Medill professor recalls interview with Whitney Houston

Patrick Svitek

Millions of Americans listened to Whitney Houston’s voice on the radio for the first time in 1985. Medill Professor Clarence Waldron heard her words firsthand that same year.

Waldron interviewed Houston over the phone for her first cover story in Jet Magazine, where Waldron worked for 29 years before leaving in November.

In February 1985, Houston released her debut album, which topped the Billboard 200 in 1986.

“She was new at being interviewed but I could tell even then she knew how to handle herself,” Waldron recalled.

On Saturday evening, Houston’s hairdresser reportedly discovered her slumped underwater in her bathtub at a hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was pronounced dead at 4 p.m.

“It hit me like a family member,” said Waldron, who lived in her hometown of East Orange, N.J. “I knew where she grew up. I knew where she went to school.”

Waldron last covered Houston in 2009, when she landed on the Jet cover again for a feature chronicling her rebound from drug abuse and rocky marriage to singer Bobby Brown.

“She was so proud she had conquered some of those demons,” Waldron said.

Waldron described one of his fondest memories of Houston, when she gave him a shoutout at the Soul Train Awards in the late 1990s.

“Her legacy will be quality music, style, grace, class,” he said. “Her voice – she opened a whole generation of great music. She was a voice everyone tried to imitate but no one could.”

– Patrick Svitek