Kirk Whalum Remembers Whitney Houston: "She went for the wall every time."



Memphis Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum and Whitney Houston will be forever tied in musical history for her voice and his memorable solo on her hit song "I Will Always Love You" in the movie "The Bodyguard."

While on the road in Portland, he spoke with the Flyer Wednesday. The two of them met for the first time in 1989 when Houston was a star and Whalum was an established jazz musician.

"I opened for her for about six months. She was such a sweetheart. Frankly, it did not work out that well. The demographics tend to be pretty split between pop and jazz."

He said Houston never held back, even in rehearsal, so much that he feared she would lose her voice. "She went for the wall every time," he said. And she was loyal to him and the members of his band during filming of "The Bodyguard," insisting that they not be replaced. "She said you can do whatever you want but if I sing it this is the way we are going to do it."

He has been told that his saxophone solo has been heard by more people than any other sax solo in history.

Whalum saw the vulnerable side of Houston when they toured together.

"When we toured together, my nickname was 'Bishop' because I did Bible studies. I remember one Bible study we did in Barcelona in my room. This particular time, we didn't have a lesson, because the Holy Spirit visited. I remember her sitting in a chair with her head in her hands just weeping. It was like she was purging the hurt and pain of riches. It was the soft underbelly of fame that most people will never know."

They lost touch and had not seen each other for about four years.

"I regret that, and it is not insignificant in the trajectory of her life. There was this kind of wall with her and me to keep out certain people and keep in certain people. Some of the people kept in were the wrong people."

Whalum said that sometimes it can be a blessing to be in a supporting role while the spotlight shines on someone else as you help them look good.

"She was one of the greatest singers of all time," he said.

Whalum will be back in Memphis at Stax this week for the local release of his new CD "Romance Language."

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