A relative of several prominent soul singers, including her mother Cissy Houston, cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, and Godmother Aretha Franklin, Houston began singing at her New Jersey church as a member of a junior gospel choir at age eleven. After she began performing alongside her mother at night clubs in the New York City area, she was discovered by Arista Records label head Clive Davis. Houston has released six studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums throughout her career, all of which have had diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold certification.
Houston released her debut album Whitney Houston in 1985, which became the best-selling debut album by a female act at the time of its release. Her second studio album Whitney (1987) became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Houston's crossover appeal on the popular music charts as well as her prominence on MTV enabled several African-American female artists to follow in her success.
Houston appeared in her first starring role in the feature film The Bodyguard in 1992. The film's original soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Its lead single, "I Will Always Love You", became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. The album makes her the only female act ranked in the list of the world's Top 10 best-selling albums; at number four. Houston continued to star in feature films and contributed to soundtracks including Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher's Wife (1996). After the release of her fourth studio album My Love Is Your Love (1998), she renewed her recording contract with Arista Records in 2001. She subsequently released her fifth studio album, Just Whitney, the following year with a Christmas album, One Wish: The Holiday Album, being released in 2003. Amidst widespread media coverage of personal and professional turmoil, Houston ended her 14 year marriage to Bobby Brown in 2006. In 2009, Houston released her seventh studio album, I Look To You.
Whitney Houston was born in what was then a middle income neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, the third and youngest child of John and gospel singer Cissy Houston. She is of African American, Native American and Dutch descent. Her mother, along with cousins Dionne Warwick and the late Dee Dee Warwick and godmother Aretha Franklin were all notable figures in the gospel, rhythm and blues, pop, and soul genres. Houston was raised a Baptist, but was also exposed to the Pentecostal church. After the 1967 Newark riots, the family moved to a middle class area in East Orange, New Jersey when she was four.
At the age of eleven, Houston began to follow in her mother's footsteps and started performing as a soloist in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she also learned to play the piano. Her first solo performance in the church was "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah".
When Houston was a teenager, she attended a Catholic
single-sex high school, Mount Saint Dominic Academy, where she
met her best friend Robyn Crawford, whom she describes as the "sister she never had." While Houston was still in school, her mother continued to teach her how to
sing. In addition to her mother, Franklin, and Warwick, Houston
was also exposed to the music of Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and
Roberta Flack, most of whom would have an impact on her as a singer
Houston spent some of her teenage years touring nightclubs where her mother Cissy was performing, and she would occasionally get on stage and perform with her. In 1977, at age 14, she was a backup singer on the Michael Zager Band's single "Life's a Party". Zager subsequently offered to obtain a recording contract for the young singer, but Cissy declined, wanting her young daughter to finish school first. Then in 1978, at age 15, Houston sang background vocals on Chaka Khan's hit single "I'm Every Woman", a song she would later turn into a hit for herself on her monster-selling soundtrack album The Bodyguard. She also sang back-up on albums by Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson. In the early 1980s, Houston started working as a fashion model after a photographer saw her at Carnegie Hall singing with her mother. She appeared as a lead vocalist on a Paul Jabara album, entitled Paul Jabara and Friends: featuring The Weather Girls, Leata Galloway & Whitney Houston (Columbia Records, 1983). She appeared in Seventeen Magazine and became one of the first women of color to grace the cover of Seventeen magazine. She was also featured in layouts in the pages Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Young Miss and appeared in a Canada Dry soft drink TV commercial. Her striking looks and girl-next-door charm made her one of the most sought after teen models of that time. While modeling, she continued her burgeoning recording career by working with producers Ben Dover, Bill Laswell and Martin Bisi on an album they were spearheading called One Down, which was credited to the group Material. For that project, Houston contributed the ballad "Memories". Robert Christgau of The Village Voice called her contribution "one of the most gorgeous ballads you've ever heard".
Houston had previously been offered several recording agencies (Michael Zager in 1980 and Elektra Records in 1981). In 1983, Gerry Griffith, an A&R representative from Arista Records saw her performing with her mother in a New York City nightclub and was impressed. He convinced Arista's head Clive Davis to make time to see Houston perform. Davis too was impressed and offered a worldwide recording contract which Houston signed. Later that year, she made her national televised debut alongside Davis on The Merv Griffin Show.
Houston signed with Arista in 1983 but did not
begin work on her album immediately. The label wanted to make sure
no other label signed the singer away. Davis wanted to ensure he
had the right material and producers for Houston's debut album.
Some producers had to pass on the project due to prior commitments.
Houston first recorded a duet with Teddy Pendergrass entitled "Hold Me" which appeared on his album, Love Language. The single was released in 1984
and gave Houston her first taste of success, becoming a Top 5 R&B hit. It would also appear on her debut album in 1985.
With production from Michael Masser, Kashif, Jermaine Jackson and Narada Michael Walden, Houston's self-titled debut album was released in February 1985. Rolling Stone Magazine praised the new talent, calling her "one of the most exciting new voices in years" while The New York Times called the album "an impressive, musically conservative showcase for an exceptional vocal talent." The first single, the dance-funk "Someone For Me", failed to chart in the US and UK. The next single, "Thinking About You", reached the top ten of the US R&B Chart, as the album sold modestly. The release of the next single, the soulful ballad "You Give Good Love", peaked at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and went to #1 on the R&B Charts. As a result, the album began to sell strongly, and Houston continued promoting the album by touring nightclubs in the US. She also began performing on late-night television talk shows, which was not usually accessible to black acts. The jazzy ballad "Saving All My Love for You" was released next and it would become Houston's first #1 hit single in both the US and the UK. She was now an opening act for singer Jeffrey Osborne on his nationwide tour. At the time, MTV had received harsh criticism for not playing enough videos by African-American artists while favoring rock acts. The next single, "How Will I Know", peaked at #1 and introduced Houston to the MTV audience thanks to its video. This would make the singer the first African-American female artists to receive heavy rotation on the network. By 1986, a year after its initial release, Whitney Houston topped the Billboard 200 album chart and stayed there for 14 non-consecutive weeks. The final single, "Greatest Love of All", became Houston's biggest hit at the time after peaking #1 and remaining there for three weeks. At the time, Houston released the best-selling debut album by a female artist. Houston then embarked on her world tour, Greatest Love Tour. The album had become an international success, and was certified 13x Platinum (diamond) in the United States alone, and has sold a total of 25 million copies worldwide.
At the 1986 Grammy Awards, Houston was nominated
for three awards including Album of the Year. She was ineligible
for the Best New Artist category due to her previous duet recording
with Teddy Pendergrass in 1984. She won her first Grammy award
for 'Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female' for "Saving All My Love for You". At the same award show, she performed that Grammy-winning hit; that performance
later winning her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance
in a Variety or Music Program. Houston won seven American Music
Awards in total in 1986 and 1987, and an MTV Video Music Award.
The album's popularity would also carry over to the 1987 Grammy
Awards when "Greatest Love of All" would receive a Record of the Year nomination. Houston's debut album is currently
listed as one of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
and on The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame's Definitive 200 list. Whitney Houston's grand entrance
into the music industry is considered one of the 25 musical milestones
of the last 25 years, according to USA Today. Following Houston's
breakthrough, doors were opened for other African-American female
artists such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker to find notable success
in popular music and on MTV.
Houston’s second album, Whitney, was released in June 1987. The album again featured production from Masser, Kashif and Walden as well as Jellybean Benitez. Many critics complained that the material was too similar to her previous album. Rolling Stone said, "the narrow channel through which this talent has been directed is frustrating." Still, the album was an enormous success. Houston became the first female artist in music history to debut at number one on the US and UK album chart while also hitting number one or top ten in dozens of other countries around the world. The album's first four singles, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)", "Didn't We Almost Have It All", "So Emotional", and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" all peaked at number one on the US Hot 100, which gave her a total of seven consecutive number one hits, breaking the record of six previously shared by The Beatles and The Bee Gees. The album's fifth, and final single, "Love Will Save the Day" also became a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100. Whitney has been certified 9x Platinum in the US for shipments of over 9 million copies, and has sold a total of 20 million copies worldwide.
At the Grammy Awards in 1988, Houston was nominated for three awards, including Album of the Year, winning her second Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)". Also Houston won two American Music Awards in 1988 and 1989 respectively. Following the release of the album, Houston embarked on the Moment of Truth World Tour which was one of the ten highest grossing concert tours of 1987. The success of the tour and her albums ranked Houston #8 for the highest earning entertainers list according to Forbes Magazine. She was the highest earning African-American woman and the third highest entertainer after Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy. The list included her concert grosses during 1986 and 1987.
Houston was a supporter of Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. During her modeling days, the singer refused to work with any agencies who did business with the then-apartheid South Africa. In June 1988, during the European leg of her tour, Houston joined other musicians to perform a set at Wembley Stadium in London to celebrate a then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Over 72,000 people attended Wembley Stadium, and over a billion people tuned in worldwide as the rock concert raised over $1 million for charities while bringing awareness to apartheid. Houston then flew back to the US for a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City in August. The show was a benefit concert that raised a quarter of a million dollars for the United Negro College Fund. In the same year, she recorded a song for NBC's coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics, "One Moment in Time", which became a Top 5 hit in the US, while reaching number one in the UK and Germany. With her current world tour continuing overseas, Houston was still one of the top 20 highest earning entertainers for 1987–1988 according to Forbes Magazine.
In 1989, Houston formed The Whitney Houston Foundation For Children, a non-profit organization that has raised funds for the needs of children around the world. The organization cares for homelessness, children with cancer or AIDS, and other issues of self-empowerment. With the success of her first two albums, Houston was undoubtedly an international crossover superstar, the most prominent since Michael Jackson, appealing to all demographics. However, some black critics believed she was "selling out". They felt her singing on record lacked the soul that was present during her live concerts. At the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards, when Houston's name was called out for a nomination, a few in the audience jeered. Houston defended herself against the criticism, stating, "If you're gonna have a long career, there's a certain way to do it, and I did it that way. I'm not ashamed of it." Still, Houston took a more urban direction with her third studio album, I'm Your Baby Tonight, released in November 1990. She produced and chose producers for this album and as a result, it featured production and collaborations with L.A. Reid and Babyface, Luther Vandross, and Stevie Wonder. The album showed Houston's versatility on a new batch of tough rhythmic grooves, soulful ballads and up-tempo dance tracks. Reviews were mixed. Rolling Stone felt it was her "best and most integrated album". while Entertainment Weekly, at the time thought Houston's shift towards an urban direction was "superficial". The album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and went on to be certified four times platinum in America while selling twelve million total worldwide. The first two singles, the new jack swing "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and the gospel-tinged "All The Man That I Need", each hit number one on both the US Hot 100 and US R&B singles charts. The third and fourth singles, "Miracle"; and "My Name Is Not Susan" peaked at numbers nine and twenty, respectively. A fifth single, "I Belong to You", peaked in the Top 10 on the R&B charts, while yet a sixth single, the duet with Stevie Wonder entitled, "We Didn't Know", made the R&B Top 20.
With America at war, Houston performed "The
Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV in January 1991. VH1 listed the performance as the 12th
greatest moment that rocked TV. Her recording of the song was
released as a commercial single, and reached the Top 20 on the
US Hot 100, making her the only act to turn the national anthem
into a pop hit of that magnitude (Jose Feliciano's version reached
#50 in November 1968). Houston donated all her share of the
proceeds to the Red Cross. As a result, the singer was named
to the Red Cross Board of Governors. Later that year, Houston
put together her Welcome Home Heroes concert with HBO for the soldiers
fighting in the Gulf War and their families. The free concert took
place at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia in front of
3,500 servicemen and women. HBO descrambled the concert so that
it was free for everyone to watch. Houston's concert gave HBO
its highest ratings ever. She then embarked on the I'm Your
Baby Tonight World Tour.
Throughout the 1980s, Houston was romantically linked to American football star Randall Cunningham and actor Eddie Murphy, whom she dated. She then met R&B singer Bobby Brown (formerly of New Edition) at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards. After a three year courtship, the two were married on July 18, 1992. Nearly a year later, Houston gave birth to their daughter Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, her first and only child, his fourth, on March 4. Brown would go on to have several run-ins with the law, including some jail time. With the huge successes of her albums, movie offers poured in, including offers to work with Robert De Niro, Quincy Jones, and Spike Lee; but Houston felt the time wasn't right. Houston’s first film role was in The Bodyguard, released in 1992 and co-starring Kevin Costner. Houston plays Rachel Marron, a star who is stalked by a crazed fan and hires a bodyguard to protect her. USA Today listed it as one of the 25 most memorable movie moments of the last 25 years. The movie is also notable for not mentioning or needing to explain its interracial aspect. Houston's mainstream appeal allowed people to look at the movie color-blind. Still, controversy arose as some felt the film's ads intentionally hid Houston's face to hide the film's interracial aspect. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1993, the singer commented that "people know who Whitney Houston is—I'm black. You can't hide that fact." Houston received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actress. The Washington Post said Houston is "doing nothing more than playing Houston, comes out largely unscathed if that is possible in so cockamamie an undertaking", and The New York Times said she lacked passion with her co-star. Despite the film's mixed reviews, it was hugely successful at the box office, grossing more than $121 million in the U.S. and $410 million worldwide, making it one of the top 100 grossing films in film history at its time of release, though it is no longer in the top 100.
The film's soundtrack was also a worldwide success. Houston executive produced and contributed six songs for the motion picture's adjoining soundtrack album. It featured production from David Foster. Entertainment Weekly said the two cover songs are "artistically satisfying". Rolling Stone said it is "nothing more than pleasant, tasteful and urbane". The soundtrack's lead single was "I Will Always Love You", written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton in 1974. Some, including Foster and radio programmers, were skeptical that the song would fare well on radio due to Houston's a capella intro. Still, the record company took the risk and released it as the first single and it became a massive global hit. The single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for a then-record-breaking 14 weeks, number one on the R&B chart for a then-record-breaking 11 weeks, and number one on the Adult Contemporary charts for five weeks, thus becoming the first single to top those three charts simultaneously for five weeks. The song also hit number-one in nearly every other country worldwide. The soundtrack debuted at #1 and remained there for twenty non-consecutive weeks and became one of the fastest selling albums ever. At one point the soundtrack sold over a million copies within a week, becoming the first album to do so. With the follow-up singles "I'm Every Woman", a Chaka Khan cover, and "I Have Nothing" both peaking in the top five, Houston became the first female artist to ever have three singles in the Top 20 simultaneously. The album was certified 17× platinum in the United States with worldwide sales of 42 million, making "The Bodyguard" the only album by a female act on the list of the world's Top 10 best-selling albums. Houston won three Grammys for the album, including two of the Academy's highest honors, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. In addition, she won eight American Music Awards at that year's ceremony, including the Award of Merit, and a BRIT award. Following the success of the project, Houston embarked on another expansive global tour in 1993 and 1994. Her concerts, movie, and recording grosses made her the third highest earning female entertainer of 1993–1994, just behind Oprah Winfrey and Barbra Streisand according to Forbes Magazine. Houston placed in the top five of Entertainment Weekly's annual "Entertainer of the Year" ranking  and was labeled by Premier Magazine as one of the 100 most powerful people in Hollywood.
In October 1994, Houston attended and performed
at a state dinner in the White House honoring newly elected South
African president Nelson Mandela. At the end of her world tour,
Houston performed three concerts in South Africa to honor President
Mandela, playing to over 200,000 people. This would make the singer
the first major musician to visit the newly unified and apartheid
free nation following Mandela's winning election. The concert
was broadcast live on HBO with funds of the concerts being donated
to various charities in South Africa. The event was considered
the nation's "biggest media event since the inauguration of Nelson Mandela."
In 1995, Houston starred alongside Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon in her second film Waiting to Exhale, a motion picture about four African-American women struggling with relationships. Houston plays the lead character Savannah Jackson, a TV producer in love with a married man. She chose the role because she saw the film as "a breakthrough for the image of black women because it presents them both as professionals and as caring mothers". After opening at number one and grossing $67 million in the US at the box office and $81 million worldwide, it proved that a movie primarily targeting a black audience can cross over to success, while paving the way for other all-black movies such as How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the Tyler Perry movies that have become popular in the 2000s. The film is also notable for its portrayal of black women as strong middle class citizens as opposed to stereotypes. The reviews were mainly positive for the ensemble cast. The New York Times said "Ms. Houston has shed the defensive hauteur that made her portrayal of a pop star in 'The Bodyguard' seem so distant." Houston was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Actress In A Motion Picture," but lost to her co-star Bassett.
Like Houston's previous project, the film's accompanying soundtrack was also a huge hit. Houston co-produced, with Babyface, the soundtrack, Waiting to Exhale: Original Soundtrack Album. Though Babyface originally wanted Houston to record the entire album, she declined. Instead, she "wanted it to be an album of women with vocal distinction", and thus gathered several African-American female artists for the soundtrack, to go along with the film's strong women message. As a result, the album featured a range of contemporary R&B female recording artists along with Houston, such as Mary J Blige, Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Patti Labelle, and Brandy. Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" peaked at #1, and then spent a record eleven weeks at the #2 spot and eight weeks on top of the R&B Charts. "Count On Me", a duet with CeCe Winans, hit the US Top 10; and Houston's third contribution, "Why Does It Hurt So Bad", made the Top 30. The album debuted at #1, and was certified 7× Platinum in the United States, denoting shipments of seven million copies. The soundtrack received strong reviews. Entertainment Weekly said "the album goes down easy, just as you'd expect from a package framed by Whitney Houston tracks.... the soundtrack waits to exhale, hovering in sensuous suspense" and has since ranked it as one of the 100 Best Movie Soundtracks. Newsday called it "the most significant R&B record of the decade." Later that year, Houston's children's charity organization was awarded a VH1 Honor for all the charitable work
In 1996, Houston starred in the holiday comedy The Preacher's Wife, with Denzel Washington. She plays a gospel-singing wife of a pastor (Courtney B. Vance). Houston earned $10 million for the role, making her one of the highest paid actress in Hollywood at the time and the highest earning African American actress in Hollywood. The movie, with its all African-American cast, was a moderate success, earning approximately $50 million at the U.S. box offices. The movie gave Houston her strongest reviews so far. The San Francisco Chronicle said Houston "is rather angelic herself, displaying a divine talent for being virtuous and flirtatious at the same time" and that she "exudes gentle yet spirited warmth, especially when praising the Lord in her gorgeous singing voice." Houston was again nominated for an NAACP Image Award and won for Outstanding Actress In A Motion Picture.
Houston recorded and co-produced, with Mervyn Warren, the film's accompanying gospel soundtrack. The Preacher's Wife: Original Soundtrack Album included six gospel songs with Georgia Mass Choir that were recorded at the Great Star Rising Baptist Church in Atlanta. Houston also duetted with gospel legend Shirley Caesar. The album sold six million copies worldwide and scored hit singles with "I Believe in You and Me" and "Step by Step", becoming the largest selling gospel album of all time. The album received mainly positive reviews. Some critics, like USA Today, noted the presence of her emotional depth, while The UK Times said "To hear Houston going at full throttle with the 35 piece Georgia Mass Choir struggling to keep up is to realise what her phenomenal voice was made for."
In 1997, Houston's production company changed its name to BrownHouse Productions and was joined by Debra Martin Chase. Their goal was "to show aspects of the lives of African-Americans that have not been brought to the screen before" while improving how African-Americans are portrayed in film and television. Their first project was a made-for-television remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. In addition to co-producing, Houston starred in the movie as the Fairy Godmother along with Brandy, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bernadette Peters. Houston was initially offered the role of Cinderella in 1993, but other projects intervened. The film is notable for its multi-racial cast and nonstereotypical message. An estimated 60 million viewers tuned into the special giving ABC its highest TV ratings in 16 years. The movie received seven Emmy nominations including Outstanding Variety, Musical or Comedy, while winning Outstanding Art Direction in a Variety, Musical or Comedy Special.
Houston and Chase then obtained the rights to
the story of Dorothy Dandridge. Houston was to play Dandridge,
who was the first African American actress to be nominated for
an Oscar. She wanted the story told with dignity and honor.
However, Halle Berry also had rights to the project and she got
her version going first. Later that year, Houston paid tribute
to her idols such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and Billie Holliday
by performing their hits during the three-night HBO Concert Classic
Whitney, live from Washington, D.C. The special raised over $300,000
for the Children's Defense Fund.
After spending much of the early and mid 1990s working on motion pictures and their adjacent soundtrack albums, Houston's first studio album in eight years, the critically acclaimed My Love Is Your Love, was released in November 1998. Though originally slated to be a greatest hits album with a handful of new songs, recording sessions were so fruitful that a new full-length studio album was released. Recorded and mixed in only six weeks, it featured production from Rodney Jerkins, Wyclef Jean and Missy Elliott. The album debuted at number thirteen in the US. It had a funkier and edgier sound than past releases and saw Houston handling urban dance, hip hop, mid-tempo R&B, reggae, torch songs, and ballads all with great dexterity. The album featured several hit singles: "When You Believe" (US #15, UK #4), a duet with Mariah Carey for 1998s The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, it also became an international hit as it peaked in the Top 10 in several countries and won an Academy Award; "Heartbreak Hotel" (US #2, UK# 25) featured Faith Evans and Kelly Price, and number one on the US R&B chart for seven weeks; "It's Not Right But It's Okay" (US #4, UK #3) won Houston her sixth Grammy Award; "My Love Is Your Love" (US #4, UK #2); and "I Learned from the Best" (US #27, UK #19). These singles became international hits as well, and all the singles, except "When You Believe", became number one hits on the U.S. Dance/Clubplay Chart. The album sold four million copies in America (4x platinum) and a total of eleven million worldwide. The album gave Houston some of her strongest reviews ever. Rolling Stone said Houston was singing "with a bite in her voice" and The Village Voice called it "Whitney's sharpest and most satisfying so far". In 1999, Houston participated in VH-1's Divas’ Live '99, alongside Mary J. Blige, Tina Turner, and Cher. The same year, Houston hit the road with her 70 date My Love Is Your Love worldwide tour. The European leg was Europe's highest grossing arena tour of the year.
In May 2000, Whitney: The Greatest Hits was released.
The double disc set peaked at number five in the United States
and reached number one in the United Kingdom. While ballad songs
were left unchanged, the album is notable for featuring house/club
remixes of many of Houston's up-tempo hits, in place of their original
version. Also included on the album were four new songs: "Could I Have This Kiss Forever" (a duet with Enrique Iglesias), "Same Script, Different Cast" (a duet with Deborah Cox), "If I Told You That" (a duet with George Michael), and "Fine", none of which landed in the American Top 40, but were hits in the UK and several
other countries. Along with the album, an accompanying DVD was
released featuring the music videos to Houston's greatest hits.
The greatest hits album was certified triple platinum in the US,
with worldwide sales of ten million. Houston and Chase, along with
Warner Brothers, were then set to produce a remake of the 1976
film Sparkle about a 1960s singing group of three sisters in Harlem.
Aaliyah, who was to star in the remake, was killed in a plane crash
in 2001 before production began.
Though Houston was seen as a "good girl" with a perfect image in the '80s and early '90s, during the late '90s her behavior changed. She was often hours late for interviews, photo shoots and rehearsals, and canceling concerts and talk-show appearances. With the missed performances and weight loss, rumors about Houston using drugs with her husband circulated. On January 11, 2000, airport security guards discovered marijuana in both Houston's and husband Bobby Brown's luggage at a Hawaii airport, but the two boarded the plane and departed before authorities could arrive. Charges were later dropped against her and Brown, but rumors of drug usage between the couple would continue to surface. Two months later, Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Houston had been scheduled to perform at the event, but did not attend. Shortly thereafter, Houston was scheduled to perform at the Academy Awards but was fired from the event by musical director and long time friend Burt Bacharach. Though her publicist cited throat problems as the reason for the cancellation, many speculated it was drugs. In his book The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards, author Steve Pond revealed that "Houston's voice was shaky, she seemed distracted and jittery, and her attitude was casual, almost defiant," and that while Houston was to sing "Over the Rainbow", she would start singing a different song. Houston later admitted to having been fired. Later that year, Houston's long-time executive assistant and friend, Robyn Crawford, resigned from Houston's management company.
In August 2001, Houston signed the biggest record deal in music history with Arista/BMG. She renewed her contract for $100 million to deliver six new albums, on which she would also earn royalties. She later made an appearance on Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special. Her extremely thin frame further spurred rumors of drug use. Houston's publicist said, "Whitney has been under stress due to family matters, and when she is under stress she doesn't eat." The singer was scheduled for a second performance the following night but canceled. Within weeks, Houston's rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" would be re-released after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The song peaked at #6 this time on the US Hot 100, topping its previous position. Houston donated her portion of the proceeds.
In 2002, Houston became involved in a legal dispute with John Houston Enterprise. Although the company was started by her father to manage her career, it was now actually run by company president Kevin Skinner. Skinner filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit and sued for $100 million (but lost), stating that Houston owed the company previously unpaid compensation for helping to negotiate her $100 million contract with Arista Records and for sorting out legal matters. Houston stated that her 81-year-old father had nothing to do with the lawsuit. Although Skinner tried to claim otherwise, John Houston never appeared in court. Houston's father later died in February 2003. The lawsuit was dismissed on April 5, 2004, and Skinner was awarded nothing.
Also in 2002, Houston did an interview with Diane Sawyer to promote her then-upcoming album. The interview was the highest-rated television interview in history. During the prime-time special, Houston spoke on topics including rumored drug use and marriage. She was asked about the ongoing drug rumors and replied, "First of all, let's get one thing straight. Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight. Okay? We don't do crack. We don't do that. Crack is wack." The line would become infamous. Houston did, however, admit to using other substances at times.
In December 2002, Houston released her fifth studio album, Just Whitney.... The album included productions from then-husband Bobby Brown, as well as Missy Elliott and Babyface, and marked the first time Houston did not produce with Clive Davis as Davis had been released by top management at BMG. The company had a then-policy of releasing executives once executives reached a certain age. (BMG would later hire Davis back to oversee several record labels as CEO of RCA Music Group). Upon its release, Just Whitney... received mixed reviews. Some reviews from publications were positive, but Rolling Stone said the album "only shows an artist vainly trying to reach for her future," while The San Francisco Chronicle said the album did "show signs of life, but not enough to declare a resurrection." The album debuted at #9 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart and it had the highest first week sales of any album Houston had ever released. However, the singles struggled on the charts. "Whatchulookinat", "One of Those Days", and "Try It on My Own" didn't reach the Top 40, but the singles performed somewhat better on the R&B Chart. All singles, including the song "Love That Man", would become hits on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart, with the latter three reaching number one on that chart. Just Whitney... was certified platinum in the United States, and sold approximately three million worldwide.
In late 2003, Houston released her first Christmas album One Wish: The Holiday Album, with a song listing of traditional holiday songs. Houston produced the album with Mervyn Warren and Gordon Chambers. The album received positive reviews. The New York Times praised her "lavish swoops, the sultry whispers, the gospelly asides and the meteoric crescendos." USA Today also gave the album a positive review, stating, "she finds satisfying ways to bring new life to old classics." The single "One Wish (for Christmas)" reached the Top 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and the album was certified gold in the US.
Houston, having always been a touring artist, spent most of 2004 touring and performing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Russia. In September 2004, she gave a surprise performance at the World Music Awards, in tribute to long time friend Clive Davis. Houston received a standing ovation for her performance. After the show, Davis and Houston announced plans to go into studio to work on her new album.
In early 2004, husband Bobby Brown starred in
his own reality TV program, Being Bobby Brown (on the Bravo network),
which provided a view into the domestic goings-on in the Brown
household. Though it was Brown's vehicle, Houston was a prominent
figure throughout the show, receiving as much screen time as Brown.
The series aired in 2005 and featured Houston in, what some would
say, not her most flattering moments. The Hollywood Reporter said
it was "undoubtedly the most disgusting and execrable series ever to ooze its way onto
television." Despite the perceived train-wreck nature of the show, the series gave Bravo
its highest ratings in its time slot and continued Houston's successful
forays into film and television. The show was not renewed
for a second season after Houston stated she would no longer appear
in it, and Brown and Bravo could not come to an agreement for another
After years of controversy and turmoil, Houston separated from Bobby Brown in September 2006, filing for divorce the next month. On February 1, 2007, Houston asked the court to fast track their divorce. The divorce was finalized on April 24, 2007, with Houston granted custody of the couple's daughter. Less than a month later, Brown sued Houston in Orange County, California court in an attempt to change the terms of their custody agreement. Brown also sought child and spousal support from Houston. In the lawsuit, Brown claimed that financial and emotional problems prevented him from properly responding to Houston's divorce petition. Brown lost at his court hearing as the judge dismissed his appeal to overrule the custody terms, leaving Houston with full custody and Brown with no spousal support. In March 2007, Clive Davis of Arista Records announced that Houston would begin recording a new album. In October 2007, Arista released The Ultimate Collection. In 2009, Houston embarked on a world tour, entitled the Nothing But Love Tour. It was her first world tour in over ten years and was announced as a triumphant comeback. However, some poor reviews and rescheduled concerts brought some negative media attention.
Houston released her new album, I Look to You, on August 2009. The album's first two singles are "I Look to You" and "Million Dollar Bill". The album entered the Billboard 200 at #1, with Houston's best opening-week sales of 305,000 copies, marking Houston's first number one album since The Bodyguard , and Houston's first studio album to reach number one since 1987's Whitney. Houston gave her first interview in seven years, appearing on Oprah Winfrey's season premiere on September 2009. The interview was billed as "the most anticipated music interview of the decade". The interview was so candid that Whitney admitted using drugs with former husband Bobby Brown describing to Oprah that she "laced marijuana with rock cocaine". Houston has also appeared on European television programs to promote the album. She performed the song "I Look to You" on the German television show Wetten Dass. Three days later, she performed the worldwide first single from I Look To You, Million Dollar Bill, on the French television show Le Grand Journal. Houston appeared as guest mentor on The X Factor in the United Kingdom. She performed "Million Dollar Bill" on the following day's results show, completing the song even as a strap in the back of her dress popped open two minutes into the performance. She later commented that she "sang [herself] out of [her] clothes". The performance was poorly received by the British media, and was variously described as "weird" and "ungracious", "shambolic" and a "flop". Despite this reception, "Million Dollar Bill" jumped to its peak from 14 to number 5 (her first UK top 5 for over a decade), and three weeks after release "I Look to You" went gold. Houston redeemed herself by appearing on the Italian version of X Factor performing the same song "Million Dollar Bill" to good reviews. She was awarded the Gold Certificate for achieving over 50,000 CD sales of "I Look To You" in Italy. In November, Houston performed "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" at the 2009 American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California. The performance had one of the best, if not the best reviews on the night. Two days later, Houston performed both songs on the Dancing With The Stars season 9 finale. As of December 2009, "I Look to You" has been certified platinum by the RIAA for sales of more than one million copies in the United States. However, the album did not receive any Grammy nominations. On January 26, 2010, Houston re-released the 25th anniversary edition of her debut album, entitled Whitney Houston – The Deluxe Anniversary Edition.
In January 2010 Houston was nominated for two
NAACP Image Awards, one for Best Female Artist and one for Best
Music Video. She won the award for Best Music Video for her single "I Look to You." On January 16, she received the BET Honors Award for Entertainer citing her
lifetime achievements spanning over 25 years in the industry. The
2010 BET Honors was held at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC
and aired February 1, 2010. Jennifer Hudson and Kim Burrell performed
in honor of her, garnering positive reviews. Houston also received
a nomination from the Echo Awards, Germany's version of the Grammys,
for Best International Artist. In April 2010, the UK newspaper
The Mirror reported that Houston was thinking about recording her
eighth studio album and would like to collaborate with will.i.am
(of The Black Eyed Peas), her first choice for a collaboration.
Houston also performed the song "I Look to You," on the 2011 BET Celebration of Gospel, with gospel–jazz singer Kim Burrell,
held at the Staple Center, Los Angeles. The performance aired on
January 30, 2011.
Houston's vocal stylings have had a significant impact on the music industry. She has been called the "Queen of Pop" for her influence during the 1990s, rivaling Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. She is commonly referred to as "The Voice", in reference to her exceptional vocal talent.
According to The New York Times, Houston has "revitalized
the tradition of strong gospel-oriented pop-soul singing". Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times referred to the singer as a "national treasure". She is what many consider to be a "singer's singer" who has influenced countless other vocalists, both female and male. Similarly,
Steve Huey from Allmusic wrote that the shadow of Houston's prodigious
technique still looms large over nearly every pop diva and smooth
urban soul singer - male or female - in her wake, and spawned a
legion of imitators. Rolling Stone, on her biography, stated
that Houston "redefined the image of a female soul icon and inspired singers ranging from Mariah
Carey to Rihanna."
Houston is a mezzo-soprano. Her vocal range extends from G below middle C (G3) to high B-flat (B♭5); she can belt out to treble F (F5).
Describing Houston's voice, Mariah Carey states "[She]
has a really rich, strong mid-belt that very few people have. She
sounds really good, really strong." While in her review of I Look To You, music critic Ann Powers of The Los
Angeles Times writes, "[Houston's voice] stands like monuments upon the landscape of 20th century pop,
defining the architecture of their times, sheltering the dreams
of millions and inspiring the climbing careers of countless imitators," adding "When she was at her best, nothing could match her huge, clean, cool mezzo-soprano."
Houston is the most awarded female artist of all time, according to Guinness World Records, with 2 Emmy Awards, 6 Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 411 career awards as of 2006. In 2008, Billboard magazine released a list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists to celebrate the US singles chart's fiftieth anniversary, ranking Houston at number nine. She has been listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Similiary, she is ranked as one of the Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by VH1.
Houston's debut is currently listed as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine and is on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Definitive 200 list. In 2004, Billboard picked the success of her first release on the charts as one of 110 Musical Milestones in its history. Houston's entrance into the music industry is considered one of the 25 musical milestones of the last 25 years, according to USA Today in 2007. It stated that she paved the way for Mariah Carey’s chart-topping vocal gymnastics. In 1997, the Franklin School in East Orange, New Jersey was renamed to The Whitney E. Houston Academy School of Creative and Performing Arts. In 2001, Houston was awarded the first annual Lifetime Achievement Award by BET.
She came in third on MTV's 22 Greatest Voices, and sixth on Online Magazine COVE's list of the 100 Best Pop Vocalists with a score of 48.5/50. In 2008, Rolling Stone listed Houston as the thirty-fourth of the 100 greatest singers of all time, stating "Her voice is a mammoth, coruscating cry: Few vocalists could get away with opening a song with 45 unaccompanied seconds of singing, but Houston's powerhouse version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" is a tour de force."
Houston is also one of the world's best-selling
music artists, having sold over 170 million albums and singles
worldwide. Although she has released relatively few albums,
she is ranked as the fourth best-selling female artist in the United
States by the Recording Industry Association of America, with 55
million certified albums sold in the US alone.
During the 1980s, MTV was coming into its own and received harsh criticism for not playing enough videos by black artists. With Michael Jackson breaking down the color barrier for black male artists, Houston did the same for black female artists. She became one of the few black female artists to receive heavy rotation on the network following the success of the "How Will I Know" video. Following Houston's breakthrough, other African-American female artists, such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker, were successful in popular music.
Baker commented that "Because of what Whitney did, there was an opening for me... For radio stations, black women singers aren't taboo anymore." Allmusic also noted her contribution to success of black artists on the pop scene, commenting "Houston was able to handle big adult contemporary ballads, effervescent, stylish dance-pop, and slick urban contemporary soul with equal dexterity; the result was an across-the-board appeal that was matched by scant few artists of her era, and helped her become one of the first black artists to find success on MTV in Michael Jackson's wake." The New York Times stated that "Houston was a major catalyst for a movement within black music that recognized the continuity of soul, pop, jazz and gospel vocal traditions". Richard Corliss of TIME magazine commented about her first success breaking various barriers as follows; "Of her first album's ten cuts, six were ballads. This chanteuse [Houston] had to fight for air play with hard rockers. The young lady had to stand uncowed in the locker room of macho rock. The soul strutter had to seduce a music audience that anointed few black artists with superstardom. [...] She was a phenomenon waiting to happen, a canny tapping of the listener's yen for a return to the musical middle. And because every new star creates her own genre, her success has helped other blacks, other women, other smooth singers find an avid reception in the pop marketplace." Mary J. Blige said that Houston's inviting her onstage during VH1's Divas Live show in 1999 "opened doors for [her] all over the world."
A number of artists have acknowledged Houston as an influence. Mariah Carey, who was often compared to Houston, said, "Houston has been a big influence on me." She later told USA Today that "none of us would sound the same if Aretha Franklin hadn't ever put out a record, or Whitney Houston hadn't." Brandy stated "The first Whitney Houston CD was genius. That CD introduced the world to her angelic yet powerful voice. Without Whitney half of this generation of singers wouldn't be singing," picking Houston's first album as a work of inspired. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson cites Houston as her biggest musical influence. She told Newsday that she learned from Houston the "difference between being able to sing and knowing how to sing". Leona Lewis, who has been called as the New Whitney Houston, also cites her as an influence. Lewis has stated that she idolized as a little girl. Beyoncé Knowles told the Globe and Mail that Houston "inspired [her] to get up there and do what [she] did." Alicia Keys, in the interview on her new studio album with the Billboard magazine, also said "Whitney is an artist who inspired me from [the time I was] a little girl."
Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, Christina
Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Ciara,
P!nk, Robin Thicke, Jennifer Hudson, Amerie, Destiny's
Child, Regine Velasquez and Charice have all cited Houston
as a musical inspiration.
* Whitney Houston (1985)
* Houston appeared in this commercial before debut as a professional singer and sang the praises of sugar free Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
1986 Coca-Cola Diet Coke
* Houston sang the Diet Coke theme song, "Just for the taste of it." (see the commertial)
1988 Coca-Cola Diet Coke
* Houston sang the other version of the Diet
Coke advertising slogan at the time, "Just for the taste of it." (see the commercial)
1990 SANYO Electronics
* Houston sang theme song, "Takin' A Chance," produced by Keith Thomas. It was released as a CD single in Japan and included in Japanese edition of I'm Your Baby Tonight.
* Houston sang its theme song, "True Voice." (see the commercial)
* 1986: Greatest Love Tour
* 1990: Feels So Right Tour
* 1988: Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute
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