Houston, Whitney (Elizabeth )
- Colette Simonot
(b Newark, NJ, Aug 9, 1963; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 11, 2012). American singer. She was one of the top-selling artists of all time. She began singing and playing piano in a church gospel choir as a child. In her teens, she modeled, performed with her mother, singer Cissy Houston, in nightclubs, and sang backup for Chaka Khan and Jermaine Jackson. Houston possessed a rich, strong mezzo-soprano voice and was known for her melismatic embellishments, especially at phrase endings. Arista’s Clive Davis signed her to a recording contract in 1983. Houston’s 1985 self-titled debut album produced a string of hits including “Thinking About You,” “You Give Good Love,” and Grammy-winning “Saving All My Love for You,” Houston’s first number one hit. The video for her fourth single, “How Will I Know,” received heavy rotation at a time when MTV was criticized for ignoring black artists. Grammy-nominated “Greatest Love of All,” the final single, became Houston’s biggest hit to that point. Her second album, Whitney (1987), entered at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Critics suggested that it was too similar to her debut, but it became an even bigger commercial success. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” were all number one hits. Houston demonstrated versatility with I’m Your Baby Tonight (1990), an album that mixed ballads and dance tracks.
In the 1990s, she appeared in a handful of films, beginning with The Bodyguard (1992). The soundtrack won three Grammys and eight American Music Awards, while the single, “I Will Always Love You,” became the best-selling single by a female artist, charting on pop, R&B, and adult contemporary charts simultaneously. The films Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996) also generated hit soundtracks. Houston’s 1998 album, My Love Is Your Love, featuring Grammy-winning “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay,” did not sell well but garnered strong reviews. By the late 1990s, Houston was struggling with personal and professional difficulties, stemming from her marriage to the R&B singer Bobby Brown. Her career was at a virtual standstill. In 2002, Houston finally released her fifth studio album, Just Whitney, which received mixed reviews. It did not provide enough momentum to get Houston’s career back on track but some of its singles became popular club hits. After divorcing Brown in 2006, Houston attempted a comeback with I Look To You (2009), which placed number one on the Billboard 200. In the midst of another attempted comeback in 2012, she was found dead at the age of 48 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Throughout her career, Houston influenced many singers, including Mariah Carey, Brandy, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis, Beyoncé Knowles, and Alicia Keys.