It's not every day that someone calls our office claiming to being the opening act for Whitney Houston's final tour. But it did Monday morning, when Azaryah Davidson, a Houston R&B singer who goes by Azaryah, rang up and said just that.
He's legit; we checked. Azaryah, 36, is a smooth crooner similar to Bilal or Maxwell who espouses a positive, eco-friendly message he calls "Edenic soul." Rocks Off had to call him back Tuesday and take actual notes because our phone-recording jack isn't working, but he says his next project will be out in spring or summer. It's about "love in different ways - relationships and the Earth itself."
Azaryah grew up in Beaumont, in the church, and moved to Atlanta in the mid-'90s. From there he joined the company of a theatrical production called Wonderful World that took him all the way to Israel. It was there in the Holy Land that he met Houston and other members of her family.
"We bonded right off," Azaryah says. "It was good energy."
Once back in the States, Azaryah began working for Houston, and spent a lot of time with the singer and her family near Atlanta. They shared the same manager, and he even says he came to see Houston as "like a big sister."
"She had a lot of wisdom," he says. "She had been in entertainment for 30 years.
"She was gonna have fun," adds Azaryah. "She was down to Earth, a loving person. She had good energy."
A lot of energy, it sounds like. Azaryah says that besides her family, particularly daughter Bobbi Kristina, Houston was fond of swimming: "She loved the water."
Azaryah sang backup for Houston at a 2005 show in Dubai, and became part of Houston's retinue when she asked him to join her "Nothing But Love" tour in 2010. He figures he opened around 33 shows in the summer of that year, and says the singer seemed healthy and would spend hours in the gym.
"She was sounding great," he says. Houston got hoarse a couple of times when shows were booked on back to back nights, adds Azaryah, but "people loved her."
Houston did have to cancel the Paris stop of the tour because she was under the weather, but Azaryah says that as far as he could tell, she stayed "absolutely" sober the entire time.
"She had a clear head," he says. "You could tell when you talked to her."
Houston had planned to bring the tour to the States, Azaryah says, but promoters couldn't make it happen. It would have been her first U.S. concerts since the "My Love Is Your Love World Tour" in 1999, which never came to Houston.
Azaryah says he last talked to Houston around Halloween of last year, when she was visiting her friend, Houston gospel singer Kim Burrell. Azaryah visited Houston at her hotel, and says her spirits were good.
"She was great - always good to be around," he says. "She was relaxed, enjoying her time off."
Azaryah heard Houston had died when his wife got a phone call. He was taking a nap, and once he heard says thought "'here we go again - another rumor." He knew it was true, he adds, when he was unable to reach any of Houston's people.
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Azaryah says he plans to attend Houston's funeral in New Jersey Friday, and is trying to book a show here and in Austin soon. Otherwise he'll continue working on his album, which he calls Volume 1 in a series.
"It's going to be a positive album," Azaryah says. "Music can be used to heal."