Whitney Houston Biography

9 August 1963, Newark, New Jersey, USA. This pop and soul singer followed the traditions of her mother Cissy Houston and cousin Dionne Warwick by beginning her vocal career in gospel. There was much diversity in her early performances, however. These included engagements as backing singer with established acts, such as Chaka Khan, as well as lead vocals on the Michael Zager Band’s single ‘Life’s A Party’. She also appeared as a model in various magazines, and as an actress in television shows such as Give Me A Break. By 1983, she had entered a worldwide contract with Arista Records, and the following year had her first commercial success when ‘Hold Me’, a duet with Teddy Pendergrass, crept into the US Top 50. However, the rest of that year was taken up with the recording of a debut album. Clive Davis, the head of Arista, who had taken a strong personal interest in the vocalist, insisted on selecting the best songwriters and producers in search of the definitive debut album. Whitney Houston was finally released in March 1984, from which time it would begin its slow stalking of the album charts, topping them early the next year. Its steady climb was encouraged by the success of the singles ‘You Give Good Love’ and ‘Saving All My Love For You’, which hit numbers 3 and 1, respectively. The latter single also saw her on top of the charts in the UK and much of the rest of the world. The disco-influenced ‘How Will I Know’ and the more soul-flavoured ‘Greatest Love Of All’, both topped the US charts in rapid succession. Her domination was acknowledged by a series of prestigious awards, notably a Grammy for ‘Saving All My Love For You’ and an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance In A Variety Program On US TV.

Houston’s next studio outing, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, released in 1987, topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, paving the way for Whitney to become the first album by a female artist to debut at number 1 on the US album chart, a feat it also achieved in the UK. The album included a version of ‘I Know Him So Well’, sang as a duet with her mother Cissy, and the ballad ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All’ which became her fifth successive US number 1 shortly afterwards. However, even this was surpassed when ‘So Emotional’ and ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ continued the sequence, breaking a record previously shared by the Beatles and the Bee Gees. In 1988, she made a controversial appearance at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Party, where other acts accused her of behaving like a prima donna. By September, ‘Love Will Save The Day’ had finally broken the winning sequence in the USA where it could only manage number 9. Another series of awards followed, including Pop Female Vocal and Soul/R&B Female Vocal categories in the American Music Awards, while rumours abounded of film offers alongside Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy.

Houston’s recording of the title track to the 1988 Olympics tribute, One Moment In Time, restored her to US Top 5 prominence and topped the UK singles chart. The follow-up ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’ put her back on top of the US singles chart. Despite the relatively modest success of the album of the same name (number 3 in the US charts), ‘All The Man That I Need’ compensated by becoming her ninth number 1. She became permanently enshrined in the hearts of the American public, however, when she took the microphone to perform ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Super Bowl XXV in Miami. The public response ensured that the version emerged as a single shortly afterwards. She also performed the song at Houston as she welcomed back US troops returning from the Gulf War. Such open displays of patriotism did not endear Houston to all. Her remarkably rich voice also caused some debate, with some critics claiming that her masterful vocal technique is not equalled by her emotional commitment to her music.

In July 1992, Houston married singer Bobby Brown (the relationship would prove tempestuous). The same year she made a credible acting debut in the movie The Bodyguard. Four songs recorded by her were lifted from the phenomenally successful soundtrack album - cover versions of Dolly Parton’s powerful ‘I Will Always Love You’, which topped the US chart for 14 weeks and the UK charts for nine, and Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman’, and ‘I Have Nothing’ and ‘Run To You’.

Houston spent most of the 90s concentrating on her acting career, but made a surprise return to the studio for 1998’s My Love Is Your Love. Enlisting the songwriting help of Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott, Diane Warren and Wyclef Jean, the album was a confident attempt by Houston to reclaim ground lost to the new diva superstars Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. ‘When You Believe’, a duet with Carey taken from the animated DreamWorks movie The Prince Of Egypt, was a transatlantic hit. With the album selling poorly, however, Houston’s fortunes were revived by the US number 2 single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, and the atypical and hard-hitting ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’, a US/UK Top 5 hit single.

Houston returned to the headlines in early 2000 with a series of incidents that indicated her personal life was under strain. Nevertheless, she signed a lucrative new recording contract with Arista worth in the region of $100 million. The sub-standard Just Whitney... , released in 2002, did little to repay the record company’s faith in the artist. The desultory One Wish: The Holiday Album appeared the following November.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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