-- Paul B Allen III: September 14, 2019


Music is a subjective thing. We all have our favorite singers and musicians based on the way they move us personally. And I, being a lover of music since I was a child, have been moved by many great artists. Subjectively speaking, I have unabashedly stated that for my money, Whitney Houston has been the greatest female vocalist of our time, just as I have stated that Luther Vandross has been the greatest male vocalist of our time. Don’t get mad at me. It is my opinion (and of course I think I am right), so this is my truth. I am sure you have your truth too. Don’t worry. I’m not mad at you either. 

Anyway, having long said this about Whitney, just a week ago as I prepared the Saturday Morning Song Chronicles, I had an absolutely stunning revelation! That revelation came when I started doing research on a singer I remembered from the past. Her name is Brenda Holloway. I had never seen her perform before. I had only heard her on the radio when I was nine or ten years old. I loved what I heard then, but that is about as far as it went.  

During my research I came across some historical videos of Brenda performing on one of the biggest musical shows in history, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. If you made it to Bandstand, you had made the big time. 

Brenda came long before Whitney Houston, but now seeing these videos and listening to Brenda again as an adult, I could not believe what I was hearing and seeing. I really could not believe it. I shared a video of Brenda with an extremely talented singer friend of mine to see if she had the same reaction that I had. She did! She actually stated the very thought that was in my mind that I had left unsaid. She said, “It’s as if someone sat Whitney down and told her to watch Brenda and then sing just like her.” 

I have curated a few videos to show you what I mean. Listen to the vocal runs of Holloway and you will remember Whitney making many of those same vocal runs in the exact same way. Why is that unusual? Because vocal runs are like fingerprints. No one does the exact same runs. They are improvisational, like Jazz. To sing a vocal run exactly like someone else, you have to listen to that run and practice it and ingrain it into your very being, and then you can do it exactly so. What I am saying is that you have to make an exerted effort to lean that other artist’s vocal runs. It is plain as day that this is what Whitney did. She studied Brenda’s vocal runs and learned them well. 

Listen to the way Brenda sings strongly, then all of a sudden, she will sing a line or two very softly, providing a phenomenal contrast, and you will remember Whitney doing the same thing in exactly the same way. Whitney even phrased her words and sentences in the same way that Brenda had. I am still shaking my head in disbelief. 

But, I do believe I know what happened. I experienced the same thing as a vocalist. I think it happens to all singers. You have someone that you listen to and feel is a great vocalist and you are inspired. You learn from them. You emulate them, and part of their style becomes part of yours. 

When you listen to Brenda Holloway, you will plainly see that Whitney Houston used her as a model or pattern for the way she would sing for the rest of her life. 

Why have so many not heard of Brenda Holloway? She (again as was the case with Whitney) was a child prodigy and achieved greatness in her teenage years. Brenda was appearing on Bandstand at seventeen years old, already an accomplished musician who played three instruments (flute, violin, and bass), and sang like no one else in the business. She had hit records on Motown, and she was being groomed to become the next Mary Wells on the label as they knew Mary was to depart soon. 

However, Brenda did not get along with the powers that be at Motown, and it was reported that she did not feel that she and her talent were being shown the respect that was deserved. Maybe she was right, maybe she wasn’t. There are two sides to every story, and I have worked with a couple of teenage artists who really did think more of themselves than necessary and as a result they made life (and working with them), more trouble than it was worth. I have no clue who was in the right and who was in the wrong. Nevertheless, Brenda Holloway, after a few hits on Motown, departed the label by the time she was just twenty-two years old! 

She has been out there on her own all of this time. She never reclaimed the success she had in her youth, but, at 73 years of age, she is still singing and doing it her way.  

Listen to Brenda’s hit, “What Are You Going To Do When I’m Gone,” but especially listen to her “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “I’ll Always Love You,” and you will start to think you are listening to Whitney in several spots. (Also, isn’t it amazing they each sang a different song with virtually the same title?) I hope you enjoy these historic videos, and, I think once you have seen and listened to them you will understand why my highly respected peer said, “It’s as if someone sat Whitney down and told her to watch Brenda and then sing just like her.” 

We all know how great Whitney became. What does it say about Brenda Holloway from whom Whitney obviously learned so much?

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