Carrie Allen Tipton (Houston, TX)
With the deaths of Michael Jackson (1958–2009) and Whitney Houston (1963–2012), two of the brightest stars in the popular music firmament of the 1980s and 1990s flamed out. They shared much in common. In the early and mid-1980s, when MTV was still a major arbiter of youthful musical tastes, their videos received heavy play—at the time, a rarity for artists of color. Both artists released fundamentally optimistic music, resonant with the buoyancy felt by certain segments of the United States during the Reagan years, before 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and the deepening political, economic, and cultural schisms that ushered in the new century. Both artists built on the legacies of iconic African-American musical styles and genres. Jackson hailed from a dance-inflected funk, hard soul, and R&B background, while Houston extended the tradition of the regal gospel-soul diva. And in the early 2000s, after a decade of critical and popular success, both artists experienced increasingly acute, widely publicized personal difficulties. When these struggles culminated in Jackson’s and Houston’s drug-related deaths within three years of each other, the world was left to mourn artists whose star-texts comprised spectacular artistic successes and enormous personal burdens. Their memorial services, broadcast globally to millions of viewers, were important focal points for the public grieving of these complex figures. At these events, music encompassed and helped reconcile the conflicting aspects of their public personas, leaving fans with final, powerful sonic impressions of each star.