

“I was in school and friends convinced me to try commercials and music videos. The opportunity came to do extra work on Saturday Night Live. It got me my AFTRA card and an agent. I didn’t hear from the agency for a while, but out of the blue, they sent me on an audition for New York Undercover, and I booked it. Months later they called me for another audition. It was for Stranger Inside.”

That HBO film forever changed the course of the young actress’ life.

“I had never taken an acting course,” she says. “But I was blessed with a gift and I have always studied people, and used music to help me create. I just applied that knowledge to scripts.”

When taking on a role, Ross’ objective is to embody a character to its fullest. “I aim to be that person inside and out, from the way they smell to the way they think. I want to know their ticks and personal traits. I want the character to speak through me and to make the viewer feel something,” she explains.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Ross describes being a young black woman in Hollywood today as “swimming upstream against the current and sometimes having rocks thrown at you.”

There are multiple hurdles. “Where roles for white actresses are endless, we only get to play limited types of characters,” she says, “and many are side roles that are only given few lines in a movie.”

She also sites lack of support from the black community. “Unless you’re Halle, Angela, Kerry Washington, or Viola now, it’s easy to be overlooked by the community, but social networking does help. Some of us keep ourselves employed by creating our own interesting content, but it takes money, time and people to do all that and not all actors want to do everything.”

Fortunately for Ross, she does.

 

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Whitney Houston Live’

Whitney HoustonOur Year in Review list of the best albums of 2014 comes out Friday, and three weeks from now, the Lifetime movie Whitney airs, so we thought we’d whet your appetite for both with some music reviews, beginning, of course, with Chris Azzopardi’s dissection of Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances.

If anyone epitomized a “moment in time,” it was Whitney Houston. At her peak, she unleashed her unmistakable, hit-making voice to seize each one, each song, like it was her last. And then sadly, in 2012 with an impromptu “Jesus Loves Me,” one last song did come, as her storied decline led to her shocking death.

Preserving just the surface of her iconic pop culture heritage is Legacy Recordings’ Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances, a bittersweet remembrance of a voice that inspired generations, and a showcase for the unbelievable power it possessed on stage. These are the five greatest “moments” of Whitney’s Greatest Performances, her first-ever live album:

5. “I Will Always Love You.” There are better versions of Whitney’s chart behemoth from The Bodyguard — she’s less pristine and strays from the song’s biggest challenges — but you can still feel every note of this take from 1994’s “The Concert for a New South Africa.” Here, her booming belt and unprecedented passion work the sea of people into a frenzy. Despite some vocal compromises, her authenticity is unmatched. Yes, the legendary key-change climax, though still overwhelming, is powered down from the soundtrack cut (she was more on point earlier that same year at a performance in Chile). But her ability to deliver a performance that left a piece of her heart in your hands was a rare quality that would prove as valuable to her career as the voice that delivered it.

4. “The Greatest Love of All.” Whitney never walked in anyone’s shadows but her own. And when she performed this, the fourth single from her 1985 self-titled debut, unleashing a towering display of vocal pyrotechnics during that last set of runs, everyone else would have to follow in hers. Live from 1990’s That’s What Friends Are For: Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert, Whitney’s self-love manifesto remains true to the studio recording even though Houston embellished on the showstopper’s original framework. When the chorus comes in, though, she takes you to a familiar place. A life-affirming place. A place only she could.

3. “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Sweat-drenched and feverish, Houston would turn “The Star-Spangled Banner” into a historical and much-celebrated bench marker. No performer has yet to rival what she did with the anthem during Super Bowl XXV, when she lifted her voice to unmatchable, chill-inducing heights, erupting into a volcano of supreme vocality. That day in January 1991, it didn’t matter which team scored the first, or even the last, touchdown — the event had already taken place.

2. “A Song For You.” In 1991, Whitney took on Leon Russell’s classic and turned it into a spectacle. With the clarity, control and soul of a singer in her prime, Houston launched with a crawl, let her voice run to the rafters, and then gently eased her way back to the ground. “A Song For You” wasn’t technically a song of hers, but it might as well have been. She owned every note of it, and not just because of that impressive range — Whitney the Interpreter, for all her vocal prowess, also had a way with words.

1. “One Moment in Time.” Foreshadowing the “rise and fall” of Whitney’s personal and professional life, “One Moment in Time” captured the singer’s early-career essence. Though, along with her increasingly inconsistent voice, her passion for performing eventually diminished — the puzzling presence of “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” in 2009 on Oprah  demonstrates this sad fact — this was Whitney at her most triumphant. “I will be free,” she belted at the 31st Grammy Awards in 1989, giving angel wings to the carpe diem message she so earnestly felt. And then, too soon, free she was.

— Chris Azzopardi

 

 

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

After two weeks of “soft opening” service, last night Monica’s Nueva Cocina and ME Lounge on Cedar Springs in the ilume had its “official” opening with open bar and passed hors d’oeuvres. Monica told me there’s always a honeymoon phase where people love ya … it’s six months on when you know if you’re a hit. I’ve eaten there a few times already. A review will come next month, but you might wanna start making your reservations…

Over at the Winspear, Chicago (pictured) is back, and it’s surprisingly not stale, even after countless productions ever since the 1996 revival. And John O’Hurley can actually sing! And if you go on Tuesday — or even if you just have some free time — I’ll be doing my usually GLBT Broadway lecture at 7 p.m. in Hamon Hall before the show, pointing out ways you might enjoy the gay text and subtext better. Then on Thursday, Casa Manana puts on a local professional production of Greater Tuna — something of a coup, as authors-stars Jaston Williams and Joe Sears often guard licensing carefully in their home turf. But with David Coffee in many of the roles, it’s sure to be funny. And Sweeney Todd continues over at KD Studio Theatre.

The fourth annual Pink Party features tons of musicians and other acts (burlesque? Uh-huh) on both floors of the ladies’ club, all raising money for breast cancer research. It’s at Sue Ellen’s tonight. There will be fundraising as well with the men, ginning up bucks for Resource Center Dallas. Honey Pot II: Summer Chill is a Sunday afternoon beer bash at Dallas Eagle, with members of the Dallas Diablos in attendance.

There are also several drag opportunities this week. In addition to the shows at the Rose Room and other clubs, Cassie Nova hosts the “turnabout” show of Caven employees at JR.’s on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Celeste Martinez is M.C. of Miss Gay Highland Park at the Round-Up Saloon.

And at the movies, the last performance by Whitney Houston is preserved in the new release Sparkle, with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks sharing screen time.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The gay interview: Jordin Sparks

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks’ first feature film — Sparkle co-starring the late gay icon Whitney Houston — opens tomorrow, and earlier this month she spoke frankly with our celeb correspondent Chris Azzopardi about working with Whitney Houston, their affection for their gay fan bases and how her Christian background taught her to love, not hate.

Jordin sparkles

Whitney Houston’s starring role — the last before her tragic death earlier this year — isn’t the only reason Sparkle has “gay” written all over it: There’s the flamboyant style of the ’60s, an all-girl singing group and, well, the movie’s name.

Seated in a hotel suite outside Detroit, where the film was shot, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks lights up knowing how many of her gay fans will see her on the big screen in her movie debut.

Sparks’ return to Motown in early August was even more appropriate when Aretha Franklin, who sang on the soundtrack for the 1976 original film, showed up to walk the red carpet with the remake’s star. Even though she lost a nail, the 22-year-old said having the Queen of Soul there was “absolutely incredible.”

About the finger fiasco: “I was freaking out because I looked at the picture of Aretha and me and the nail is gone.” That’s not a problem today, however. “I made sure I glued these suckers on like nobody’s business!”

After the jump, ever so bubbly Sparks chats about Whitney’s mutual adoration for the gay community, addressed “mean” rumors of her anti-gay upbringing and recalled her first time at a drag club — in Dallas!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Enter the “Sparkle” singing competition

Whitney Houston’s last film appearance was in the movie Sparkle, which hits theaters next month, but you can have a little part in celebrating the great diva with a song competition. On Saturday at Valley View Mall, amateur singers (ages 13 to 40) can register to sing a 60-second version of “Celebration” or “Something He Can Feel.” The winner locally gets not only $500 in cash and a $25 bebe gift card, but also gets entered in the grand prize: A trip to New York City and an appearance on BET, plus more. Registration is at noon, with the contest promptly beginning at to 1 p.m. You can go here to see clips of the songs you can sing, and pre-register your slot by emailing DallasSingingChallenge@moroch.com. Complete rules are here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

LISTEN: Whitney Houston’s final recording “Celebrate” with Jordin Sparks for upcoming film


The late Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks teamed up for the upcoming film Sparkle which also marked Houston’s last on-screen appearance and recorded songs. “Celebrate,” a duet between the two, was posted on YouTube today. Listen to Houston’s last known recording after the jump and and the trailer for the film set to be released this August.

—  Rich Lopez

Perry Twins post high energy Houston tribute

While we may continue to honor Whitney Houston’s legacy, I think it’s fair to say we could be a little Whitney-ed out by the constant playing of her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” in every tribute since last week’s tragic news. Heck, even Aretha couldn’t come up with another idea at her Radio City Music Hall concert Saturday night. But this just came on my radar. The Perry Twins, who performed at Station 4 in 2009, offer their tribute to the singer with this hour-long mix of deep cuts and big hits. It’s a welcome reprieve from the overuse of ballads used to remember her by, but also a reminder of her contribution to the dance floor. She was the Queen of the Night, remember?

—  Rich Lopez

REVIEW: Love Train show at AAC

Chaka Khan at Love Train. (OldSchool45.com.)

Last night, radio station Old School. 94.5 pulled off an impressive first outing as their rebranded self. The station turned the American Airlines Center into a party, a church and even a Soul Train line with a strong roster of classic R&B and soul artists from The O’Jays to Chaka Khan. The show had its ups and downs, but there was no doubt, they brought the funk.

For the show to start almost an hour late was not cool. They were still sound checking and 6 p.m. when it was supposed to start. Most concerts rarely start on time, but this kind of delay was ridiculous and mind you, this was a six-hour event. All was forgotten when Confunkshun took the stage and brought the house down quick. Soulful vocals, rich horns and a few choreographed steps helped the band show music doesn’t need a lot of accessorizing to be awesome. If there was anything to be said for that long-ass sound check, it was the wonderfully lush, layered sounds of the band. The Mary Jane Girls hopped onstage to perform “In My House” adding to the bustling energy. The BarKays threw in some gimmicky quick pyros and a live anaconda and Slave held their own with a spirited performance, but it was the Ohio Players who killed inthe first half. That intro bass line from “Skin Tight” sent a nuclear reaction through the arena and “Love Rollercoaster” was a jam best enjoyed live and at loud volumes. The audience was whipped into a frenzy all before the first break.

—  Rich Lopez

“Love Train” R&B legends concert tonight at AAC

Time to get funked up

While the late Whitney Houston recharged one of Chaka Khan’s biggest hits, there’s no denying the funk queen’s own style. Khan comes to Dallas for a night of some legendary R&B with The O’Jays, Jeffrey Osborne, The Mary Jane Girls and Ohio Players as part of the Love Train show. What’s better — that’s not even the entire roster.

DEETS: American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave. 6 p.m. $24.50–$79.50. Ticketmaster.com.

—  Rich Lopez

BREAKING: Singer Whitney Houston dead at 48

It has just been reported that singer Whitney Houston has died. According to the Associated Press, no further details are known at this time. From ABC News.

Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster, said Saturday that the singer had died, but the cause and the location of her death were unknown.

News of Houston’s death came on the eve of music’s biggest night — the Grammy Awards. It’s a showcase where she once reigned, and her death was sure to case a heavy pall on Sunday’s ceremony. Houston’s longtime mentor Clive Davis was to hold his annual concert and dinner Saturday; it was unclear if it was going to go forward.

—  Rich Lopez