Not long ago the name Whitney Houston was synonymous with a singing phenom. Described as an “exceptional vocal talent” by Rolling Stone Magazine, the onetime model/actress/world renowned singer has sold over 170 million albums and received 6 Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, and 23 American Music Awards. She is listed in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the "World’s Most Awarded Female Artist of All Time."
Twenty-some years later the career of this “exceptional vocal talent” and “World's Most Awarded Female Artist of All time” is derelict and her public image is that of a ‘has-been.’ Audiences who were once cheering at sold-out arenas are now booing and walking out of her concerts. What happened?
Gospel music was introduced to Houston at an early age by her mother, singer Cissy Houston. In addition, Aunts Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick helped to nurture and guide the young singer, who joined a Junior Gospel Choir group at the age of 11.
When she was a teenager, Houston’s mother took her to New York where she sang with her at various nightclubs. In 1978, at the age of 15, she sang background on Chaka Khan's single "I'm Every Woman." In addition, while singing with her mother at Carnegie Hall, a fashion photographer spotted her and she began modeling, appearing on the cover of several magazines including Seventeen Magazine. One evening in 1983 while performing at a New York nightclub, Clive Davis saw the young singer and was so impressed that he signed her to the Arista Record label that night.
A Diva is Born
Houston’s first album, released in 1985 was self-titled “Whitney Houston” and was the best-selling debut album by a female act. Rolling Stone magazine described Houston as "One of the most exciting new voices in years” and later listed the album as one of “Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” The New York Times called the album "An impressive, musically conservative showcase for an exceptional vocal talent," and USA Today refers to Houston’s entrance into the music industry as “One of the 25 musical milestones of the last 25 years.”
Houston took home a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female” for the single "Saving All My Love for You" in 1986 and performed the song at the Grammys. Her performance earned her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 1987.
The singer followed-up with the album “Whitney” in 1987, debuting at number-one on the Billboard 200, and her first video for the hit single "How Will I Know" played prominently on MTV that year. With the album “Whitney” she became the first female artist in music history to debut at number-one on the US and UK album charts, and the 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 reached number one on the US Hot 100. Houston had seven consecutive number one hits, breaking the record of six, previously shared by The Beatles and The Bee Gees.
In 1990 she released her third album “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” and the next year, in 1991, she performed "The Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV. That performance was listed as the 12th greatest moment that rocked TV by VH1, and a recording of the song was released as a single. The single reached the Top 20 on the US Hot 100, making Houston the only performer to turn the national anthem into a pop hit of that magnitude. Houston donated her share of the proceeds to the Red Cross and was named to the Red Cross Board of Governors. She also performed in the “Welcome Home Heroes” concert for the soldiers fighting in the Gulf War and their families. The concert was held at the Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia in front of 3,500 servicemen and women and was shown on the television cable station Home Box Office (HBO).
The Beginning of Drama
In 1992, Houston married R&B singer Bobby Brown and gave birth to a daughter the next year. They had a tumultuous marriage and Brown had several run-ins with the law.
Houston sat down for an interview with Diane Sawyer and it was the highest-rated television interview in history. During her prime-time conversation with Sawyer she spoke about rumored drug use saying "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."
In 2005, she infamously appeared with husband Bobby Brown in the reality TV program, “Being Bobby Brown” and the one time superstar singer was shown in a less than favorable light; captured on tape saying things like “Kiss my a—!“ and “Hell to the no!” The show ran for one season on the Bravo television cable network.
Post Marriage Life Still Plagued with Problems
In 2007, after 14 years of marriage, Houston divorced Brown and was granted custody of their daughter. She released the album, “I Look to You” in 2009 and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show season premiere. During the interview with the daytime talk show queen, Houston was candid about issues in her marriage and problems with drugs. The singer claimed husband Bobby Brown “couldn't live with her success” and was “jealous” of her. She also claimed one of the reasons she agreed to appear in her husband’s reality show “Being Bobby Brown” was because of her concerns over his self-esteem and she was also “crazy in love” with him. Houston said the worst thing Brown ever did to her was spit in her face in front of their daughter Bobbi Kristina, who was horrified. Declaring she was “emotionally battered” by husband Bobby Brown, the singer claimed it wasn’t until 2006, after almost 14 years of marriage, several rehabilitation attempts and an intervention by her mother, that she was able to gather the strength to leave Brown.
Regarding her drug usage, Houston told Winfrey her drug of choice was “weed mixed with coke.” She denied ever smoking a pipe and explained how she would prepare the drug; "You put it in your marijuana, Oprah, you lace it, you roll it up, and you smoke it in your weed — it's like heroin and cocaine speedballing, but you level it off, with marijuana."
Houston has struggled with other problems, including issues with her voice. In 2010 after embarking on a “Comeback World Tour,” the singer apologized to a London audience for the poor quality of her singing. Struggling to reach certain musical notes, she tried to make light of it saying "She doesn't want to come, my soprano friend." She later blamed the air-conditioning, saying "I can feel it, it takes away my soprano." The singer’s “Comeback Tour” turned disastrous after audience members in Australia booed her, crowd members in Birmingham laughed at her, and several audience members actually walked out of her concert in London.
Most recently in 2011, the diva acted like a ‘Diva’ when she refused to fasten her seatbelt on a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta, Georgia. She was on her way to reunite with former “Waiting To Exhale” cast mates to film a sequel. The singer got into an argument and was nearly kicked off of the Delta flight after refusing to buckle her seatbelt. The incident was blamed on “exhaustion” by Houston’s representatives, and attendants were able to fasten her seatbelt with no further incident.
Houston once sang "I'm Every Woman" which seems appropriate as she has run the gamut from innocent unknown to superstardom, from an all American image to problems with drugs, from an “exceptional vocal talent” to being booed on stage.
Where will Whitney Houston go from here? Only she can answer that question, however, one of her best selling songs is the "Greatest Love of All," and if Houston can find that type of love again (for herself), she may surprise us all.
February 11, 2012 - Whitney Houston dies at the age of 48.
For information on other topics see the following: