Sheryl Lee Ralph, Rolonda Watts And Deniece Williams Reflect On Whitney Houston (VIDEO)

The death of Whitney Houston reminded us all of just how much her art and life affected us. Actor Sheryl Lee Ralph; TV personality Rolonda Watts; and R&B legend Deniece Williams joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to reflect on the life and legacy of Whitney Houston.

MR. MARTIN:  The death of Whitney Houston last week reminded us all of just how much her art and life affected us.  Today, we have gathered three people – no, three divas who knew her well, actor Sheryl Lee Ralph; TV personality Rolonda Watts; and R&B legend Deniece Williams.

Folks, all, welcome to “Washington Watch.”


MS. ROLONDA WATTS:  Thank you.


MR. MARTIN:  Clearly, it was stunning to see that news flash across the screen that Whitney Houston had passed away.  I mean you talk about the ’80s and the ’90s and just dominating.


MR. MARTIN:  For each of you, what was it like to hear that news, but also to remember the kind of woman that she was?

MS. RALPH:  You know, for me it was – I’m sure it was the same for all of you.  I was, like, literally – right away, it was like somebody in my family had – had passed away; they’d died.  And I remember having to hold on to the person when they said that, because it just – it just hit me so hard.  Even though maybe over the years, we thought that might happen, [I] just wasn’t prepared.

And my mind immediately went back to the first time I saw her.  She was singing in a club – if you remember –

MS. WATTS:  Sweetwater.

MS. RALPH:  — Sweet- — you remembered that!


MS. WATTS:  [Chuckles.]

MS. WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk.]

MS. WATTS:  [Crosstalk.]

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WATTS:  And with their mother.

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WATTS:  And she had a teeny, weenie afro –

MS. RALPH:  She had that little, curly –

MS. WATTS:  — and a little –

MS. RALPH:  — afro!

MS. WATTS:  — cotton dress.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. RALPH:  Oh, stop!

MS. WATTS:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. WATTS:  Yes!

MS. WILLIAMS:  How old –

MS. RALPH:  — so much –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — was she?

MS. RALPH:  — she was 19.

MS. WILLIAMS:  She was 19 at the time.

MS. WATTS:  Yeah.

MS. RALPH:  She was 19 –

MS. WILLIAMS:  I never saw – [crosstalk] –

MS. RALPH:  — and we were doing “Dream Girls” –


MS. RALPH:  — on Broadway –

MS. WATTS:  And wait a –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — [crosstalk].

MS. WATTS:  — minute.  I was a news reporter, and I ran up to her after this performance, and – because they sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and –

MS. RALPH:  Oh, my –

MS. WATTS:  — all those –

MS. RALPH:  — God!

MS. WATTS:  — between a mother and a daughter –

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WATTS:  — and you’d never seen a love song sung that way.  And I said –


MS. WATTS:  — “I[’ve] got to do a story on you guys!”

And they were like, “Be on TV?”  And –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. RALPH:  And – [crosstalk] –

MS. WATTS:  — I was like, “Yes!”

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MS. WATTS:  And do you know I begged my news director to give me a crew, and –

MS. RALPH:  And they didn’t want –

MS. WATTS:  — he was like –

MS. RALPH:  — to do that.

MS. WATTS:  — “Whitney who?”

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WATTS:  Well, he paid –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yeah, well –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WATTS:  — he – he regretted that.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — he’s sorry about that now, but –

MS. WATTS:  But she –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — you know –

MS. WATTS:  — used to always –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — yeah.

MS. WATTS:  — when she would see –


MS. WATTS:  — she would always say, “You knew.”

MS. WILLIAMS:  You knew.

MS. WILLIAMS:  “You were” –

MS. RALPH:  Aw-ww!

MS. WILLIAMS:  — “the first to know.”

MR. MARTIN:  Deniece?

MS. WILLIAMS:  — you know, I grew up listening to her mom Cissie Houston.

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  I wanted to be like the Sweet Inspirations, sound like them.  And I was at Sound Check, and I walked offstage, and someone told me that Whitney had died.  And I said, “Stop lying.  I’m tired of you guys spreading rumors on her.”  I just would not receive –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — it.

And then I came back to the hotel, and I turned on the news, and there it was.  And my heart broke, but I have –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — to admit the first person I thought about is my heart broke for Cissie –

MS. WATTS:  Cissie – that’s right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — because to lose a child – I mean I’m a mother of four, and to lose a child!  My heart broke for her mom, who I’ve seen over the years and have hugged her – I got a chance – you know, I’ve said, “I love you.  I grew up wanting to be like you.”  I’ve also ha- — I had a lot of occasions to pray with Whitney and with Bobby –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — you know, to grab their hands and say, “Listen, guys, something’s got to change here.”

Unlike you, Sheryl, I never really thought it would come to –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — this end.  For some reason, I had a hope and a prayer that things would change, that they would mature, that they would turn around, that she would turn and see the errors –

MS. WATTS:  But I think we –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — of her ways.

MS. RALPH:  Yes – [crosstalk].

MS. WATTS:  — were all waiting for that.  I mean we –

MS. RALPH:  We were –

MS. WATTS: — waited for “Sparkle.”

MS. RALPH:  — all hoping.

MS. WATTS:  We –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WATTS:  — the word had gotten around –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Waiting for[?] change.

MS. WATTS:  — that she would –

MS. RALPH:  WILLIAMS:  Waiting for[?] change.

MS. WATTS:  — that she would –

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WATTS:  — happy, and –


MS. WATTS:  — we were waiting for that big –

OFF CAMERA:  That’s what –

MS. WATTS:  — hurrah.

OFF CAMERA:  — we wanted –


OFF CAMERA:  — yes.

MR. MARTIN:  — is it difficult for people who are not in this world to understand the massive pressures?  Now, I was talking before we came on about your “Unsung” –


MR. MARTIN:  — special.


MR. MARTIN:  When I look at all of those shows on TV One – and you always see people talk about, “We were going great, riding high. “ Then all of a sudden, drugs came into play.  Then the –


MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — pressures and then the people – that that also plays such a mighty role in somebo- — in bringing –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yes, it does.

MR. MARTIN:  — somebody down.

OFF CAMERA:  It does.

MR. MARTIN:  And she talked about –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yes, it –

MR. MARTIN:  — those demons.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — does.  Yes, it does.

MS. RALPH:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. WILLIAMS:  And it is a demon –

MS. RALPH:  — it is.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — just like you said.

MS. RALPH:  And it’s hard – you know, the ’80s – I remember when we were doing “Dream Girls.”  And you were there around that time, too.

MS. WATTS:  Um-hum.

MS. RALPH:  When we were doing “Dream Girls,” and they would invite you to those parties, and they would be these beautiful, incredible parties.


MS. RALPH:  Beautiful –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — absolutely.

MS. RALPH:  — people –

MS. WATTS:  That’s right.

MS. RALPH:  — the best stuff.

MS. WATTS:  Absolutely.

MS. RALPH:  They would bring out these silver trays –


MS. WATTS:  Um-hum.

MS. RALPH:  — and I’m not lying, ’cause I write about it in my book – these silver trays piled – beautifully piled high with cocaine

MS. WATTS:  Bowls

MS. RALPH:  — baby.

MS. WATTS:  — of cocaine.

MS. RALPH:  Bu- — and –

MS. WILLIAMS:  I know –

MS. RALPH:  — yes.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — but, see, I was scared.

MS. RALPH:  Oh!  It was –

MS. WILLIAMS:  I ha- —

MS. RALPH:  — frightening!  Yeah!

MS. WILLIAMS:  I came from the Church of God in Christ, and there was a fear of God.  And –

MS. RALPH:  Come on –

MS. WILLIAMS: — I looked at –

MS. RALPH:  — now!

MS. WILLIAMS:  — that, and –

MS. RALPH:  You better[?] –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — I said –

MS. RALPH:  — touch me!


MS. WATTS:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. WILLIAMS:  — “I” – “I don’t” –

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WILLIAMS:  — “want none of that.  I don’t think” –

MS. RALPH:  Right!

MS. WILLIAMS:  — “so” –

MS. WATTS:  But I think –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — ’cause –

MS. WATTS:  — but I think [but] for the grace God, go a lot of us.

MS. RALPH:  A lot

MS. WILLIAMS:  That’s right.

MS. RALPH:  — of us.

MS. WILLIAMS:  That’s right.

MS. WATTS:  You know?  And –

MS. WILLIAMS:  That’s right.

MS. WATTS:  — and –


MS. WATTS:  — and, you know, “Nippy,” as – as we called her –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MS. WATTS:  — had – had a[n] –

MS. RALPH:  — [crosstalk].

MS. WATTS:  — illness, a sickness.

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yeah, right.

MS. WATTS:  And I think that that’s – and – and then that, plus all the pressures of being –

MS. WILLIAMS:  It’s very difficult –

MS. WATTS:  — in this industry.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — to do what we – what – to do –

MS. RALPH:  What we do!

MS. WILLIAMS:  — what we do.  It’s very – very, very difficult.  And, you know, I – I often shake my head because so many of us do succumb to that.

MS. RALPH:  That’s right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  There – you know, there’re not a lot of us that’s running around, scared, you know.

MS. RALPH:  That’s right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  I – and that’s the only – I can only –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — say I was –

MS. RALPH:  And – [crosstalk] –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — scared.  But the pressures of what we do!

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WILLIAMS:  Being a – being a – an entertainer, being a wife, being a mother –

MS. RALPH:  Yes.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — the combination of all those things – it’s hard.  It’s very difficult.

MS. RALPH:  And it’s a big “yes” business –


MS. RALPH:  — and sometimes fame can be a witch – and you[’d] better spell it with a big “B.”  And sometimes she’s like a jealous, possessive –

MS. WILLIAMS:  It’s true.

MS. RALPH:  — man, and she’s gonna beat you up, smack you down, step on your self-esteem and dare you to get back up.  You –


MS. WATTS:  That sounds –

MS. RALPH:  — think everybody –

MS. WATTS:  — like the Devil.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MS. RALPH:  — it’s the truth!

MS. WATTS:  [Chuckles.]

MS. RALPH:  You think everybody –

MS. WILLIAMS:  But it’s –

MS. RALPH:  — can have the strength –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — the self-esteem –

MS. WATTS:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. RALPH:  — [crosstalk] – to rise back up –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. RALPH:  — again?


MS. RALPH:  You think everybody can have the strength of a Natalie Cole –


MS. WATTS:  But, Roland –

MS. RALPH:  — to fight it and –

MS. WATTS:  — and – and to –

MS. RALPH:  — come back –

MS. WATTS:  — and learn –

MR. MARTIN:  That’s what[?] – [crosstalk] –

MS. RALPH:  — again?

MR. MARTIN:  — hear Charlie Wilson talk –

MS. RALPH:  Whoa!

MR. MARTIN:  — about as –

MS. RALPH:  Come

MR. MARTIN:  — well.

MS. RALPH:  — on now!

MS. WATTS:  What did –

MS. RALPH:  Charlie.

MS. WATTS:  — our – what did our folks tell us?  What did our – what did our mentors tell us?  “You show me your friends, I’ll show you your future.”

OFF CAMERA:  And a lot of times, we have so many people around us who are just “yes” people.

MS. RALPH:  That is right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  That is right.

MS. WATTS:  They don’t want to lose their job.

MS. WILLIAMS:  No.  They don’t.

MS. WATTS:  They don’t –

MS. RALPH:  That’s it.

MS. WATTS:  — want to lose the – the “in” to –

MS. WILLIAMS:  So, they don’t want –

MS. WATTS:  — the club.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — to tell you no.

MS. RALPH:  That’s it!

MS. WATTS:  They won’t want you – so, they’ll do anything to –

MS. WILLIAMS:  To keep –

MS. WATTS:  — make the star –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — you going.

MS. WATTS:  — happy.

MR. MARTIN:  And we’ve had –

MS. RALPH:  That’s it.

MR. MARTIN:  — lots of folks –

OFF CAMERA:  And keep you going.

MR. MARTIN:  — speculate on all kind[s] of different things.  And I’ve made it clear on my s- — on my Twitter page and Facebook page I’m not having any of that.

But how – ho- — how does it make you feel when people will suggest that, “Oh.  Bobby – that’s the villain,” or –

MS. WILLIAMS:  I don’t believe it.

MR. MARTIN:  — “This was the villain,” and when they begin to assign blame –


MR. MARTIN:  — and to say, “This person was the reason why their life” –



MR. MARTIN:  — “was out of” –

MS. WATTS:  Roland –

MR. MARTIN:  — “control”?

MS. WATTS:  — I was there at her birthday party when “Little Bobby Brown,” who was part of a little group called In – In – In S- — I- — what[?] –


MR. MARTIN:  “New Edition.”

MS. RALPH:  “New Edition.”

MS. WATTS:  — “New Edition.”

MS. WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. WATTS:  New Edition.

MS. RALPH:  New Edition.

MS. WATTS:  Yes, New –

MS. RALPH:  — Bobby Brown –

MS. WATTS:  — Edition –

MS. RALPH:  — Ralph Tresvant –

MS. WATTS:  — came up to her and sang to her and confessed he had a crush on her.  Next thing I know, I’m at their wedding reception.  I see love.  Now, I know that w- — you – people can speculate whatever they want –

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MS. WATTS:  — but I saw two people who genuinely loved each –

MS. WILLIAMS:  But we –

MS. WATTS:  — other.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — all have a choice.  We’re all given a choice.  We c- — we have the ability to choose.

MS. RALPH:  Right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  I kind of saw what you saw.  I saw when they – they were at CeCe Winan[s] and BeBe Winan[s] concert.  I think that Bobby catches a lot of the blame.

MS. WATTS:  Yes.

MS. WILLIAMS:  I don’t –

MS. WATTS:  I do, too.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — he – and he is not totally at fault for what has happened, and I will stand up to anybody and say I do not blame him totally for what happened.  I think it was a combination and choices that they both made –

MS. RALPH:  And they –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — that brought –

MS. RALPH:  — imploded –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — this on.

MS. RALPH:  — together.

MS. WILLIAMS:  Now, collec- —

MS. RALPH:  You know?

MS. WILLIAMS:  — -tively, it –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. WILLIAMS:  — was –

MS. RALPH:  Yes!

MS. WILLIAMS:  — it was –

MR. MARTIN:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. WILLIAMS:  — a big explosion.

MS. RALPH:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. WILLIAMS:  It was – it was a lot.

MS. RALPH:  — [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I – I –

MS. WILLIAMS:  It was a lot.

MR. MARTIN:  — well, I’ll say this.  Th- — th- — I think the most important thing, going forward, [is] you see all these folks out here, and – and they want that life.  The most important thing, I think, for them to understand is – is that w- — as you’re moving forward, it’d better be a circle of one.  That is, you[’d] better have people – it’s a tight circle – to understand that you –

OFF CAMERA:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — cannot succumb to those pressures.  And I think about it.  Dinah Washington was 39.


MS. RALPH:  Yes.

MR. MARTIN:   Billie Holiday was 44.

OFF CAMERA:  That’s right.


MR. MARTIN:  Whitney Houston was 48.


MS. RALPH:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  And so we remember them through their music, but it’s unfortunate we will not get to see them –

MS. WATTS:  Roland, can –

MR. MARTIN:  — be 50 –

MS. WATTS:  — I just say this?

MR. MARTIN:  — 60, 70, 80?  Final comment before we go.

MS. WATTS:  I think that the – the – the – the lesson that we also learn here is –

MS. RALPH:  ’Cause we’ve got to –

MS. WATTS:  — h- — get your –

MS. RALPH:  — learn a lesson.

MS. WATTS:  — song out while you’re living.  All of these people looked at their God-given gifts, and they used them, and – and –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. WATTS:  — we benefited from that.  So –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Yes, we did.

MS. WATTS:  — what will –

MS. RALPH:  Yeah.

MS. WATTS:  — we do?  Will we look inside ourselves –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. WATTS:  — and find those God-given gifts and give –

MS. WILLIAMS:  That’s right.

MS. WATTS:  — them –

MS. RALPH:  And what –

MS. WATTS:  — the –

MS. RALPH:  — happened with –

MR. MARTIN:  Ladies –

MS. RALPH:  — those gifts that made us feel so good, but obviously did not make them feel so –

MR. MARTIN:  — absolutely.

MS. RALPH:  — good?

MS. WILLIAMS:  Um-hum.

MS. RALPH:  We[’ve] got to learn –

MS. WATTS:  She was –

MS. RALPH:  — from this.

MS. WATTS:  — “savin’ all” –

MR. MARTIN:  I cer- —

MS. WATTS:  — “her love” for us.

MS. RALPH:  Hey.

MR. MARTIN:  — I appre- —

MS. RALPH:  Really[?].

MR. MARTIN:  — I appreciate you sharing your thoughts –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Rest in peace.

MR. MARTIN:  — regarding Whitney Houston.  Thank you so very much.

MS. RALPH:  Amen.

OFF CAMERA:  Thank you.  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  Sheryl Lee Ralph –

MS. RALPH:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  — Roland Watts, Deniece Williams, thanks –

MS. WILLIAMS:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  — a bunch.

MS. RALPH:  Good to –

MR. MARTIN:  All right.

MS. RALPH:  — be here, Roland.

  • Michelle Starcam

    Rolanda Watts was one of the first to discover that Whitney Houston would become a star! She told us the story at the NAACP Image Awards. Watch our Rolanda Watts interview here! Thanks!