Gone But Not Forgotten: Whitney Houston
August 9, 1963 - February 11, 2012
Whitney Houston was unarguably one of the biggest female pop stars of all time, and this incredible vocalist's accomplishments as a hitmaker were nothing less than extraordinary.
Model, singer, actress, producer, and mother, Whitney Houston was cited as the most awarded female act of all time by the Guiness Book of World Records in 2009. Often known as "The Voice," her voice was mezzo-soprano and spanned almost 5 octaves at her peak, up to the high B-flat and treble F. Her 7 studio albums and 2 soundtracks led to about 170-200 million records sold worldwide. Whitney helped pave the way for more African-American female artists to break through and get more visibility in the mainstream, on MTV, on magazine covers as a model, and more.
Born in Newark, NJ to gospel singer Cissy Houston and father John Russell Houston, Whitney has an older brother Michael, who is a singer, and a half-brother - Gary Garland, a basketball player. Whitney sang in her junior gospel choir and started soloing around age 11. She learned piano at church, and continued to learn to sing from her mother through high school. When her mother performed in nightclubs, Whitney spent some time with her and occasionally performed on stage with her. At the young age of 14, Whitney sang backup for Michael Zager Band's "Life's a Party" and the next year, 1978, she sang backup vocals for Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls.
Whitney Houston's modeling career got its start when a photographer saw her perform at Carnegie Hall with her mother Cissy Houston. Whitney then started appearing in Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Young Miss (YM), and in commercials. During her modeling career, Whitney also worked with music producers and recorded a few songs with various groups. Mother Cissy Houston insisted that Whitney finish high school before being signed to a recording label and declined any offers she received until 1983. Whitney Houston signed with Arista in 1983 and started working on a duet with Teddy Pendergrass called "Hold Me" which was released in 1984 and became a Top 5 R&B hit.
Whitney Houston's debut album, Whitney Houston, was released in February 1985 with Jermaine Jackson, Kashif, Michael Masser and Narada Michael Walden contributing as producers. "You Give Good Love" hit #1 on the R&B chart and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Houston toured to promote the album, did the late night talk show circuit and the sales continued as "Saving All My Love for You" was released and hit #1 in the US and UK. "How Will I Know" also rose to #1 and the video got lots of play on MTV. The album Whitney Houston slowly made its way to the top of the Billboard 200 albums and stayed there for 14 weeks, capped off by her remake of George Benson's "Greatest Love of All" which also stayed on the Hot 100 chart as #1 for three weeks. Houston took home a Grammy and an Emmy from the album, as well as seven American Music Awards and an MTV Music Awards.
Whitney Houston's breakout success from her debut album helped open the doors for more African-American women to rise to the top of the pop charts and get mainstream recognition, like Janet Jackson and others who followed. The second album, Whitney debuted at #1 on the Hot 200 Albums chart and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" started a chain reaction of singles from the album that would go #1 - for seven consecutive #1 singles, and 4 from that album. Whitney was 9x platinum certified and sold 20 million copies worldwide. She took home another Grammy, two American Music Awards and a Soul Train Music Award as a result.
Houston formed the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children in 1989, which helps raise funds for children's issues such as homelessness, cancer, AIDS, and self-empowering children. She also supported Nelson Mandela and performed for his 70th birthday at Wembley Stadium and later when he won the presidential election in South Africa. Whitney also served as a spokesperson for youth leadership in Washington, D.C. and spoke with former President George H.W. Bush about challenges of young people. Houston has performed many concerts for charities and military service people.
In the early 1990s, Whitney Houston decided to update her sound a little bit and worked with LA Reid, Babyface, Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder to put out I'm Your Baby Tonight. That paid off with several hits, "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "All the Man That I Need" - hitting #3 on the Billboard 200 while going 4x platinum. Houston also recorded a version of the Star Spangled Banner which was released as a fundraiser for both the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund in 1991 as well as for the firefighters and victims of 9/11 attacks in 2001.
At the height of her fame, Whitney Houston was pursued for acting roles and eventually decided to take up on those offers with her role in The Bodyguard in 1992. The song "I Will Always Love You," a cover of Dolly Parton's 1974 song, was released as part of the soundtack and became known as one of Whitney Houston's defining performances. The single went 4x platinum, rode the #1 spot on the Billboard 100 chart for 14 weeks, and the R&B #1 spot for 11 weeks. It is among the Top Selling Songs of All-Time and the first by a woman to hit 20 million copies sold. Houston also became the first woman to have three singles in the Top 11 at the same time when her cover of Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" and "I Have Nothing" were released later that year. 1994 was a cleanup year for Houston - she took home 3 Grammy Awards including Album of the Year and Record of the Year, 11 Billboard Music Awards, 8 American Music Awards including Award of Merit, 5 NAACP Image Awards which included Entertainer of the Year, 5 World Music Awards, and a BRIT Award.
Whitney continued her acting career with 1995's Waiting to Exhale and 1996's The Preacher's Wife. Houston worked on the soundtrack with Mervyn Warren, duetting with gospel singer Shirley Caesar, and co-producing the album to positive reviews and six-million copies sold. Whitney joined up with VH-1 for Divas Live '99 and performed with Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige, Cher and Brandy. She formed a production company known as BrownHouse Productions and hired Debra Martin Chase to create film and television works that would create roles for African-Americans and show their lives.
In 1998, Whitney Houston returned her focus to music with a critically acclaimed album My Love Is Your Love which included a duet with Mariah Carey, as well as a track with Faith Evans and Kelly Price.
Romantically, Whitney Houston was involved with Eddie Murphy, Randall Cunningham, and Bobby Brown, whom she married in 1992. Brown and Houston had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in 1993. Bobby and Whitney's relationship would get complicated later, with Brown getting arrested and rumors of drug use started increasing. Both were discovered with marijuana in their luggage at an airport in 2000. Houston was often late for appearances and sometimes didn't show up to performances. Burt Bacharach fired her from performing at the Academy Awards. In 2002, Houston appeared on Diane Sawyer's show to promote an album and said "Crack is whack" but did not deny using other substances. Brown and Houston filed for divorce in 2006 and Houston received full custody of Bobbi Kristina with no spousal support for Bobby.
By 2009, Whitney continued releasing music but some of her performances were ridden with negative reviews from disappointed fans. In 2011, Whitney Houston started working on the movie Sparkle (which she acquired the rights to in 2001) with Jordin Sparks and Mike Epps. The movie came out on August 17th, a few months after Houston's death. Whitney Houston was found unresponsive on February 11, 2012, in Beverly Hills, CA. Her death was ruled as an accidental drug overdose. Her death hit her friends and colleagues hard, with many celebrities releasing statements and ex-husband Bobby stopping in the middle of his concert and crying, saying "I Love You, Whitney." The 43rd NAACP Image Awards honored Whitney Houston with a beautiful tribute. New Jersey State flags hung at half-staff on February 21st, 2012 in her honor.