LAS VEGAS – Along with gold records and number one songs, the secular music world can be synonymous with addiction.
R&B superstar Chaka Khan even called the industry “demonic” following the tragic death of her friend and fellow music icon, Whitney Houston.
“This machine around us, this so called music industry is such a demonic thing,” Khan told CNN’s Piers Morgan shortly after Houston’s death. “It sacrifices people’s lives.”
Gospel music legend Helen Baylor once sang backup for Chaka Khan. Baylor recently spoke with CBN News for an extended interview in Las Vegas at Xartis Studios, a new facility that shows young people how to use music to cope with mental and emotional challenges.
“When [Chaka] said that, I sat there in my bed and just said, somebody gets it,” Baylor said. “Somebody else gets it … there is a demonic component in the industry, fueled by greed, money.”
“People have no regard for anybody else, except for the bottom line, the money,” she said.
Baylor’s Broken Road
Baylor took on the demons of the secular music world and drug addiction in the early days of her career as a secular music performer. She shared the intimate details of her troubles, trials, and triumphs in her memoir, No Greater Love: The Helen Baylor Story.
Baylor is also at work with producers to turn that memoir into a feature film.
“My life has been something from the beginning,” Baylor said. “I don’t complain. I am not angry.”
Baylor was molested as a child, recorded her first single at age 13, became pregnant at 16, and was singing with Ike & Tina Turner on the Las Vegas strip by age 17.
At 17, her voice also landed her a job traveling the country in the musical “Hair.” She partied hard and then turned to pills to sleep, stay awake, and do her job.
She wrote about that time in her life, saying, “Finally, I made friends with cocaine. Everyone who needed drugs, even the 30-year-old players in the show learned to come to me at 17 and 18. They knew I always had a stash of marijuana or hash or something.”
“For the next 12 years, I was addicted,” Baylor recalled to CBN News. “Then I got delivered through the prayers of my grandmother.”
That deliverance testimony launched her now legendary career as a gospel artist. For more than 30 years, she has traveled the world sharing her story of survival.
Houston’s Tragic Example
Privately, she has also prayed for artists still struggling with addiction, like Whitney Houston. Houston lost her longtime battle with drug addiction in February. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office ruled Houston died of an accidental drowning caused by heart disease and chronic cocaine use.
“There are so many people hurting and they have got secrets,” Baylor said.
“Then when something like this happens to someone that we love so much, a woman that we never met, but we love her, a fallen comrade - when something like this happens, we can’t look the other way,” she said. “We have got to get it together.”
“We were praying for her. We were rooting for her. I remember once seeing her mom. We did a concert together and I asked her, ‘How is Whitney?’” Baylor recalled.
“And she didn’t make a big deal out of it or anything. But like a mother, she looked at me, mother to mother, and said, ‘Pray for my daughter.’”
“And I just could feel Cissy [Houston] all over, I could feel her,” she said.
Whitney Houston is among a growing list of iconic artists whose deaths have ties to drugs. Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Elvis Pressley, and Jimi Hendrix still make headlines.
Singer Nedra Talley Ross knew Jimi Hendrix before the drugs. He played guitar for her ground-breaking 1960s group, The Ronettes.
She credits God and family for being able to avoid the addictive pitfalls of the music industry.
“We didn’t have people wooing us because we were family-oriented. We partied with our family at my grandmothers,” Ross told CBN News. “So nobody did anything and it was a time when the fear of my mother was greater than the temptation that anybody could talk me into because she would kill me.”
“When you have the extreme success, it can be a downfall because you get people that are with you that don’t have your best,” she said. “They have a job.”
“You can get managers, you can get agents that say, ‘Keep going, keep going. Here, take this, this will keep you going,’” Ross explained. “You get those around you that will say that ‘If I get you on this, then that is my meal ticket.’”
Gospel Artists Beware
Those forces fuel the demonic elements to the secular music world. But after many years in the Christian music arena, Baylor cautions against the pressures and demands that are turning gospel artists into celebrities.