In the introduction to Robyn Crawford’s sometimes revelatory, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes head-scratching memoir A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston, she writes, of her friendship with the superstar:
“Ours is a story of loyalty and trust.”
Upon my initial dive into the book, I doubted that. I think it’s easy for one to speak of their love and affection for someone who has passed away.
But after reading the book, and talking with two longtime friends of Crawford’s and Houston’s, gospel singer BeBe Winans and producer Narada Michael Walden, I’m convinced that the couple’s love for and friendship with each other was genuine and profound.
But I also think that, after reading A Song For You, both “loyalty” and “trust” ebbed and flowed between Crawford and Houston over the years. If you’re a fan of Houston’s, the book is more than worth a read.
Houston and Crawford allegedly began a two-year romantic relationship soon after they met. In hindsight, their coupling was one of the worst kept secrets in the entertainment business. Rumors of their sexual relationship dogged the pair for years, after Houston’s career took off with her eponymous debut album in 1985. Even Houston’s ex husband Bobby Brown wrote about his wife’s history with Crawford, in his 2016 memoir, Every Little Step.
So I don’t question the relationship having existed. But I would love to question the loyalty and, specifically, the trust. If those really were the foundations of the relationship and Crawford decided to abide by Houston’s request that they keep it a secret, and if she loved Houston as she says she did — and does — how could she have broken that promise, even after Houston’s 2014 death, by writing this book?
For the answer to that question, we’ll have to have a little patience. Crawford declined my request to speak with her about the book.
A Song For You is, at times, a carefree but measured reflection on Crawford’s life with Houston. Early in the book, she writes: “The Whitney Houston that the world would come to know in shimmering gowns was, in reality, a simple, easygoing, comfort-seeking lover of jeans, T-shirts, button-downs, and sneakers.” Crawford spends considerable time in the book earnestly trying to help her readers get to know that real Whitney Houston.
But Crawford also, maddeningly, spends an inordinate amount of time in the book talking about things like her own basketball games and a Crawford family dynamic that have nothing to do with her life with Whitney. Given the title of her book, readers might expect a little less Crawford Family Album and a little more Houston.
Crawford has said that she finally decided to write A Song For You to help burnish Houston’s somewhat tarnished legacy. Given some of the stories she tells in the book, including one of a vengeful Houston who sabotaged a lucrative job offer extended to Crawford — at Houston’s record label, Arista Records, no less — I’m not sure she has been successful at that.
If that story is true, sharing it does not introduce a Whitney Houston that extended loyalty or trust to Crawford. And the author’s one sentence explanation of the behavior, that the decision must have come from those “surrounding” Houston instead of from the star herself (counter to what then-Arista head L.A.Reid told her) seems hallow.
Throughout A Song For You, Crawford discloses details of Houston’s relationship with her mother, gospel and background singer Cissy Houston. In Crawford’s eyes, it was…complicated. At best.
Some stories that Crawford tells in the book just don’t ring true. Pardon the obvious pun, but Crawford insists that she will always love Houston. She writes that she had even told her current wife that if Houston knocks on their door, “the door has to open.”
Just before Houston died, Crawford writes, the troubled singer who had publicly struggled with substance abuse and a failed marriage leaves a voicemail for Crawford that the author accidentally erases before listening to it beyond Houston’s initial “Hi, Robyn. It’s me” greeting.
Crawford writes that she didn’t call Houston back immediately. In fact, she never called her back.
That doesn’t sound like the behavior of someone who loved Houston and demanded an open door when she came knocking. In fact, that very sentiment — “if Whitney knocks, the door must open” as she writes in her book — sounds like one of the verses to an album track from Houston’s 1990 album I’m You’re Baby Tonight, “I’m Knocking.” Coincidently, in the book, Crawford cites “I’m Knocking” as her all-time favorite Whitney Houston song.
Life imitating art? Maybe. And if that’s true, I hope Crawford is still seeing the therapist she writes about in the book. I don’t mean that as flippantly as it may sound. After reading A Song For You, it’s clear to me that Crawford is still grieving Houston’s 2014 death.
Now, let’s address the elephants in the room, the ones that no one else is talking about as they relate to Crawford’s “love story” with Houston.
Whitney was only 16 years old when she met Crawford, and started a sexual “relationship” with her soon thereafter. Crawford was 19.
In some states, that’s not a “relationship.” It’s statutory rape.
As a parent, I can say with certainty that if a 16 year old child of mine, of any gender, had gotten involved sexually with a 19 year old adult, of any gender, I would have had some questions. So I’m not hating on Cissy for not being a member of the Robyn Crawford Fan Club.
If the story of Houston having been sexually abused as a child by her cousin Dee Dee Warwick is true, perhaps Houston was working through some confusion about her sexual orientation when she met Crawford.
(For the record, Crawford writes that she doesn’t believe Houston was molested by Warwick. If she had been, Crawford writes, she believes Houston would have told her.)
And I don’t understand why so many people and media outlets, in the wake of Crawford’s “revelations,” want to paint Houston with a rainbow-colored brush and make her out to be a closeted lesbian. Crawford herself, in the book, says neither she nor Houston used labels to describe themselves. Maybe, as many of us did when we were teenagers, Houston was experimenting and trying to figure things out.
Both Winans and Walden, longtime friends and associates of Houston’s, confirmed to me that Crawford was on the ground floor from the beginning, and that she always had Houston’s back. While Winans retreated to “I have no comment about Robyn…” when I probed, Walden described the duo as a “team on a mission.”
I wish Crawford had done a more thorough, balanced job of telling that story.
In A Song For You’s epilogue, Crawford writes:
“With the release of this book, I hope there will be no more questions.”
There are, Robyn. Many more. In fact, given Houston’s sexual history with you having been somewhat of an open secret, you may have raised more questions than you answered in A Song For You.
Crawford continues: “And [I hope] that I have honored Whitney [and] Kristina…”
I don’t know that you have, Robyn, but kudos for giving it your best, most sincere effort. Give me a call sometime, and let’s talk about it. The Whitney I knew might want you to really set the record straight.
And as long as we’re shooting for clarity, Whitney Houston’s legacy isn’t in your account of your love story / friendship with her, nor is it in a misguided hologram tour: it is in every note of the scores of songs that she sang during her far too brief career.
The world gave Whitney Houston one moment in time, and she used it to sing the hell out of every song she was ever given. That is her legacy.