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Billie Holiday, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Natalie Cole, Phyllis Hyman, and Whitney Houston. Spanning generations and genres, these phenomenal songstress with crossover adulation shared more in common than their superstar status.

All fought the demons of addiction; some to their demise, others to their recovery and rise. Commemorating Black Music Month, we unerase the pain and passions that were part of their greatness, though haunted and vaunted even as they soared.

Who in this universe is not moved by Strange FruitNot Gon’ Cry, I Feel For You, How Can I Ease The Pain,  I’m Every Woman and Meet Me On the Moon. The lived experience behind the words were milestones in careers burdened by the weight of substance misuse disorder, often the source of deep self-medication. They performed some of their best shows, in sold-out arenas stoned but giving their fans and the industry every cell of bodies racked by soul-wrenching pain.

Whitney once sang, “People need someone to look up to, I never found anyone who fulfills my needs, A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me.” Lyrically uplifting, the message of one of Whitney’s greatest hits spoke to the aloneness of pain and the passion that enveloped it.

All of these superstars navigated crowded but lonely journeys punctuated by trauma and abuse, depression, poverty, racism, misogyny, colorism and exploitation. Devoured by the insatiable beast of an industry that eats its talent or leaves them twisting in the wind, somehow these Black women managed to create legacies of greatness.

Today we honor their pains and passions with a Recovery Playlist, a flare of light and song for all artists who struggle, soar or shine.

-Bria Russ