Today marks the birthday of Whitney Houston, one of the greatest singers of our time. She would have been 49-years-old. Born in Newark, N.J. in 1963 to gospel and soul singer Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston began singing gospel music at an early age in her church choir at New Hope Baptist Church.
Though she originally tried to hide her singing abilities from her mother, Whitney later in an ABC interview with Diane Sawyer recalls her mother telling her “I know you can sing,” to which she replied, “No, I can’t.” Cissy Houston said, “yes, you can,” forcing her do a solo at her church. And so began Whitney Houston’s singing career.
Not only did Houston have an amazing voice, but beauty as well, and broke racial barriers as one of the first Black models to grace the cover of Seventeen magazine in 1981.
“Whitney really transcended race,” Jess Cagle of Entertainment Weekly told ABC. “She was Whitney. You really didn’t think of her as a Black singer. You really didn’t think of her as a Black actress. You really just thought of her as Whitney.”
Houston was a positive African-American beauty and talent. In 1983, Arista Records’ Clive Davis was taken to a New York nightclub to see Houston perform and he signed her on the spot. He immediately became her mentor, spending two years supervising the production of her debut album, Whitney Houston, which was released in 1985.
Her music at this point was a combination of pop and R&B, as she muted the gospel influence in her music. The album included three No. 1 singles: “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know” and “The Greatest Love of All,” and sold more than 12 million copies in the United States and more abroad, setting the record as the biggest-selling debut album by a solo artist.
From the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists. She impressed audiences with powerful vocals and an amazing range which was rooted in the Black Church but made palatable to audiences who were used to pop music.
British television host and producer Simon Cowell told CNN, “She was undoubtedly one of the greatest superstars of all time. One of the greatest voices, you know, in our lifetime we’re likely to ever hear.”
In 1992, Whitney Houston had her first acting role, in the film “The Bodyguard,” with co-star actor Kevin Costner. The soundtrack to the movie, which mainly features songs by Whitney Houston, became the biggest-selling soundtrack album of all time. It sold over 44 million copies worldwide and included hits such as “I Will Always Love You,” which was a remake of Dolly Parton’s song, “I’m Every Woman,” a remake of singer Chaka Khan’s song, “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You.” It won the Grammy for album of the year, and “I Will Always Love You” won record of the year for a single.
In 1996, Houston returned to her gospel roots in the film “The Preacher’s Wife.” She had a starring role alongside Denzel Washington and performed songs for the soundtrack, which had the same name. “I Believe In You And Me” was the lead single and became a top 5 hit in the U.S. The album became the biggest-selling gospel album in history and has sold an estimated 6 million copies worldwide.
Whitney Houston certainly made an impact on the world through her music, and later in her career during a rare interview with ABC News‘ “Primetime,” she told reporter Diane Sawyer that her concern was singing “songs that inspire people, that really give people hope, and that they truly hear someone who’s singing from their soul, from their heart.”
By 2000, Whitney Houston had been married for eight years to male artist Bobby Brown. Their marriage was heavily scrutinized by the mainstream media, and it is widely known that their tumultuous marriage involved fighting, scandals, drug, and alcohol arrests. It is undeniable that the turbulent marriage took a toll on Whitney Houston, and in the single “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” which is featured on her seventh studio album “I Look to You,” Houston sang, “I crashed down and I tumbled, but I did not crumble/I got through all the pain.” These lyrics reflected Houston’s life at the time, as in the 2000s, her career was negatively impacted due to heavy drug use which Whitney Houston’s family blames Bobby Brown for.
She told Oprah Winfrey in a 2009 interview that her mother arrived on her doorstep with sheriff’s officers and a court order for drug intervention.
While she seemed to be heading on the right path, as she filmed the movie “Sparkle” and was to perform at the 2012 Grammy Award Show, she sadly passed away on Feb. 11. The night before she passed away, however, she sang “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” alongside singer Kelly Price, which include the lyrics: “Jesus loves me! He will stay/Close beside me all the way/He’s prepared a home for me/And some day His face I’ll see.”
Though she never was able to make her comeback, she will always be remembered for her beautiful voice and remarkable talent.
Her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, tweeted yesterday: “I’m REALLY REALLY missing my mommy today. 2morrow is #MOMMYSBDAY of course.”
Houston made lasting marks in the world. While her death was untimely, Whitney Houston will always be remembered as an icon and a great beauty. Happy birthday, Whitney Houston.