RIP Whitney Houston: A legend for a lifetime
Whitney Elizabeth Houston died on 11 February 2012 at the age of 48. Undoubtedly the biggest black female popstar of the ’80s and ’90s, Whitney leaves behind a legacy of inspiration, spectacle and good old-fashioned awe. Today, GrownNSexy pays tribute to the life and talent of Miss Houston. Rest in eternal Peace.
Whitney was born into a musical family; her father, John Russell Houston Jnr, was an army serviceman and entertainment executive, while her mother – Cissy Houston, along with cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick and godmother Aretha Franklin were all successful gospel, RnB, pop, and soul figures in their own rights.
She began singing in church at the age of 11 and her musical education from that point included piano lessons while, on the side, her mother taught her how to sing. By the time she was a teenager, her cousins aunt and godmother had exposed her to the music of Chaka Khan,Gladys Knight, and Roberta Flack – all of whom would have an impact on her as a singer and performer. Those teenage years saw her in a few stints as a back-up singer for some well-known acts of the late ’70s – including Chaka Khan on “I’m Every Woman”.
It was in 1983, when an A&R exec from Arista records saw her perform in a nightclub with her mother, that her solo career began to take shape. Her 1985 debut album ‘Whitney Houston’ produced such chart-smashing hits as “All At Once”, “You Give Good Love”, “Saving All My Love For You”, “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All”. It was official – a phenomenon had been born. Rolling Stone magazine called her “one of the most exciting new voices in years” while The New York Times said the album was “an impressive, musically conservative showcase for an exceptional vocal talent.”
Houston was nominated for three awards at the 1986 Grammy’s including Album of the Year, winning her first Grammy award for “Saving All My Love for You” in the Best Pop Vocal Performance: Female category. She performed the song at the same award show, with that performance later winning her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. In 1986 and 1987 Whitney won seven American Music Awards, as well as an MTV Video Music Award. The album was just as big a hit at the 1987 Grammy Awards where “Greatest Love of All” receive a Record of the Year nomination. In fact the album, ‘Whitney Houston’ is 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.
According to USA Today, Whitney’s spectacular entrance into the music industry is considered one of the 25 musical milestones of the last 25 years . But the real impact of the gift that was Whitney Houston could not have been estimated at the time. Her breakthrough opened doors for just about every African-American female artist that would reach prominence after her – making it possible for the Janet Jacksons and Anita Bakers of the world to find success in popular music and on MTV.
In 1987, it was the album ‘Whitney’ that brought us “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”. This was followed by 1990’s ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’ which brought her career to new heights via the title track – the hit “Where do Broken Hearts Go”, and the Grammy-nominated “I Belong To You”. Her acting career began soon afterwards with the 1992 release of ‘The Bodyguard’, in which Whitney starred with Kevin Costner – the soundtrack produced what was later to be known as her signature song, “I Will Always Love You”.
With a range that spanned three octaves, Miss Houston had the entire world under her spell but kept them waiting eight years before she released her next studio album. ‘My Love is Your Love’ came out in 1998 and was widely acclaimed critically. Follow-up albums included her 2000 ‘Whitney: The Greatest Hits’ Album; 2002’s ‘Just Whitney’; the lesser-known 2003 Xmas Album – ‘One Wish: The Holiday Album’; and her 2009 come-back, ‘I Look To You’.
After her marriage to Bobby Brown in 1992 and into the late ’90s, Whitney’s clean-cut, good girl image seriously lost its lustre. Dogged by rumours of excessive drug-use and marital abuse, Whitney’s commercial success began to decline. She became the butt of many-a-comedian’s jokes, and her reality show appearances on ‘Being Bobby Brown’ didn’t help matters.
It was this later part of Whitney’s story that takes her death beyond a sad event and into the realm of tragedy. Towards the end, she was known only as a strung-out has-been; with even her latest come-back attempt not being viewed as enough to revive the career of this waning, yet brilliant, star.
But those who know, will forever remember Whitney as the superstar she was born to be. We will never forget the awe-inspiring mezzo-soprano who came in third amongst MTV’s 22 Greatest Voices; whose voice – according to Ann Powers of Los Angeles Times – “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”.
Whitney was and will forever be a legend. A powerhouse and eternal inspiration through her talent. Throughout any of her personal trials – so mercilessly played out in the media – Whitney’s awesome voice has always triumphed… her moment in time is not over by a long-stretch. Those of us who know could never forget; not even if we tried.
Images: xandi88 (c) and REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni