It has been a rough road for mother, grandmother and Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Cissy Houston. She’s already faced the unimaginable with the death of her daughter, legendary singer Whitney Houston, in 2012.
Now, there is family strife since Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina chose to marry her an unofficially adopted brother Nick Gordon in early 2014. Through it all, however, Houston manages to maintain an incredible faith which she shares with the world through the ministry of music.
Houston will be appearing at McDonald’s Gospelfest 2014, “Women Who Worship” Mother’s Day Experience tomorrow, May 10, at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, alongside Yolanda Adams, CeCe Winans, The Clark Sisters, Shirley Caesar, Kim Burrell and many more.
EBONY.com caught up with Ms. Houston to talk faith, family and her favorite Whitney moments.
EBONY: You’ve been a part of McDonald’s Gospelfest for a long time, since its inception in 1983. What keeps bringing you back?
CISSY HOUSTON: [Director and producer] A. Curtis Farrow. It’s his vision, he brought us all together and I’m excited we’ll all be in one place, worshipping the one who made us and worshipping with you.
EBONY: When you’re not on stage, what does your worship look like? Are there certain scriptures you always read or songs you always sing?
CH: There are lots of different things I do. I read an encouraging verse every day in private. I always sing and pray and read [Psalm 23] “The Lord is my shepherd.” Those things give me strength.
EBONY: When are those times you find you need the most strength?
CH: Every day.
EBONY: There have been some particularly trying times for you and your family recently. As you go through these trials, do you have any advice for other families who may have estranged loved ones and how they can reconcile?
CH: I guess that’s everybody’s problem. No family is perfect. You have to accept people for who they are and whom they are and you just have to be yourself and tell [loved ones] the truth. You cannot make daughters and sons, particularly after they get a certain age, do what you want them to do. All you can do is advise them and pray for the family’s togetherness. Everybody makes mistakes; there’s not a perfect one in the world.
EBONY: You wrote a lot about family issues in your book, Remembering Whitney, in 2013, that was a bit controversial. How are you feeling about it now, being so open publicly about your daughter?
CH: I'm feeling really good about it. If you tell the truth you don’t have to worry [about the rest].
EBONY: Have you considered writing another book or album in the future?
CH: I’m thinking about it. My goddaughter has asked me to write another book. I have thought about it.
EBONY: Despite all that you and your family have been through, your faith remains strong. Has there ever been a time that your faith in God was shaken as a result of the heartache you’ve suffered?
CH: No. When [God] gets ready for you, I’m a firm believer, no matter what he’s called you to, you’ve got to answer it. That’s what faith is about, trusting in God, you have to know that he is real. I learned a long time ago to believe in God, because if you try him and you stick with him [you won’t be disappointed]. I’d need money and then out of nowhere, here comes something in the mail, a check that helped me feed my kids. You’ve just got to have faith. I’m by no means perfect, but my faith is strong.
EBONY: Were you ever angry with God?
CH: Never. I wasn’t angry with him even when he took my baby [Whitney Houston]. Cause he’s the maker; she belongs to him. He can take whoever when he wants. I was asking him to protect her, but I never asked him why [she had to die] because I know he’s got his own plan.
EBONY: That is an incredible amount of faith. How did you get to that point in your walk with God?
CH: I don’t know, but I got there. I’m very glad I did. I didn’t feel it was my privilege to ask him why, because I thought I was close enough to him to understand that you do things in life that put you in a place where anything is liable to happen. It’s not up to you, the children, the mother, the father. There’s a reason for everything and I don’t know them all. She’s gone. It hurts but I know she’s resting and I believe she’s with him.
EBONY: What do you wish people knew about Whitney Houston?
CH: That I was satisfied with my daughter. She was my greatest love. She was my greatest love. Everybody gets off track sometimes. That doesn’t mean it’s the end world all the time. She was a very good person and she had a very good heart. She was my baby.
There’s nothing I can do that would bring her back with me. I can’t do that; that’s not in my hands, it’s God’s work and that’s not something I can interfere in. I handed her to him and she went some way and went that way—a lot of people do. You try to bring her back [the right way] and sometimes you can’t. I obviously couldn’t. But she made a lot of difference in this world. She grew tall while she was living. She made me very proud. That’s all I can say.
I still think about her and I cry. After I cry, I feel all right. I cry a lot. She was a good girl and a kind person.
EBONY: What are you thinking about when you think of her? Do you have a favorite, special moment with her that always comes to mind?
CH: I’ve got so many memories. I just knew she loved me. She would always call me and say, “I love you so much,” and I remember she said that all the time. The day before, the week before [her death], she was coming back home to see me and she said, “I love you so much. As soon as I finish with this, I’m coming to see you.” She didn’t make it. All the plans we’ve got are not ours to make. They don’t always come through. I still have some bad hours.
But one of the most special times I remember was when she was recording, “I Will Always Love You.” I was there with her when she was recording it and she looked right at me. I saw her expression and how she looked at me—it was wonderful. I received it. I cried like a baby. I felt the truth of it. It was beautiful.
EBONY: As a mother, what do you hope for your children?
CH: That they will find [God] in time. It doesn’t come easy. It’s something you want all your children to do. My children were schooled they were taught they went to school and college and all of that kind of thing, but they make choices for themselves. You try to make them understand that there’s an outcome for every action. You teach them that, and that’s all you can do.
EBONY: You’ve touched so many with your music and your ministry. What do you hope your legacy will be?
CH: That I tried to help somebody, whether they were young people or old. I have a ninety-year-old lady, she calls me her child. I’m always asking, “How are you doing?” I get young people that I’ve stopped or tried to help on their way and it’s just what you want to do with your life. [I want to be remembered as] somebody who tried to help somebody.
Don’t miss Cissy Houston at McDonald’s Gospelfest 2014 tomorrow, May 10, in New Jersey.
Brooke Obie is Editor-at-Large for EBONY.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.