Diamanda Galas in 2010
Diamanda Galas in 2010 Credit: Kristofer Buckle

If you’ve come within earshot of a mainstream media outlet in the past week, you’ve encountered a tribute to Whitney Houston. There’s a huge unspoken presence in almost every encomium, though: perhaps out of reluctance to seem to speak ill of the dead, they don’t mention Houston’s disastrous 2010 tour, which was as clear a signal as the public could’ve asked for that the singer was suffering. Maybe people just don’t want to be reminded that they were happy to rubberneck at the wreckage of Houston’s life while she was alive—I’m sure they had enough of that kind of finger-wagging after Michael Jackson died. But if there’s anyone who won’t let a needless death pass without calling out the hypocrites who could’ve helped prevent it, it’s Diamanda Galas.

Remember, we’re talking about a woman who’s publicly gone after the Catholic church for abetting the suffering caused by AIDS, and who performed her Plague Mass, a wrenching and terrifying memorial to the disease’s victims, in New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine while stripped to the waist and drenched in blood. When Galas mourns Houston’s passing, she doesn’t just praise the singer’s huge talent, charisma, and influence. She calls Clive Davis a “colossal pig” for propelling her back onstage before she was ready. She condemns Sony for jacking up the price of much of Houston’s back catalog. She dismisses Bobby Brown as a “common idiot.”

If you tire quickly of sanctimony, you’ll find it an excellent palate cleanser. The whole thing is below.

I mourn the death of Whitney Houston, whom I adored. Her incomparable voice, which influenced almost every R&B; and pop singer worldwide, her stage presence, which no one can touch, and her beauty, tough and sweet, moved me. Whitney . . . Whitney . . . was put back onstage before she was ready to perform—by the colossal pig Clive Davis—who continued his party in the same hotel where she died and where her body still lay. Heresy.

Whitney should have been allowed to study for a minimum of two years with a voice therapist/teacher before even rehearsing, let alone performing, onstage. It is a gigantic jump to go from not performing to performing—and a much larger one to go from not performing and living a life without discipline, the leisure life, in particular, to performing.

What was she put onstage as? A lesson that “drugs kill”? “Hey wanna see a crack ho sing?” Courtesy of Clive Davis. “Wow, man, that will be some freaky shit, right?” “You bet, man.”

Great. Now Mr. Davis will be able to package her death in frills and sell it big time—even during the nadir of record sales. (Sony and iTunes have already begun selling the back catalogue at exceedingly high prices, hours after her death, possibly minutes.) And Clive and Sony will say, “Even though we do not hope to even break even with this uncompromising tribute to Whitney Houston, we feel, personally, that it is her due, as the foremost singer ever on our labels, and as lovely girl she always was to us.” Etc, etc, puke puke puke.

Mr. Davis thought nothing of keeping her up onstage while she received humiliating reviews and she represented DOPEFIEND LOSER of THE WAR ON DRUGS. He probably said, “Ignore those jealous fools, dear; the more you sing, the more you’ll begin to really sing.” Pure entertainment for the folks that know better.

And the press will make more correlations between death days and birthdays and dead dopefiend performers and pour more gasoline on her body. Another party where she was close by but unreachable.

I feel deep sorrow for Whitney. I feel no sorrow for anyone else other than her family and those who still loved her.

And a deep loathing for those who ran her into the ground. Sure, one was Bobby Brown, but he is a common idiot.

The bigger picture?

Think a minute.


Galas performs at the MCA on Thu 2/23 and Sat 2/25, and you’ll be able to hear more from her in next week’s Artist on Artist.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.