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Letting Her (Body)Guard Down

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Deborah Cox talks LGBTQ rights before tackling Whitney Houston role in Hobby Center production.

By Don Maines

Who but dance-diva Deborah Cox would attempt to tour the country in the role that superstar Whitney Houston played in The Bodyguard?

Cox is the foxy, fearless Canadian R&B singer who’s never shied away from Pride events and social activism. She’s a fixture at LGBTQ community celebrations, from circuit parties to same-sex weddings.

“I’ve been doing this for a minute,” Cox tells OutSmart, recalling when it was “so taboo, even in New York City” for a singer to perform at a gay circuit party.

But even back then, the dance music chart-topper didn’t bat an eye when she was invited to perform for the gay community, beginning with a circuit party in London. “It was the 1990s. A lot of my friends were struggling with their identities. I saw it as a movement, a passion,” says the 43-year-old Cox. “My involvement took on a whole life of its own. It just happened organically.”

Cox thinks that when The Bodyguard: The Musical plays August 15–20 at the Hobby Center, fans of the 1992 blockbuster movie with Kevin Costner might be surprised. “You will expect to see the film’s story put on stage, so it is a suspenseful thriller, but I think the musical does a nice job of developing the characters more,” Cox says. “The stalker is more prevalent in the stage version, and there is a love triangle that was not in the film.”

In the movie, the story was told from the point of view of Costner’s character, Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent still haunted by the fact that he wasn’t in place when John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan. Now reduced to mainly protecting corporate fat cats, Farmer is hired by the team of pop singer-turned-Oscar-nominated actress Rachel Marron after the imperious diva receives some death threats. Danged if they don’t fall in love!

The musical fleshes out Marron’s family life while also adding early Whitney Houston hits (including “How Will I Know,” “The Greatest Love of All,” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”) to the best-selling movie soundtrack score. The Grammy Award-winning Album of the Year for 1993 featured “Queen of the Night,” covers of Chaka Kahn’s “I’m Every Woman” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” and original tunes “Run to You” and “I Have Nothing”—which were nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards.

Cox has experience with Whitney’s songbook, having provided vocals for actress Vaya DaCosta in the title role of Whitney, a made-for-television biographical movie that Angela Bassett directed for Lifetime in 2015.

In addition, Cox sparred vocally with Whitney on the 2000 single “Same Script, Different Cast,” which also appeared on that year’s compilation album Whitney: The Greatest Hits (along with Whitney and the late George Michael singing a duet of Whitney’s 1998 track “If I Told You That”).

Cox’s biggest hit, 1998’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” sits at No. 5 on Billboard’s 2017 list of “greatest of all-time hot R&B/hip-hop songs,” one notch above Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Cox was only 12 when she began singing on TV commercials, and she wasn’t much older when she discovered the prejudice and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community. “Early on—I would say when I was 14—my mother told me about a same-sex marriage she attended, and how it was the nicest ceremony,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Oh, okay,’ but she told me that some people wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I remember being very curious from that moment on, why someone would be opposed
to two people who love each other making that commitment.”

Cox, who lives with her family in Miami, was being honored at National Pride Day in Philadelphia when news of the Pulse massacre hit last June. “We paid homage to the people that were killed, and since then, I’ve done a lot of reflection about putting out more positivity,” she says. “Once we help people understand that we only have each other, there is no room for animosity. Unfortunately, that is a hard lesson to teach. People must learn to accept each other, but also to be loving and inclusive.”

By “being very aware and open,” Cox says her own understanding has evolved, including a recognition of the plight of transgender people.

In May, Cox met trans teen activist Jazz Jennings when the star of The Learning Channel’s reality series I Am Jazz received the Harvey Milk Foundation’s Milan Rozsa Award at Diversity Honors in Fort Lauderdale. “I told her we are all rooting for her. We are fighting the same fight,” says Cox, who was also honored at the event. “I don’t understand how anyone can condemn her or judge her. God created all of us. There are no mistakes.”

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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