Whitney Houston was “a trumpet to the world” who was “not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” says a veteran musician who played in the late superstar singer’s band and led Bible studies with Houston while on tour.
Jetro Da Silva, a professor at Berklee College of Music, first met Houston in 1999 while rehearsing with her band. Da Silva, who mostly played keyboards while touring with Houston, says it wasn’t long before Houston approached him and said, “You will pray before all the concerts in this tour.” Da Silva says that was “the beginning of my journey as intercessor, friend, and keyboardist for Ms. Houston.”
Houston died last month in Beverly Hills; the cause has yet to be determined. Da Silva—who has also worked with Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Gladys Knight, Mary Mary, Bonnie Raitt, and many more—says he was stunned by the news of Houston’s, and the reality didn’t set in until he saw her casket at her funeral a couple weeks ago in New Jersey.
In an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, Da Silva discussed his 12-year friendship with Houston, whom he also called “Nippy,” as did many of her family and close friends. He describes the diva as a woman of prayer who “knew the Lord on a personal level” and was always “growing and learning.” But he also acknowledges Houston’s battles with alcohol and drugs, noting that those struggles helped her to “know and understand grace and mercy on a deeper level.”
First, tell me a bit about your own spiritual background.
I’m from a Christian family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 12, I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and was baptized. Prayer has always played a great role in my life. I also have a Master of Arts in Theological Study from Andover Newton, and a Diploma in Anglican Studies from General Theological Seminary. I am now a PhD candidate at Liverpool Hope University. The training I have received and am still receiving has equipped me to see today’s challenges with a critical theological eye and as an opportunity for creative solutions. And as a teacher at Berklee, working with Christian and non-Christian students, I have the opportunity to exercise the pastoral calling that was entrusted in me by God and the church. And as a professional musician, I have the opportunity to serve people that would not go to a parish or a church.
What did you think of Whitney Houston before you met her?
I saw her as spiritual, anointed, beautiful, talented, and blessed with a beautiful voice. To me, she was not just a singer. I dare to say that she was a trumpet to the world. Her mission on this planet was bigger than just have a unique voice.
What was she like when you met her in 1999?
She was a loyal wife who was doing her best to please her husband and take a great care of her daughter, even with the challenges of having the fulfill her professional obligations and demands. She included her family in everything.
You led Bible studies during her 1999 world tour?
Yes. It was an honor and a humbling experience. During the six-month period, we met every week, usually in a room in the hotels. Ms. Houston joined many of the meetings and shared her personal testimonies. We covered topics like “The Love of Jesus” and “Women in the Genealogy of Jesus.” Our discussions would sometimes last 2-3 hours.
How did Whitney grow in the 13 years you knew her?
She grew in her desire and hunger for God. There were people in her life who played a great role in that, including Patrice Houston, the wife of Gary Houston, Whitney’s elder brother. Pat is a God-fearing woman and a prayer warrior. When she came on board as Whitney’s personal manager, she would not make a decision without prayer. She and others covered Whitney with prayers.
How would you describe Whitney’s faith journey from the time you met her in 1999?
Like all the Christians who seek the Lord, she was growing and learning. Whitney was always a spiritual woman. She enjoyed praying and reading the Bible. Life’s struggles led her to know and understand grace and mercy on a deeper level. Nippy was real about her challenges, but she also knew the Lord in a personal level. She was not a hypocrite. I often witnessed Whitney praying for a lot people. When one of her friends was seek, and she asked the whole band to join her in her dressing room, and she began crying out to the Lord, asking for healing. Nippy was a woman of prayer. I believe that she was in peace with the Lord when she died.
Where were you when you heard about her death?
I had just finished rehearsing with my students at Berklee, and I was leaving in my car when a former student texted me with the news. I could not believe it, and I called Whitney’s elder brother, Gary Houston. He answered the phone by saying, “Jetro, it is true. She is gone.” I became numb for a moment. I prayed and asked the Lord, “What is going on?” Then I began to lament her loss.
Some will say that her lifestyle didn’t necessarily “measure up” to what many would characterize as a Christian lifestyle. Your thoughts?
I believe that if we use the same measure of judgment or criticism to which Whitney was subjected, we all will realize that we do not “measure up.” Isn’t that the reason we seek the Lord’s mercy and grace daily? Somehow, we tend to look at people in the arts differently; singers and actors have the same passions as the rest of us, but Jesus died for them also.
What people don’t know is that Nippy was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She was always singing to the Lord, no matter what. Nippy was not perfect, but she didn’t not let her life interfere with her relationship with God.
There was a lot of stress placed on her from many spectrums of life. But again, many of us in the Christian family are constantly in trouble. The only difference is that we are not in the spotlight. As we read in John 4, we learn that God is looking for those who worship in spirit and truth, despite their troubles. The Samaritan woman was certainly in trouble with her marriage relationships.
Did you ever confront her about her drug or alcohol use?
I never confronted her in this or any other area. I would come to pray, listen, and play my musical instrument. I believe the Holy Spirit does a better job confronting us in our struggles.
What are some of your favorite memories about her?
On my last day with the tour in 1999, Nippy came up to me at my keyboard during the show while she was singing “I Love the Lord.” She looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you, Jetro. Thanks for praying and blessing us. I love you so much.”
On February 28, 2010, it was my birthday and we were in Australia. After the concert, I was in the lobby waiting for another musician when Whitney walked in and said, “It’s your birthday! Come downstairs because I have something for you.” She ordered dinner just for the both of us. It was so special.
I remember a day off in Australia. We were all talking in the hotel lobby for hours; next thing we knew it was 2 a.m. Some had already left, but Whitney, a background vocalist, and two others were left. Suddenly Whitney said, “I want to be normal tonight. Let’s take a walk.” I was concerned because the bodyguards were not with us, but we went anyway. During the walk, we sang hymns and worshiped the Lord. When we returned to the hotel, she said, “Jetro, this is me. I love the Lord and love to worship Him. People don’t know me.”
What else do people not know about Whitney Houston?
She was fun, silly, joyful, reserved, giving, and caring.
Did you attend her funeral?
Yes, I attended and played for the funeral. That was my first reality check concerning her death: our first encounter with the casket. This is when we realized that it was real and she was gone. The service was comforting, and the Lord was there. She was remembered as someone who loved the Lord, and her faith in Christ was the greatest legacy she left. And I praise God for all the moments we had together.
Copyright © 2012 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Source: CHRISTIANITY TODAY