Robyn Crawford is a name many people know because of her rumored romance with vocal Bible Whitney Houston. As a longtime friend and confidante of the late singer, she’s stayed silent about the nature of their relationship. But now, she’s sharing her side of their love in the new book, A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston, available on Tuesday. Below is an excerpt. — Tre’vell Anderson
We were together that entire summer. We could not stay away from each other. We didn’t share what happened with anyone, but our connection was undeniable. You could feel it. At the church that day, I knew I was in the presence of something powerful and great, but even before that, there was something about her that made me feel like we were meant to walk side by side. We were partners. I didn’t know how long it was going to last, but I knew we were meant to be.
We never talked labels, like lesbian or gay. We just lived our lives, and I hoped it could go on that way forever. From a young age, I loved beautiful people. Sometimes the beauty that captured me came in the form of a male, and sometimes it came in the form of a female; either way worked for me.
Our affection for each other had blossomed undetected but in full view. Like other girls, we sat close to each other or held hands. Sometimes Whitney sat in my lap while we talked in the park, or sat between my legs on the ground resting her head on my thigh. Nearby, another pair of girls might adopt a similar posture, doing hair or lying across each other telling secrets. So many girls were physical with each other, playing at being grown women, trying out seductions. Some, like us, experimented with drugs. And all of us attempted to reclaim our bodies after being told as children to keep our legs together, our knees shut, to stay away from the attentions of men, while being groomed to one day court the same.
That summer Whitney would come to my league basketball games, or we’d go for a drive together, or we’d hang out at my house or hers. Often, with little notice, Nip would come by and we’d go to the beach. She swam like a fish and loved the ocean; I could take it or leave it. Those days of arriving at the beach, running fearlessly straight into the water without testing the temperature, were long gone for me, and sitting in the sun crammed side by side with what seemed to be thousands of people wasn’t my idea of fun. But it was heaven for Nip, and as long as we were together, I was down for whatever.
My mother was working, but if I could borrow her car, I would drive Whitney into New York for modeling appointments, called “go‑sees.” More often, though, she’d get on the bus and go to the city by herself. Sometimes we would catch a train to the beach, or take the bus across the George Washington Bridge and walk down into Sugar Hill, Harlem, to buy a dime bag.
On Thursday nights, I would speed in my mother’s car to deliver her to New Hope for choir practice. At other times, I’d crawl through rush-hour traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel as Whitney changed out of her jeans and into a dress, all the while praying for green lights going up Tenth Avenue to Sweetwater’s nightclub, where she sang in her mother’s act. She told me what it was like sitting at the board with producer Arif Mardin. The way Whitney talked about music was passionate and definite.
Some weekdays she went to the city with her mother, who was working with producer and composer Michael Zager. He was always saying how great Whitney was and had featured her on his dance tune “Life’s a Party” when she was fourteen. Other times, we would go to the home of her first musical director, John Simmons, so they could talk about songs and putting a band together.
When John began working with Whitney, he found out that she not only could sing but had a sensibility beyond her years and a vast understanding of music, and even at her young age, she somehow knew how to use her voice to make whatever she wanted to sing hers.
John, a good- natured, supportive, patient but no‑nonsense professional, was the person that Whitney could depend on and trust to prep, pace, and challenge her musically and vocally. In the early days, before she was signed, I would go over to John’s East Orange apartment with Nip and saw the two bond immediately, selecting songs for showcases, while sitting side by side at his keyboard, singing different parts of a melody, modulating and arranging the music with peaks and valleys, focused, but with smiles and giggles throughout. If John got excited about something, he would do a little trot, make a high-pitched squeal, and spin around.
Johnnie—as Nip called him— had tremendous respect for her. In an interview with an Italian television station during the Moment of Truth tour, he said, “In the States, there are a lot of singers who are just R&B or just jazz, or just gospel. And I think that she covers all of it.”
At a rehearsal one day Whitney and I came upon a small room with a piano. She sat down and said, “Sit next to me, I’m going to play something for you.” I listened.
She played a few chords. Smiling, she said, “You don’t know it?”
“Hold on, I’m trying to,” I said. “Just give me a minute.” Whitney played and then started singing.
The first time ever I saw your face…
She told me that the first time she saw me she thought I was beautiful.
Excerpted from the book A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston by Robyn Crawford. Copyright © 2019 by Robyn Crawford. Published by arrangement with Dutton, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.