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Making sense of the deaths of music industry titans Whitney Houston, Etta James and Don Cornelius

By now, we’ve had a little bit of time to sit with the shocking reality of Whitney Houston’s sudden death. Yet, even with the help of a moving Grammy tribute to Whitney and the constant media updates keeping us on top of the unravelling events, it still seems impossible to digest what has happened.

Whitney Houston

There is a rather morbid belief in Hollywood that celebrities die in groups of three; this phenomenon is proved a little more often than any of us are really comfortable with. But rarely does the rule apply to three celebrities of the same circle. With the very recent deaths of music industry icons Etta James, Don Cornelius and now Whitney Houston, only one sensible conclusion can be reached: Heaven is in desperate need of some soul.

First came the news that Etta James had died, due to complications of leukemia. The singer, who floated effortlessly between blues, R&B, jazz, gospel and, of course, soul music, was of enormous influence in the industry. Among many other things, she has been credited with patching the hole between R&B and rock and roll, making way for the careers of countless artists from many genres of music. Though she is now no longer with us, we can rest assured that every time “At Last” is sung, Etta gets her wings. (Already, she must need an apartment-sized closet for all her new wings.)

Very soon after learning of Etta’s passing, news broke that Don Corenelius, the creator and host of the hugely influential dance/music program Soul Train, had taken his own life. Thanks to Soul Train and the famously smooth-voiced Cornelius, America was exposed to the great talents of many African-American artists they may never have gotten a chance to discover, such as James Brown and Aretha Franklin. What Cornelius did for the music industry was crucial to its growth and development. He was, without a doubt, the soul of soul music.

And then, just over a week later, news broke from out of the blue that one of music’s most revered vocalists, Whitney Houston, had died. Details of her death are still being uncovered, but the impact of the tragedy has made waves across the entire world. Whitney paved the way for so many soulful power-house vocalists who followed in her footsteps, from Christina Aguilera to Jennifer Hudson. She leaves behind an untouchable legacy and millions of broken hearts.

With the death of these three music titans, one has to wonder what exactly is going on up in heaven. There must be a pretty significant deficit in the soul department. Two things are certain, though: 1.) Heaven has chosen the absolute best people for the job; and 2.) The Grammys were nothing compared to the show they must be getting up there.

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