Whitney Houston - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
The often told story of a young talented megastar manipulated by the trappings of fame is nearly as old as the music industry itself. Everyone from Edith Piaf to Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley to Janice Joplin, Johnny Cash to Ray Charles, Sid Vicious to Kurt Cobain have fallen victim to a lethal cocktail of overexposure, egoism, drug addiction, and widely reported public antics as to become the stuff of enduring cautionary myths and legends. Whitney Houston’s plunge from multiplatinum R&B diva to tabloid shadow of her former self, however, is particularly shocking as she so embodied the innocent poster child image of such a non-threatening adult contemporary R&B genre devoid of rock ‘n’ roll clichés. Blessed with a powerful multi-octave range Houston’s worldwide popularity stemmed from acclaimed adult contemporary ballads about the enduring power of love and universal peace rather than murder ballads and songs dedicated to drug addled neurosis. The sheer dichotomy inherent to Whitney Houston’s soap opera life wasn’t lost on the tabloids of the late 90’s either, and her increasingly bizarre behavior successfully transitioned her from one of the most respected and popular vocalist for the 80’s and 90’s to mere fodder for gossip columnists. It’s a shame, as those who grew up with Houston popular radio hits like “How Will I Know”, “Saving All My Love for You” and the unstoppable Dolly Parton ballad “I Will Always Love You”, remember a healthier time when Houston was the beloved reigning queen of mainstream radio, not a tabloid train wreck. The irony is, the public seems to so desperately want a return of the classy, cleaned up, Whitney Houston she almost has guaranteed acceptance if she’s willing to put forth the effort. Having kept a low profile the last two years, rumors indicate a return to form with the first album in over six years on the way. When it comes to Whitney Houston, it doesn’t seem to matter how much she dirties her reputation as long as she can still sing those crowd pleasing golden ballads. Every star comes full circle. Perhaps it’s finally Whitney Houston’s long overdue time to shine once again.
As the daughter of renowned soul vocalist Cissy Houston and the god daughter of “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, Whitney Elizabeth Houston was destined to become an R&B superstar practically from her birth on August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey. Brought up in the Baptist gospel choir tradition, Houston was a featured vocalist in her junior gospel choir by age 11 and began performing with her mother in concert by the time she was a teenager. She also pursued a modeling and acting career while in her teens, appearing in the sitcoms Silver Spoons and Gimme a Break. Oddly, Houston made her recording debut on One Down (1982 Musicom/Celluloid) by the experimental jazz fusion outfit, Material featuring Bill Laswell and Archie Shepp, a far cry from the booming melodic mainstream R&B she would become famous for. Houston caught a big break in 1985 when legendary A&R man Clive Davis witnessed her sing at a nightclub and signed her on the spot. Houston made her major label debut in 1984 as a featured guest vocalist on the Teddy Pedergrass hit “Hold Me”. Featuring a classic mixture of big booming R&B ballads and high energy 80’s mainstream pop, the debut album, Whitney Houston (1985 Arista) was primed to be a huge hit out the gate but the first single, “Someone for Me” quickly sank from the charts. The wildly successful music video for the follow up single, “How Will I Know” turned the tide. However, the still relatively new MTV network was lacking in female African American programming at the time and Houston’s infectious modern sound combined with her model good looks successfully crossed racial lines, captivating black and white audiences alike. Whitney Houston spawned three more hit singles with “You Give Good Love” and “The Greatest Love of All” with the passionate ballad “Saving All My Love for You” winning her a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Houston’s performance of the award winning song at the Grammy ceremony also won her an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. Whitney Houston eventually went platinum 13 times over making its namesake a massive international star in just over a year.
The follow up full length, Whitney (1987 Arista) continued Houston’s hot streak debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts and selling 9 million copies despite a mixed critical reception claiming the album was too similar to its predecessor. Houston won another Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for the #1 hit single “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”. Remarkably, the album spawned three more #1 chart topping singles with “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” making her the first artist to chart seven straight Billboard Hot 100 singles at the number one slot, beating out The Beatles and Bee Gee’s who previously set the record at six. Houston’s subsequent The Moment of Truth international tour of 1987 was also wildly successful making Whitney Houston one of the biggest stars in the world. The following year Houston scored another Top 5 single with the anthem “One Moment in Time” recorded especially for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Houston began to feel the backlash of overexposure the following year when she was criticized by African American critics for conforming her sound to fit white archetypes. Houston fired back with the urban R&B laced third album I’m Your Baby Tonight (1990 Arista), spawning the #1 singles, “All the Man That I Need” and the titles track. The album ultimately proved a commercial and critical disappointment, however, quickly falling off the charts with sales stalling at just over 4 million copies. Around this time, Houston’s romantic relationship and subsequent marriage to New Edition bad boy Bobby Brown began making bigger headlines than her music. Houston subsequently put her music career on hold to concentrate on a Hollywood career, making her feature film debut in winter of 1992 starring opposite Kevin Costner in the romantic thriller The Bodyguard. The box office success of the film was largely contributed to Houston’s epic rendition Dolly Parton’s romantic ballad, “I Will Always Love You”, which was featured heavily in the film and subsequent ad campaigns. “I Will Always Love You” was a massive worldwide phenomenon that defined Whitney Houston’s career and cemented status as an international superstar, spending 14 weeks at #1, selling over 16 million copies of The Bodyguard soundtrack, and winning a Grammy for Album of the Year. The song is currently the most successful single by a female artist in pop music history.
Houston spent the majority of 1993 touring the world, before setting to work on her next feature film, Waiting to Exhale. The tempestuous romantic relationship between Houston and Brown began making headlines when the couple broke up a few months prior to the film’s release, only to reconcile a few weeks later. The pair’s rocky marriage would continue to be tabloid fodder throughout the remainder of the 90’s. Waiting to Exhale was another box office success with Houston’s single, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” debuting at #1 on the charts sending the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack platinum 7 times over. Houston scored another box office hit in 1996 with the romantic comedy, The Preachers Wife, costarring Denzel Washington. Houston sung nearly every song on the gospel tinged soundtrack featuring guest spots by her mother, Cissy Houston and Shirley Caesar. The Preachers Wife soundtrack eventually sold over six million copies becoming the largest selling gospel album of all time.
Around this time tabloid rumors began to spread about a substance abuse problem after Houston canceled a string of television spots and live performances due to illness. Her husband’s numerous battles with addiction also continued to make headlines leading many to believe his drug problems were wearing off on Houston. The first full length album in eight years, My Love Is Your Love (1998 Arista) was produce by urban contemporary legends Babyface and David Foster and featured an updated soul/hip hop sound geared toward netting a younger audience. Although the album netted some of Houston’s best reviews in years and featured the hit single, “Heartbreak Hotel” a collaboration with Faith Evans and Kelly Price, My Love Is Your Love was a commercial disappointment. The substance abuse rumors were exacerbated by Houston’s 2000 arrested at a Hawaii airport after security found marijuana in her luggage, followed by her cancelation of a performance at the Academy Awards due to a sore throat. The first greatest hits collection, Greatest Hits (2000 Arista) followed later that year, featuring a bonus remix disc. Despite her increasingly negative public persona Houston signed a $100 million six album contract with Arista in 2001 and set about recording her fifth full length album with her husband serving as co-producer along with Babyface and Missy Elliott. The uninspired Just Whitney (2002 Arista) was a commercial and critical flop only selling 3 million copies worldwide. Houston’s downward spiral of a personal life became further tabloid fodder when her husband’s reality television show, Being Bobby Brown broadcast the details of their turbulent marriage around the globe.
After undergoing drug rehabilitation in 2006, Houston divorced Bobby Brown and kept a low profile for the next two years spending the majority of 2007 working on her seventh full length album with J Records president Clive Davis. The yet to be titled album is tentatively slated for a winter of 2008 release.