Glenn Gamboa writes about music for Newsday.
It's hard to celebrate listening to Whitney Houston's final song, which made its radio debut Monday.
"Celebrate" is the duet Houston recorded -- just days before her Feb. 11 death from drowning in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton -- with Jordin Sparks for their upcoming movie "Sparkle." It's an upbeat pop number, written by R. Kelly, that fits the movie's story line about a '60s Motown girl group, which includes Sparks' character, and their mother, played by Houston.
But "Celebrate" doesn't really show off Houston's voice as much as it shows off Sparks, who paid tribute to Houston at the Billboard Music Awards Sunday night. Houston sings the lower notes that provide a jumping off point for Sparks, but she never gets the chance to break out herself the way she did for decades in classic performances of "I Will Always Love You" and "How Will I Know."
That limitation is likely by design since producers say that Houston had completed her work on the film, set for an Aug. 17 release, before she died on the eve of the Grammy Awards. However, Houston's performance on "Celebrate" once again raises the question that dogged her for years: Had she lost her legendary voice?
Though Houston's family and friends said she had been training her voice in preparation for her role in "Sparkle," her vocals on "Celebrate" don't sound noticeably different from her 2009 album, "I Look to You," which was supposed to launch her comeback, but fizzled.
Perhaps there are other songs from "Sparkle" that may better use Houston's vocals and back up all the talk that she was once again on the brink of a comeback. Unfortunately, "Celebrate" isn't quite it.