The screenwriter, producer and actor shares why she will always love a Whitney Houston T-shirt.

By Lena Waithe, as told to Jennifer Ferrise
Updated Oct 23, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Credit: Getty Images

I remember the first time I ever heard a Whitney Houston song. It was the ’80s and I was a little youngin’ sitting in the back seat of my mom’s car in Chicago listening to “Greatest Love of All” on the radio. I had no idea who she was because there was no Internet back then, but when I heard her voice I thought, “Wow.” Then I saw the cover of her second album, Whitney, and I thought, “Who is this woman? What is the deal here?” She was the most carefree, beautiful black woman I’d ever seen.

And so from that point on I became obsessed. When her movie The Bodyguard came out, I was way too young to see it, but my mom took me anyway because she knew I’d probably try to sneak in. I’ll always be grateful to my girl Whitney because she got me into my first R-rated movie!

Credit: Graham Walzer

In 1999 I saw her in concert for the My Love Is Your Love tour that kicked off in Chicago. I was so excited that when I walked in, I tried to go right up to the front, and they were like, “Bitch, your seat is in the back. Where are you going?!” But let me tell you, it was still an out-of-body experience. Her energy was amazing that night. My one regret was that I didn’t get a T-shirt from that show.

Credit: Graham Walzer

In the years since then I’ve been collecting vintage Whitney Houston shirts from all the different eras of her career. I have about six that I wear regularly around the house and to work, usually with gray sweatpants, sneakers, and a snapback. My wife, Alana [Mayo], likes to tease me and say that I have a Whitney shirt for every day of the week. And I’m like, “Yeah, I do.” And I’m totally fine with wearing the same ones again and again.

Credit: Graham Walzer

I love hearing stories from my friends like [singers] Monica and Brandy about how Whitney was so warm and kind to them. She was really a Jersey girl through and through. And if she had lived longer I know our paths would’ve crossed. I’m still pissed that she’s gone, but I’m also so glad that she was here. I know I’ll see her on the other side.

Waithe is the writer and producer of Queen & Slim, in theaters November 27. For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 18.