Pop icon, R&B soul singer and actress Whitney Houston passed away February 11, a day before the 54th Grammy Awards, in Beverly Hills, California, at 48 years old.
Clive Davis, the music mogul that originally signed Houston to a recording contract, still held his annual pre-Grammy show on the day of her death, telling audience members, “Whitney was a beautiful person and a talent beyond compare. She graced this stage with her regal presence and gave so many memorable performances here over the years,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Houston’s memorial service took place this past Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey where her singing abilities first began to shine as a soloist of the junior gospel choir.
The funeral was invitation only, but was attended by celebrities like Davis, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and her Bodyguard co-star, Kevin Costner.
Houston leaves behind a legacy as a recording artist, being the only singer to have seven consecutive number one hits and the only female singer to have two albums reach multi-platinum in the same year, according to Recording Industry Association of America.
Her iconic hit “I Will Always Love You,” a Dolly Parton song featured in The Bodyguard, was called “one of the best vocals ever recorded” by Aaron Furgason, advisor to WMCX and music industry professor.
“The first thirty seconds is just her singing, When’s the last time a pop song did that, or a ballad did that? If you don’t have the voice, forget trying to do that. It’s just Whitney, it’s stunning. There’s so much emotion, you can hear her sigh at the beginning.”
Houston was born August 9, 1963 in Newark to a family of vocalists and performers. Her mother, Cissy Houston, was a gospel singer and performed backup vocals for Elvis Presley, while her cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick both had successful careers as recording artists.
Young Whitney was also introduced to her mother’s friend and original diva, Aretha Franklin, at a recording studio, which led many to dub Franklin as godmother to Houston, but Franklin told Al Roker on “Today” she was more of an “honorary aunt.”
“She was dealt a great hand as she was born with a wonderful voice, was surrounded by other great singers, had a great intelligence for making music and a work ethic that inspired a generation of singers,” said David Tripold, Chair of the Music and Theatre Arts Department at the University.
Houston’s family influenced and developed her singing abilities from a young age, singing in front of the public at the age of 11. When she was a teenager, she had recorded backup vocals for various acts, including pop star Chaka Khan. She was then discovered as a model after performing at Carnegie Hall with her mother. While appearing in magazines like Seventeen, Houston still pursued a singing career.
While singing with her mother once more, Houston caught the eye of an A & R representative from Arista Records, who they told Davis, Arista’s owner, to watch her perform. Immediately after seeing Houston sing, Davis signed her to an international recording contract.
In February 1985, Houston’s first album, Whitney Houston, was released to critical acclaim and slowly began to take over the Billboard charts. Yet, it wasn’t until the release of “How Will I Know” that Houston became a star, as the single skyrocketed to the top of the charts and the music video received heavy rotation on MTV. The single “Greatest Love of All” propelled Whitney Houston to the number one album for 14 nonconsecutive weeks.
Her second studio album, Whitney, was the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the charts. It featured the huge hit “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” which garnered Houston her second Grammy award. Nicole Vitale, station manager at WMCX, said Houston “was a staple in my household growing up.”
“My mom was an especially big fan; there were only two songs that really got her amped when she was driving in the car: ‘Last Dance’ by Donna Summer, and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston, of course,” Vitale said.
Houston gained huge acclaim after her performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the opening of Super Bowl XXV in 1990. The rendition was soon released as a single and turned the national anthem into a success.
In 1992, Houston starred alongside Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, a film about a superstar’s relationship with her bodyguard after receiving threats from a crazed fan. According to Costner at her funeral, he fought hard for Houston to be in the movie, even halting production for a year while she finished her world tour.
While the movie did very well at the box office, it received mixed reviews. However, the real success was The Bodyguard soundtrack featuring “I Will Always Love You” a song chosen by Costner. The soundtrack won Houston three Grammys, including Album of the Year.
“When I heard ‘I Will Always Love You’ for the first time, I was blown away. I was used to the gritty sounds of grunge bands and the dramatic wailing from the metal bands, so Whitney’s voice rang so pure that I was really taken aback,” said Vitale, a senior. “I thought to myself, ‘WOW. That’s one way to make an impact.”
Houston went on to star in other movies like Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife, and the madefor- TV movie Cinderella where she played the fairy godmother to Brandi’s Cinderella. Each movie gained Houston more success as an actress and as a singer. The track “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” appeared on Waiting to Exhale’s soundtrack, and she recorded with a gospel choir for The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack.
While Houston had a lot of success as a performer, some say her downfall began when she married R&B singer Bobby Brown in 1992. The marriage seemed perfectly fine with Houston giving birth to her daughter Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown in 1993. But years of trouble with the law for Brown and substance abuse issues tarnished Houston’s singing abilities and overall demeanor. Her public image was incredibly damaged with the reality TV show “Being Bobby Brown.” Her cause of death is still unknown, but many speculate drug abuse was in some way the cause.
“I think my last memory was of her acting erratic in a clip from ‘Being Bobby Brown’ I saw featured on ‘The Soup’ a couple of years ago, where she was parading around the house and screaming to Bobby, ‘Kiss my ASS!’” said Vitale. “I was hysterically laughing, but really, I and the world never really knew of the inner turmoil she had brewing inside.”
Houston has had a great influence on many of today’s performers, including Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce. In an eerie coincidence, on a “Glee” Valentine’s Day special, star Amber Riley did a rendition of “I Will Always Love You” days after the passing of Houston.
Houston will be appearing on the big screen once again, in the remake of Sparkle with “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks.
Still, many hold Houston close to their hearts and will always remember her great talent and the tragedy that unfolded before their eyes.
“I think that it’s a tragedy that a woman with so much talent, someone who could have gone above and beyond with her voice, chose to go down such a dark and unfortunate path,” said Britney Dupuis, sales director at WMCX.
PHOTO COURTESY of abc.net.au