Palm Springs goes full Miami — and totally Whitney — in a winter gala that promises to turn heads and spark some dance moves. But with the Mizell Senior Center’s 14th annual Stars Among Us Gala, the swank fundraising event will also boost awareness on local homebound seniors in need and offer accolades to locals who make a difference.
The outing recreates the elegance of the famed Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach when it comes to life Feb. 22 at the Palm Springs Air Museum. It’s a divine opportunity to relish the music of Whitney Houston, too. The soiree is dubbed “I Will Always Love You” and celebrates Houston’s music canon with headliner Deborah Cox in the spotlight.
Presented by Eisenhower Health and Patti and Jack Grundhofer, proceeds from the event benefit Mizell’s valley-wide Meal On Wheels program.
The Desert Healthcare District garnered this year’s Shining Star Award for its steadfast dedication to and partnership with the center for more than 20 years; Dr. Les Zendle will accept that honor. Longtime Executive Director Ginny Foat receives the coveted Galaxy Award upon the announcement of her upcoming March retirement. The award honors Foat’s exceptional leadership, expertise, and seemingly endless determination to fuel Mizell’s future with a strong vision.
Meanwhile, Cox fits nicely into this celebratory mix.
The Canadian-born superstar and LGBTQ ally started as a background singer for Celine Dion and went on to birth a long list of No. 1 Billboard hit records, including 13 No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart. Grammy nominations entered the mix along the way.
Most recently, the R&B/pop artist stunned Broadway audiences with her role as Rachel Maron on stage in The Bodyguard — Houston originated the role on film. Cox is also developing her own stage show.
Cox shares more about Houston’s mystique as well as her own love for performing with Palm Springs Life.
You collaborated with Whitney Houston on Same Script, Different Cast in 2000. You also took on a role she originated in The Bodyguard. How do you feel about performing her work here?
It’s always a thrill when I get an opportunity to perform her work, and it takes on a personal element for me because it’s all the music I grew up with. For me, it’s like an homage to the person who set the tone and raised the bar and who braved through all the crazy ridicule. So, in some ways, it’s a way for me to preserve the music she left behind. Her music left an imprint on the hearts and minds of people so this will be a night full of that, where we get to reminisce, celebrate, and enjoy the legacy and the impact she made.
How did Houston influence you?
The level of her God-given talent was undeniable. When you think back to those records, or you listen to them, or watch her live performances, they show that she could feel so many emotions. I don’t know if you can teach that. It just has to be in you. And if you’re a giving artist like she was, that’s your way of learning.
When did you, personally, know you wanted to be a performer?
At a very early age. As early as 5 or 6. I saw myself on a huge platform or stage and having a reach in the world where I could communicate through music. I always knew that. I never knew how I was going to go about it. I just knew I had a passion for it. My mother recognized that as well. She saw the determination, and that led her to be a huge supporter.
What happens for you when you are in that creative zone — singing, performing?
For me, I let my guard down and allow myself to have some fun. That’s when my best performances come out. The worst ones come out when I am really rigid and guarded. It’s about letting go and not letting anything inhibit the “fun” part of it. When you let go and turn into that kid with wonder, you have no boundaries. I think that’s the secret to being in it for this long. I think the minute I stop having fun, that’s when I’ll be done.
What are one or two things that have helped you move through success gracefully?
Having a real good support system, and with my husband realizing that it takes balance. I remember recording with Whitney. Both her and Bobby [Brown] and my husband and I were in the studio. We’d be talking and she said, “When are you guys going to have kids?” I was working on my third album at the time and she went on, telling me, “Now is the time. Seize the moment. Don’t wait for whatever it is you’re waiting for.” I knew that if I wanted to be a mother that I had to create balance.
What do you love most about performing now?
A lot of people say that my music has been their soundtrack. When I get their backstory — how they met their partner or when they came out — those are the stories that really resonate with me and keep me motivated to do more. So, I would have to say, what I love most is when I get to really connect with the audience.
The 14th annual Mizell Senior Center’s Stars Among Us Gala takes place at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 22, at Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs. Tickets can be purchased online at mizell.org or by calling 760-323-5689, ext. 108. For more on Deborah Cox, visit deborahcox.com.