Whitney Houston’s longtime saxophonist, Kirk Whalum, and Monica Pearson, longtime Channel 2 anchor, team up for charity Saturday night.
Whalum will perform and Pearson emcees at Travel In Pink, benefiting the Grady Health Foundation. The event, presented by Delta, with Grey Goose Cherry Noir serving as the official liquor sponsor, will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum, Hangar 2, 1060 Delta Blvd. Individual tickets start at $150 and you must purchase in advance. Click here for details.
“I’m happy to be a part of it,” said Whalum, an 11-time Grammy-nominated saxophonist whose latest album is “Romance Language,” in honor of his wife of 32 years.
He was also to share stories of his working relationship with Houston, who died this year at age 48.
“I toured with her for seven years,” Whalum said. “I think those were her best years. She knew we had her back. It was a lot more than just, we worked for her. We were a family. When you’re on the road, you are by default a family. You’re out there and you really develop a long-term relationship.”
Whalum and Houston connected spiritually as well as professionally.
“I used to do Bible studies for her and the band,” he said. “She called me ‘Bishop.’ It was my mission to keep me connected.”
His most famous saxophone solo on Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” has been heard countless times, especially shortly after her death. At her insistence, the song was performed live for the movie “The Bodyguard.”
“When she did the song she was very specific, she said she wanted to do the song live for the film,” Whalum recalled. “That was a big no-no. They do those scenes a million times and with a singer, you have to watch her vocal chords.They said, ‘no we can’t do it.’ She said, ‘then you’re going to have to find a singer.’ She said, ‘if I sing it we’re going to have to do it live for the film and my band is going to play.’ Sure enough we were able to do it. The rough mix of that song is what made the record.”
Whalum was introduced to Houston through a colleague, and described his time with her as a “detour” from his recording career. He was sad, but not shocked, to hear of his friend’s passing.
“It was a mixture of incredulity and ‘I’m not surprised,’” he said. After playing with her on so many occasions it was heartbreaking to play for Houston one final time, at her memorial service. Hearing the song “I Will Always Love You” took on a tragic new meaning, he said.
“I’m connecting with this song on a different level,” he said. “Spiritually speaking it’s a horizontal love scenario. Vertically I look at it spiritually, like God saying, ‘I love you more than any other human.’ This whole message was a completely different meaning. It was indescribably difficult.”
He looks back on his time with Houston with gladness, though.
“It was such a blessing to back up a world-class artist,” he said. “It paid a lot of money of course. It was a great opportunity. We traveled all over the world. She was great.”