Given the events that have happened over the last week or so, I still can't quite believe that one of my ultimate musical heroes has passed away.
When I heard the news about Whitney, it made me really think about my musical influences growing up and the rich diet of music I was brought up on. I grew up surrounded by the Motown and Soul era, and I remember vividly listening to Al Green, The Stylistics, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Mariah, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and of course Whitney...
I remember listening to my first record at the age of five, it was a song by a group called Five Star and my sister used to make me listen to them. It was a group made up of all siblings and I used to love all of their music.
My absolute idols were the big three; Whitney, Mariah and Aretha... growing up though I learnt to appreciate all sorts of music and understand the musical 'tapestry', as it were.
I think it's important to dip your toe into all genres of music and discover all sorts of sounds, from classic right through to modern day music. During my teenage years I listened to the likes of Destiny's Child, Spice Girls and Eternal, so some of this delved more into the pop world, but there's always been an underlying tone of strong female vocalists and groups I think that underpin my influences.
My mum was in a group called Soul II Soul when I was growing up and this definitely had a strong influence over me and the way I interpreted music. I can remember watching my mum perform on Top of the Pops with Soul II Soul back in 1993, and that made me realise this is what I always wanted to do.
Mum would take me to open mic sessions and sneak me in through the back door, so whereas most people start off in a studio and then progress onto the stage - I did it vice versa! Talk about jumping in at the deep end! When I started going to the studio I was like... "errr where is the audience?" I crave feedback from an audience and look for their reactions, so to go into a studio and be in a booth with a pair of headphones on was a bit odd.
I can remember by first big performance and it was on Junior Star for a Night with Jane McDonald - it was broadcast on ITV1 and was my first TV performance. Another one that sticks in my mind was when I performed in Bahrain, in the Middle East when I was nine and I sang You Might Need Somebody with a full band - it's a Randy Crawford song that kind of became my anthem after that show.
Another stand out track that I class as one of my songs I grew up on is Make You Feel Good by Shalamar - the main guy is called Howard Hewett and I listen to a lot of his music.
There's so much good music to appreciate, I'm not sure if there's enough time in life to listen and appreciate it all... but I'm going to try my damned hardest!