Bookworm: Whitney, the music and the dance

Terri Schlichenmeyer
“A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston” author Robyn Crawford.

“A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston”

  • By Robyn Crawford
  • c. 2019, Dutton
  • $28, $37; Canada 319 pages

You saw that coming. It was easy to anticipate because the signs were there. It was plain as day, couldn’t have been easier to see if it was flashing neon. You knew what was going to happen next – or, you would’ve, if you were paying attention. Take, for instance, author Robyn Crawford. In her new book “A Song for You,” she tells of spotting a star.

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When Coach Clark called, you responded. That’s why Robyn Crawford rose early that morning in 1980: her basketball coach needed help registering counselors for summer programs. Crawford was nineteen and thinking about college, but seventeen-year-old Whitney Houston was one of the people waiting to register and Crawford was smitten.

In the following days, as the two got to know one another, they became “inseparable.” Crawford liked “having fun with a new friend” but, she says, “something more was growing between us.”

“A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston” by Robyn Crawford.

Before the summer was over, they were lovers.

It was “a typical teenage relationship, with … the exception of cocaine,” although they never named their love. Houston introduced Crawford to her world of music; Crawford attended church with Houston and Houston caught Crawford’s basketball games. Sometimes, they had to sneak around to be together and they talked on the phone every night when Crawford was at college. Soon after, Houston’s modeling career rose and she was on her way to being a star in the music industry.

On the day she signed her first recording contract, Houston told Crawford that she thought they “shouldn’t be physical anymore.”

The end of the love affair, however, didn’t signal the end of their bond, and Crawford gave her life over to Houston. She served as Houston’s assistant, chauffeur, manager, record-keeper and sounding board. She propped Houston up when Houston needed it, sometimes literally, watching and helpless, unable to save Houston from her addictions. And then came the day, says Crawford, when “I realized that I needed to save myself.”

Be honest: you are only the smallest bit surprised at all this. Whitney Houston’s cocaine problem was pretty common knowledge and it’s not a stretch to imagine the rest of what’s inside this book. Even so, author Robyn Crawford has a few secrets to tell you.

That, however, doesn’t seem to be the reason behind “A Song for You.”

All Whitney, all the time, is perhaps a good way to describe this memoir; indeed, while it’s about Crawford’s decades-long relationship with Houston, it often appears that Crawford is secondary in her own story here. That comes across as selflessly joyful but it also seems, at least initially, to be fraught with fear, as if Crawford recognizes something that’s incredibly fragile. As this book progresses, that fear runs alongside a shrieking siren that announces the inevitable, the approach of which, even now, is impossible to stop watching.

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For fans still looking for scandal, know that it’s there and you’ll be happy with “A Song for You.” If you’re not necessarily looking for gossip, though, try it anyhow. You can still anticipate a good read.

“The Season: A Social History of the Debutante” by Kristen Richardson.

“The Season: A Social History of the Debutante”

  • By Kristen Richardson
  • c. 2020, Norton
  • $26.95, $35.95 Canada; 276 pages

Your Watusi is pretty solid. You can do a mean Twist, a decent Ne-Ne, and KiKi loves you a lot. Your minuet, on the other hand, is pretty rusty and you couldn’t do a saraband or a quadrille if your life depended on it. But as in the new book “The Season” by Kristen Richardson, that’s quite alright. Today, dancing is the secondary thing.

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In ancient times, selling your daughter for a “bride price” was an encouraged practice that served to bond two powerful families. Should she come to any harm, the money was legally returned to her family, so the price protected the bride; selling her was also preferable to an earlier alternative: extra girl children were often disposed of by willful neglect.

For a girl in the Middle Ages, life was a little better, particularly if she was beautiful: finding her a husband then was no problem. Her plain-looking sisters were out of luck, though, and were often sent to a convent, a practice that ended with the Reformation – Protestant girls couldn’t, after all, be sent to a Catholic nunnery. At that point, presentation to the Queen at court became the only way for noble maidens to meet proper gentlemen. Eventually, this process morphed into invitation-only “assemblies,” which were less formal.

“The Season: A Social History of the Debutante” by Kristen Richardson.

As it is today, dancing was popular with young, marriageable people, but it was highly formal and structured then, and embarrassing if you misstepped. Because of this, “dancing masters” were in demand to teach assembly-goers how to properly shake it. This was true on both shores, as travelers and European immigrants brought old customs with them to the New World, but with a twist: girls here “debuted” into society, but they enjoyed more leverage than their overseas sisters had in choosing their husbands.

“Society was, after all,” says Richardson, “long past favoring arranged marriages and didn’t condone a forced one.”

There were, however, a few notable (and quite famous) exceptions …

Eleanor Roosevelt hated hers. Socialite Brenda Frazier said hers made her “a fad.” Young women today lean more toward charities for theirs. Author Kristen Richardson didn’t have one, but in “The Season,” she writes about how debuts have changed history.

In the beginning, that’s not a pretty tale: readers may cringe at what our foremothers endured, socially and in matrimony. Indeed, you’ll be thankful you live now – and yet, even in accounts of the earliest times, it’s possible to see slivers of feminism and reclaimed female power long before it was granted by new social attitudes.

In every era, says Richardson, there were peripheral people who benefited from the constructs of the debutante industry; furthermore, as rules relaxed, clothing, furniture, careers, reading material, and the roles of gay men all changed. Richardson also looks at modern debutantes in the North and South, including in New Orleans, San Antonio, and in the African American community.

This book is fascinating, especially for social butterflies and former and future debs. If you enjoy learning about women’s history, bonus: “The Season” will make you dance.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.