Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 9 August 1963, Newark NJ; d 11 February 2012, Beverly Hills CA) Daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston (b Emily Drinkard, 30 September 1933, Newark NJ), also a cousin of Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick, her godmother was Aretha Franklin, whom she called Aunty Ree. She had both the family talent and beauty. She made her solo debut at eleven with 'Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah' in Baptist church; played NYC club dates with her mother in the early 1980s, also worked as a model and acted on TV. Clive Davis at Arista signed her with a 'key man' clause: if he left the company she could go with him. She debuted with an eponymous hit LP '85 with four producers including Jermaine Jackson; won a Grammy and sold 13 million; unusually, of ten songs eight were ballads, hit singles 'You Give Good Love', 'Saving All My Love For You', 'How Will I Know' and 'Greatest Love' accompanied by classy videos, the latter seen on MTV, unusual for a black artist then.
She was the first female artist in the history of the Billboard charts to have an album enter at no. 1 and did it again with Whitney '87, with hit 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)'. I'm Your Baby Tonight '90 was next, with hit singles in title track and 'All The Man That I Need'. She married singer Bobby Brown 18 July '92, and the same year made film melodrama The Bodyguard (Kevin Costner in the title role): the soundtrack album included Aaron Neville, Kenny G, Lisa Stansfield and others, as well as Houston's melodramatic 'I Will Always Love You' (a song by Dolly Parton, far more moving when Parton sang it without the histrionics). Both the soundtrack and Houston's single were among the biggest hits of the decade. 'Exhale (Shoop Shoop)' was a no. 1 hit '95, from yet another soundtrack, Waiting To Exhale, also a no. 1 album with other artists, the film written and produced by Babyface.
She was a perfomer who started at treble forte and built to a climax, like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey in an earlier generation (both from Wales, curiously); Mariah Carey and Celine Dion are more contemporary examples. Their songs are often second-rate and most of them couldn't swing a bucket, but fans are swept cheerfully and willingly off their feet. Houston had the best voice of the lot, and The Preacher's Wife '96 was a great relief, a gospel album with choral backing, yet another soundtrack but at least this time applying her voice to what it was made for on every track but one: Cissy sings on 'The Lord Is My Shepherd'. Further albums were Just Whitney 2002 and I Look To You 2009, but her voice was suffering from her lifestyle and her later albums were heard as comeback attempts.
Her marriage to Brown was a chronicle of violence and drug abuse; it ended in 2007.