Home Features Robyn Crawford Talks Tell-All Book on Her Romance with Whitney Houston

Robyn Crawford Talks Tell-All Book on Her Romance with Whitney Houston

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Robyn Crawford / Random House

After four decades of speculation that they were romantically involved, Robyn Crawford has spoken her truth: She loved Whitney Houston. In her heartfelt autobiography released late last year, A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston, Crawford shares that their love was real but stifled, a romance that, at first intimate and sexual, wavered as Whitney rose to fame in the 80s. 

Whitney and Crawford became friends as teenagers, during the summer of 1980 while both working at the East Orange Community Development Center in New Jersey. Their relationship deepened into romantic love, and finally, with Crawford as Whitneys assistant, a trusted professional alliance. 

A loving, dignified tribute buoyed by Crawfords generosity of spirit through her many grievances, including the loss of Whitney, the autobiography is the first time Crawford has disclosed the extent of their relationship. It reveals in intimate, evocative detail many lesser-known facets about how Whitney operated and their supportive, tumultuous shared experiences on tour and at home: the rise, the fall, the fallout. The tragedy of Whitneys death.  

Crawford, as depicted in the book, is no saint, either. Shes remarkably forthcoming about the drugs she and Whitney did when they were teenagers. But beyond their longtime relationship is the life story of Crawford, whose tabloid-spun persona was limited to her association with Whitney.

Now, Crawford takes her story back, her remarkably candid tell-all illustrating her loyalty to the troubled icon but also serving as a deeply moving rumination on loss: in addition to Whitney, Crawford lost her brother and mother, both to AIDS-related illness. As much as Crawford expands the narrative of Whitney Houstons life beyond its tragic end, she also lovingly memorializes her mother the books real hero, she tells me. 

From New Jersey, where she lives with her wife Lisa Hintelmann and their twins, Crawford spoke about Whitneys relationship with her LGBTQ fans, how she doesnt think the legendary singer was experiencing self-hate related to her sexuality, and the influence of Whitneys song The Greatest Love of Allon Crawfords daughter.

Im happy that we know your story, not just the story the medias been telling us all these years. 

I had a life too, right, Chris?

You did, and so much of it is in the book, it seems. But as a longtime Whitney fan who grew up with Whitneys music, the book made me sad. It made me sad for what we lost, when it seems it didnt have to be that way. As you were writing this, what emotions were you wrestling with? What was that process like?

Shoot. There were many different emotions. Sometimes I felt sad, sometimes I laughed. It was like an emotional rollercoaster. I was reliving the 80s and the 90s like I was there. I was in it. I justI felt like I could keep writing. I couldnt see an end.

Because there were so many more stories?

Yeah. It was huge: the experiences on aircrafts, and feeling like the plane was gonna drop out of the sky. The first award show and what that was like. And when it was just us, and not so many people, what that was like. I wrote a lot. I had a very good editor in Jill Schwartzman, but there was so much more of the journey thats not on the pages. 

How did you manage to stay silent on your relationship with Whitney for so long? Was it challenging not to speak out sooner?

I mean, no. I cherish those years. We had a bond of trust and loyalty from the get-go, from the very beginning. And we made a pact to support each other. I felt good about what I had experienced and the love that I had for Whitney and that we shared. It was always there. 

I guess what Im asking is, because we never heard your side of the story until very recently, and knowing there was so much tabloid talk about the kind of relationship you had with Whitney, was it challenging for you to keep that inside all these years?

Honestly, I didnt read a lot of the stuff. People called me and said, Robyn, did you hear this? Did you see this?I did not see the documentaries (two documentaries on Whitneys life were released in the last few years: Whitney, in 2018, and Whitney: Can I Be Me, in 2017), I havent even seen Sparkle (Whitney starred in the 2012 remake of the 1976 drama-musical). I had twins and that kept me busy.

Im guilty of staying focused on where I am, and I did get angry when I heard stuff. Like when Whitney passed, I really was angry and frustrated every time I heard something that was said (about us), but I didnt know what to say or who to say it to. Once you start talking, youre just out there, and that wasnt a comfortable feeling. 

So during that period, were you tracking your experiences in a journal? Or did the writing for this book happen all at once?

No, I did not keep a journal. I did have notes and books along the way when I was touring. I kept those books and they were incomplete, but there were some things I had written down. But no all of that came from inside, from what I felt. 

Whitney and Robyn / Random House

The book is so vivid, in a way that Im just like, theres no way I would remember all of that. But I also didnt tour with Whitney Houston. Ha!

(Laughs.) And you didnt live with her either, right? My wife often says, Robyn has an unbelievable memory,and you know, I do. Those were great times. I didnt talk about my mother and my experience with my brother to really anyone that Ive worked with, people that were around me, and I didnt talk to people at Nippy, Inc (Whitney Houston’s New Jersey-based management company once run by her father, John Houston). They knew what was going on, but I kept it all with me. And thats where its been. 

Did it feel like a burden to have to keep your sexuality on the down-low because Whitney couldnt be out about your relationship? 

Ive been saying this: That we never looked at our friendship and our experiences as anything other than, this is me. You were you. And when I say it was open and honest, I mean, we could say anything to each other or just look at each other and we just knew exactlywe were communicating. But the 80s were the time where you were either this or that, and my world at that age was so much bigger as far as adventurous. I had a boyfriend growing up and I talk about him in the book, and I loved him. We were like brother and sister; that close. He respected me. 

With Whitney, she was perfect in every way. Someone that I met and everything we were doing together was beautiful; it really was. We were having a good time. And I never felt likeI mean, I knew musically and show business-wise, that was a world that we wanted to learn more about and be prepared and ready for, and with that thought, I could see more of, Boy, if people find out were doing this…” because thats just how it was. And obviously her mother (Cissy Houston) made her feelings clear about our closeness. She didnt even know how deep we were; she just made it clear that she didnt like how close we were. 

Whitney didnt seem to mind when you were romantically involved with a man, but when she learned that you were linked with other women, she became jealous and furious. Did you ever question that logic?

Whitney didnt explain things. She just would let me know if she didnt like something and she didnt have a problem asking me to tell this person to leave. I think she felt a certain possessiveness, and it wasnt like Whitney had a lot of friends. Her life was so likeit was just really me. She was a very private person who didnt have a lot of friends, who didnt want a lot of friends. She couldve had them if she wanted to. She didnt like to do a whole lot, she was a homebody. So I look at it like that: She was possessive. Because, really, all she had to do was say, OK, its me and you(laughs) and it wouldve been, OK.But thats not what she wanted. She didnt want it like that. And who wants to be with someone or wants to harbor those kinds of feelings when they dont want that? You better get yourself together. And our love was bigger than that. 

Do you think that if she were a part of todays music landscape, with so many out artists, life mightve been different for Whitney?

Well, youve heard Whitney speak and how she always said Im not gayand she was tired of answering that question. 

Whitney and Robyn with Michael Jackson / Random House

She was, but I wonder if that was her self-hate and internalized homophobia speaking. 

From her?

Yeah.

(Mumbles in disagreement.) There was nothing partial about Whitney in her thoughts of people; she just resented folks trying to put her in a box with categories. She pushed back on that with music. She hated that. She was the type of person that loved people for who they were, she had no problem. We had lots of gay people around us, whether it be makeup, hair people, you name it. They were beautiful people, and they were close to us. I mean, (her makeup artist) Kevyn Aucoin

You recount her 2000 Out Magazine interview with Barry Walters in the book. After being asked about the lesbian rumors, Whitney said, I aint suckinno dick. I aint gettinon my knees. Something must be wrong: I cant just really sing. I cant just be a really talented, gifted person. Shes gotta be gay.You say in the book her response was uncalled for and wrong.But you never felt her own struggles with her sexuality caused her to spew anti-queer vitriol?

You are absolutely right. And no, I do not believe that she was internalizing and projecting no. Absolutely not. 

I think thats important to clarify.

She was asked that question from the beginning of her career. I mean, that rumor followed her forever. And she rejected it. She rejected all labels. Even calling her a divaand the way she felt about her colleagues, the female so-called rivals. Every single last one of them, including Mariah, will tell you that Whitney treated them with the utmost respect and love and admiration. They will tell you.

I remember gay fans were especially happy to see them present together at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1998. 

Whitney called Mariah her little lamb.Thats how she spoke about her. Whitney was not anything that she was branded for. She wasnt black enough; she was cool as can be. And she was not raw, or edgy, or ghetto either. All the stigmas and labels that people say you are, she was none of those things. She refused to take on what others wanted to saddle her with.

Did Whitney know she was loved by her LGBTQ fans?

Yes, absolutely. Her mother had a huge gay following and they were always there. And, yes, Whitney knew that the LGBTQ community had love for her, without a doubt. And she loved them. 

Having been with her for so long, do you remember the moment where it first dawned on her that, The LGBTQ community, theyre really showing up for me

The one experience where the whole world was there was Gay Pride down on the pier (in New York in 1999). I write about it and I remember that night: We had been touring and touring and touring and, finally, there was a date, and she was on the books for it. I mean, dance music, club music; that was what Arista (Whitneys label at the time) did more than anything. The clubs. And they remixed every record that you could name. The Greatest Love of Allhas a remix. And (music executive) Hosh Gureli was at the helm of that (album), and we went to the Paradise Garage (also known as the Gay-rage,a now-defunct discotheque frequented by LGBTQ club-goers) with (DJ) Jellybean Benitez. 

The clubs were big back then. Studio 54. We went through there. She didnt perform at Studio 54, but we went through there and we talked about Sylvester and just how he could sing, and how beautiful he was. I mean, there was none of that (internalized homophobia) from Whitney. I put my hand on the Bible and am very comfortable making that clear. 

Do you still listen to Whitney?

I do, I do. I do listen to The Preachers Wife and Dancinon the Smooth Edge.I do. I had not listened to a lot of her music after she passed. But one day I was talking about friends with my daughter, because my daughter is loaded with empathy and did not have any friends, and I told her, Dont give your friendship away. You make them earn it.I played The Greatest Love of Allfor her one time, and I came into her room and she had printed out the lyrics and had them on her wall. 

Thats sweet. So many of Whitneys songs, after reading your book, have taken on a different life for me. For instance, knowing you were on set during the filming of The Bodyguard, I cant help but hear Whitney singing I Will Always Love You,a song about a love that could never be, to you. Did you ever think of that song in the context of your relationship?

I didnt. Im being honest, I didnt. But you know what, when I hang up from you, Im going to listen to it that way. Im going to listen to it with that in mind. But A Song For Youis one that I really felt, when I listened to the last album, she was talking to me. 

What made you think that?

Because I write in the book about a moment where music held us together. We talked about it a lot, and I played that (A Song From You) from The Temptations album, and then she performed it one time, and then she recorded it the last go round (for the album I Look to You, in 2009). I know that was her idea. She never told me, and Ive never spoken to anyone about that and it may not have been her idea to do the club mix on it – but I know she wanted to record that song. 

That is the most covered song ever, and when you listen to each cover, they all bring a different interpretation to the song. And Whitney uses the word friendI dont know how many times. So that really captured me. And you know, I’ve been in the studio with her so many times that the way she approached it, I was right there. It was like I was in the studio with her listening to it. 

Clearly that song meant a lot to you enough to make it the title of your book. 

Music is in the book. My brother was big into music; my mother and my father had a love for music. So A Song for Youencompasses all of them. But I dedicate the title of the book to Whitney in my heart.

Did you hear Kygos version of Higher Lovethat was released last year? 

I didnt hear the full version, but I did click on my Apple iTunes and listened to part of it, yes. 

Why didnt you listen to the full song?

Maybe because I wouldve rather heard Im Knockin,which was the track that Whitney had on that Baby Tonight album. When I heard Higher Love,I knew that it came from the Japan album of Baby Tonight. It wasnt something new that they found in a vault. 

Were you in the studio when she recorded it? 

I was. So I knew where it came from. What I did watch was the video. I watched the video and I did not like the video. Sorry, but I didnt.

What didnt you like about the video?

It was missing her. 

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