She had one of the strongest vocal muscles I’ve ever worked with –says Gary Catona
Vocal Coach Gary Catona recently gained widespread media attention in the wake of Whitney Houston’s untimely death.
In the seven years leading up to it, Catona trained Houston who he said fought hard to restore her singing voice to its former glory.
But there had been years of drug abuse, resulting in extreme hoarseness, a dramatic decrease in vocal range and clarity and recurring vocal loss.
He tells VoiceCouncil Magazine about his work with the fallen star.
What was your first encounter like with Whitney Houston?
The first time I worked with her, I went to see her in Atlanta. She was not in good physical shape. She was very thin and disoriented. It was bad. And, she didn’t know what to do.
To what degree was the severity of her vocal damage?
She had no voice. Even her speaking voice was hoarse. And, she had no register, just air. However, she probably had one of the strongest vocal muscles I had ever worked with. When she was singing her best, she kept her tongue flat and smiled with her “i” vowel. She sang in the back of her throat with an open sound, not from the front. And, even in her vocal loss, you still could see the technique working.
To your observations, what was the main cause of this?
I think we’re all aware of the cause. She indulged as she lived her life. She smoked cigarettes. The tissue can’t endure that kind of aggravated vocal abuse for that long a time. In her case, I think she undermined her voice and the talent that she had.
You were able to get her voice back in shape for her to successfully complete what would become her final album and tour. Why did her voice again begin to wane?
I did the best I could to keep her going. The problem was that instead of staying back and building the voice back up, we’d get it 20 percent back, and they’d send her out again. And, then we’d get it 40 percent back, and she was off singing again. Then we’d get it 60 percent back. She gradually kept getting better, but she should have stayed with me and gotten it all back, 100 percent, rather than just getting small percentages of it back.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that she had a lot of people standing on her shoulders because of who she was. There was a tremendous amount of pressure that came with that.
Do you think you could have helped her make a full recovery, even with the vocal deterioration that she had?
Without a doubt. Throughout the course of some of her lessons, I was able to bring it all back, at times. Her vocal muscles were highly aggressive, and she was able to produce that squillo sound (a technical term describing the resonant sound in the voice of singers), which means the voice is ready and rarin’ to go.
When was the last time you spoke with her?
After I got her through her record, I didn’t hear back. Then, I got a phone call to come out to Beverly Hills so we could start up again. That was about a year-and-a-half ago. And, that was the last time I heard from her.
How did her death affect you?
I look at it a little differently than most. She died at 48, which is tragic in and of it self. But look at what she did: she changed the course of vocal history forever. Someone once said, “Some of the best recipes have the most unsavory ingredients.” I think the same can be said of a great person. It might sound horrible, but I don’t think she would have been the same person, or that we would have had the same appreciation – maybe we wouldn’t have even seen her as the greatest singer – had she not endured some of the struggles that she did.
Megan Gloss is a classical vocalist and writer based in the United States.