How much do you know about Whitney Houston? The best-selling pop diva is arguably one of the best singers of the century and as someone who has lived in the spotlight, her personal life was agonizingly scrutinized by the public eye. But in order to understand her a little better, it helps to know where she came from. Read on to learn more about Whitney Houston and the iconic voice that was gone too soon.
The Day The Voice Left Us
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On February 19, 2012, Whitney Houston was laid to rest next to her father at the Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey. Her sudden death shocked the world and left behind many broken hearts and unanswered questions. At the invitation-only memorial service the day before, artists such as Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, and more choked back tears as they sang heartfelt tributes to the late singer.
Clive Davis, Kevin Costner, Dionne Warwick and others even gave touching eulogies, while those in attendance were quick to notice the departure of ex-husband Bobby Brown before the ceremony even started. But before this day of heartache was a life full of hope, love, and incredible talent.
Born With A Big Voice
Born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, you could say that Whitney Houston was fated to be a singer. After all, her father, John Russell Houston, Jr. was an Army serviceman and an entertainment executive, while her mother, Cissy Houston, was a well-known gospel singer.
It was her mother from whom Houston learned how to sing and probably from whom she inherited her big voice. She told Jet magazine in 1986, “When I decided to become a singer I was 12. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew that God had given me something and that I ought to use it.”
Her God-Given Talents
Source: Jet Magazine
Whitney Houston was brought up as a Baptist with the New Hope Baptist Church. It was there that Houston learned to play the piano and performed “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” in her first solo act.
In her 1986 Jet magazine feature, she said, “I grew up in the church, and gospel music has always been the center of our lives. It taught me a lot about singing. It gave me emotion and spiritual things, and it helped me to know what I was singing about, because in gospel music, the words mean everything. Now, whatever I sing, whether it’s gospel or pop or R&B, I feel it.”
Big Voices In The Blood
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You already know that Whitney Houston’s mother is Cissy Houston, but why exactly is that so significant? Well, Cissy Houston was a huge talent in her own right. The soul and gospel singer got her start in 1938 singing with her siblings and forming The Drinkard Singers, regularly performing at New Hope Baptist Church.
In 1963, Cissy Houston formed the Sweet Inspirations with Doris Troy and Dee Dee Warwick, her niece, and they’ve performed backup for many popular acts such as Otis Redding and Elvis Presley. Soon, Cissy Houston left the group to do solo work and raise her family.
She Didn’t Want To Be A Singer
Whitney Houston didn’t always want to be a singer. As a little girl, Houston had other ideas about her future. She told Rolling Stone in 1993, “I wanted to be a teacher. I love children, so I wanted to deal with children. Then I wanted to be a veterinarian. But by the age of ten or eleven, when I opened my mouth and said, ‘Oh, God, what’s this?'”
She continued, “I kind of knew teaching and being a veterinarian were gonna have to wait. What’s in your soul is in your soul.” After realizing her vocal talents while singing with her church, Houston realized that her destiny was in her voice.
When Opportunity Knocks
Houston was only 14 when she first got offered a recording contract. She performed as a backup singer on Michael Zager Band’s “Life’s A Party,” after which Zager wanted to sign her. However, Houston’s mother Cissy didn’t want that life for her daughter, who was too young at the time, and insisted that Whitney finish school first.
Houston also provided backup vocals on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” when she was just 15, which she would cover herself many years later. Houston remained in school like her mother requested, but that didn’t mean other opportunities for star potential didn’t come around.
Before She Was A Famous Singer
It’s hard to believe that anyone with incredible talent did anything other than what they are known for. But believe it or not, some stars start taking alternate routes before getting set on the track that they were destined for. Whitney Houston, for example, was a model before she had a recording deal. In 1980 she was spotted by a photographer at Carnegie Hall and began modeling.
Houston was even one of the first women of color to grace the cover of Seventeen magazine. She was also featured in Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and Young Miss before she starred in a television commercial for Canada Dry.
Could Have Been A Huxtable
In the early ’80s, Whitney Houston even auditioned for The Cosby Show. She was going to be cast as Sondra Huxtable but hesitated before signing her contract. According to an interview with Jay Sandrich, the director of The Cosby Show, Houston ultimately turned down the role to pursue singing. “[T]his girl who we brought from New York said, ‘I can’t sign this contract,’ And I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Well, I want to be a singer… I can’t be in every show… I have to be able to tour,'” Sandrich recalled.
“So I said, ‘Well do you have a record contract?’ ‘No,’ ‘Have you ever toured?’ ‘No,’ …’Well who told you you could sing?’ She said, ‘My mother and my aunt.'” Sandrich even tried convincing Houston that taking the role could help boost her singing career but she still refused. “Whitney Houston,” Sanrich remarked, “she knew.”
Beginnings Of A Star
After finishing high school in 1981, Houston was set on getting her singing career on track. Although multiple record companies offered her contracts, Houston ultimately went with Arista Records, signing a worldwide record deal with Clive Davis.
Houston told Ebony magazine in 1985, “I wanted a career that would build over the years, and I didn’t want to be just thrown out there to sink or swim. I needed guidance. I studied his track record and did not make a decision based on money alone.” Davis then introduced the world to Whitney Houston on The Merv Griffin Show, where he sang “Home” from the musical The Wiz.
First Signs Of Success
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Whitney Houston, Houston’s debut album, was released in February 1985 to positive reviews. “You Give Good Love,” “Saving All My Love For You,” and “How Will I Know” were all released as singles and peaked in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, with Houston’s debut album topping the Billboard 200 chart and staying there for 14 consecutive weeks.
In 1986, a year after her debut, Houston was awarded a Grammy for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance for “Saving All My Love For You.” She subsequently went on to win seven American Music Awards, an MTV Video Music Award, and a Grammy nomination. Houston remains the most awarded female act of all time, according to the Guinness World Records in 2009.
That Time Whitney Houston Was Booed
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Whitney’s second album came out in 1987 to lukewarm reviews, with many reviewers saying that it was too similar to her first. Still, she had seven consecutive number one hits, breaking a record shared by both The Beatles and the Bee Gees. With her third album, Houston made a conscious effort to go with a more Urban and R&B feel, as opposed to the pop that she was known for.
But that didn’t stop her from being booed when her name was announced at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989. Her detractors thought she was “not Black enough” and that she lacked soul. In a 1991 interview with Ebony, she said, “I know what my color is. I was raised in a Black community with Black people, so that has never been a thing with me. Yet, I’ve gotten flak about being a pop success, but that doesn’t mean that I’m White… Pop music has never been all-White.”
The Star-Spangled Controversy
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One of Whitney Houston’s most memorable performances happened at Super Bowl XXV in January 1991. She sang an outstanding rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” however, many of Houston’s fans and the public were dismayed to find out the following day that Houston had actually lip-synced her performance.
It was especially controversial at the time, since another Arista act, Milli Vanilli, had been dropped after the public found out that the faces of Milli Vanilli performed none of the actual singing or music. A spokesman for Houston later clarified: “This is not a Milli Vanilli thing. She sang live, but the microphone was turned off. It was a technical decision, partially based on the noise factor. This is standard procedure at these events.”
Her Transition Into An Actress
Source: NY Daily News
In 1992, Houston performed her first ever film role in The Bodyguard, alongside actor Kevin Costner, who personally wanted Whitney Houston specifically to play the female lead, Rachel Marron. Houston told Rolling Stone in 1993, “You know what I was concerned about? That people would dog me before they gave me the opportunity to do the job. Making the transition from a singer to an actress made me apprehensive. Like, ‘Can I really do this?'”
The Bodyguard was a flop with the critics but was a favorite among fans, grossing $16.6 million in its opening weekend. The Bodyguard features a classic Whitney Houston song for which she is most known…
She Will Always Love You
The Bodyguard soundtrack featured “I Will Always Love You.” Kevin Costner suggested that Houston record the song for the film, but it soon became one of her most popular songs to date. “I Will Always Love You” was certified Platinum four times, selling over 4 million copies by 1993, which made Whitney Houston the first female artist with a single to reach that level.
Houston also won Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1994 Grammy Awards for the track. The song was originally written by Dolly Parton, who was floored by Houston’s rendition.
Meeting Bobby Brown
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It was around this time that Whitney Houston was rumored to have relationships with the likes of Eddie Murphy and football player Randall Cunningham. But Houston did not go public with a relationship until she met R&B singer Bobby Brown, who was once a part of New Edition.
The couple met briefly at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards but really got to know each other when Houston invited Brown to her birthday party a few months after. The pair hit it off, much to the dismay of onlookers, who thought that Houston’s good-girl-next-door image would not fare well with Brown’s bad-boy persona.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage
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Then comes baby in a baby carriage, or so they say. But this is exactly how Houston and Brown’s relationship panned out. Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown married in July 1992 after three years of dating. By March 1993, Houston gave birth to her first and only child, a daughter named Bobbi Kristina Brown. Despite the beginnings of their new family, people were still quick to criticize the couple, especially Bobby Brown. He had run-ins with the law which led to jail time, in addition to the fact that he had three illegitimate children with two different women prior to meeting Houston.
Did Houston Ever Play For The Other Team?
Throughout Whitney Houston’s career, there has been speculation about the closeness she shared with her assistant and best friend, Robyn Crawford. Many people believed that the two were engaged in a secret lesbian relationship, a claim that even Bobby Brown affirmed to Us Weekly in 2016.
But of the claims, Houston had this to say to Rolling Stone in 1993: “I’m so tired of this. I’m really sick of it. People want to know if there is a relationship: Our relationship is that we’re friends. We’ve been friends since we were kids. She now is my employee. I’m her employer. And we’re still best of friends. That’s what it is. You mean to tell me that if I have a woman friend, I have to have a lesbian relationship with her?”
Whitney Houston Tried To Escape
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Houston’s battle with drug abuse has long underscored her successful career. The seemingly-perfect pop diva had a dark side too. She was known to use drugs, primarily cocaine, from her early twenties and on. Many speculate that the pressure to maintain her image is what lead her to a dark, drug-addled double life.
A source close to Houston told People magazine in 2016, “Things got worse and worse… Suddenly, when she was using, she had no idea who she was or who you were and she became angry and lashed out. We’d take turns checking on her in Atlanta when things were bad.”
Was He A Bad Influence?
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Many people blamed Whitney Houston’s husband Bobby Brown for her rampant drug use, primarily because of his troubled past and run-ins with the law. However, Houston paid no mind to any of the accusations and was always quick to defend her husband.
Brown appeared on Nightline in 2016 and opened up about their marriage and the drugs involved, even admitting that the couple would lock themselves up in one area of their home to get high, while their daughter was on the other side being taken care of by nannies. In the episode, Brown appeared remorseful and in tears, stating, “I take my part and I take it hard for me even being a part of it… It’s hard when you’re doing it every day… at a certain point when you’re using drugs, you don’t know the outside people that [are] seeing you.”
The Star Starts To Fade
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In 2000, Whitney Houston was rumored to have been fired from her performance of that year’s Academy Awards ceremony, a claim that she affirmed was true to Dianne Sawyer in a popular Primetime interview from 2002. Representatives for Houston claimed that she had throat problems, while other sources claimed that she was flippant and erratic during rehearsal, not even knowing the words to the song she was supposed to perform.
She was replaced by Faith Hill less than 24 hours before the Oscars that year started. By the early 2000s, Houston’s reputation was further tarnished as she was reportedly hard to work with, looking scarily thin, and not even showing up to important events at which she promised to appear.
The Family Tries To Help
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Houston’s family, especially mother Cissy, often tried to get help for the pop star. In a 2009 interview with Oprah, Houston recalled the time that her mother filed a court injunction for her to go to rehab. Whitney recalled of her mother’s intervention, “And she says… ‘you either do it my way or we’re just not going to do this at all. We’re both gonna go on TV and you’re gonna retire and say you’re gonna give this up because this is not worth it…'”
Cissy continued, “‘I’m not losing you to the world, I’m not losing you to Satan,’ and she said, ‘I’m not doing this. I want my daughter back. I want you back. I wanna see that glow in your eyes… I want to see the child I raised and you weren’t raised like this, and I’m not having it.'”
She Wanted Out
In Houston’s highly publicized 2009 interview with Oprah, she even admitted at one point that she wanted out of her career. “When I became ‘Whitney Houston’ and all this other stuff happened, my life became the world’s. My privacy. My business. Who I was with. Who I married… and I was like, ‘that’s not fair,'” Hoston told Oprah.
“I had no normal twenties, I had no normal thirties – my life was filled with making records and doing tours and traveling the world… It was too much…too much to try to live up to, to try to be, and I wanted out at some point.”
Her Final Public Appearance
In February 2012, Whitney Houston was in Los Angeles to attend Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. A couple days before the big event, Houston was invited to a Grammy party thrown by Kelly Price, who was a Grammy nominee that year. Footage can be seen online of Houston’s impromptu performance with Price.
Houston was being praised by Price before she decided to get up and join the Grammy nominee on stage. Unfortunately, the night ended in a brief altercation with X-Factor star Stacy Francis, who had once cited Houston as her inspiration.
The Haunting Announcement
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When the night came for Clive Davis’s party, the world would receive a shocking announcement. On the afternoon of February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston was found face down in her hotel bathtub. After her aides couldn’t resuscitate her with CPR, they called hotel security, and soon, the authorities, who pronounced her dead, with no signs of foul play or obvious cause of death.
The following month, the coroner’s office reported her cause of death was “drowning and the effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.” Traces of marijuana, Benadryl, and Xanax were also found in her system at the time of her death.
A Mourning Mother
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Following Whitney Houston’s death, her mother Cissy released Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss and the Night the Music Stopped, a book she had written to show the world how she saw her daughter. The book explored some of the heavier topics in Houston’s life including her drug abuse, her relationship with Bobby Brown, and her career.
Cissy writes, “Maybe she was a little afraid to talk to me, afraid I would snap at her. I wanted her to be strong, but if she couldn’t be strong, I wanted her to ask for my help… But the hard part about that was, I often didn’t have any idea what was going on with her. And that’s something I’ll never get over and I’ll never be right with.”
A Brother’s Shocking Admission
While many are quick to blame ex-husband Bobby Brown for Houston’s downward spiral into her addiction, those close to her will state — even Bobby Brown himself — that Whitney was well into drugs before the pair even met. In fact, the person who introduced Houston to drugs is someone you’d least expect: her own brother, Michael.
The revelation came on Oprah’s Next Chapter when Oprah sat down with Cissy and Michael Houston to talk about the loss of Whitney. “It’s painful,” Michael told Oprah, “I feel responsible for it, that I let it go so far.” When Oprah asked if he was the one who got his sister into drugs, he regretfully said, “Yeah, we did everything together, so once I was into that then she followed suit.”
Heartbreak And Hospitalization
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On the day of Whitney’s passing, the person who was probably the most devastated was her daughter, Bobbi-Kristina. She was reportedly rushed to the hospital on two occasions within 24 hours of her mother’s passing, due to fears that Bobbi-Kristina was feeling suicidal.
After being inconsolable at the news and unable to go up to see her own mother’s body, Bobbi-Kristina reportedly passed out after being given a sedative and alcohol. It was no secret that she and her mother were incredibly close to each other, almost like sisters, and their lives would be scrutinized just the same.
Bobbi-Kristina’s Questionable Marriage
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The October following her mother’s death, Bobbi-Kristina announced her engagement to Nick Gordon, who Whitney Houston took in and raised as her own (although never adopted) when he was 12 and Bobbi-Kristina was 9. The two grew up together and Gordon was considered a big brother to Bobbi-Kristina, which is why it shocked the Houston family to find out the two were engaged.
Although her grandmother Cissy had publicly expressed her disapproval of her granddaughter getting married so young (she was only 20), after the pair tied the knot Bobbi-Kristina claimed that she had her grandmother’s blessing. In reference to her mother, Bobbi-Kristina told TMZ, “I would tear up, this is exactly what she wanted, us together.”
It Was All Too Similar
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In January 2015, nearly three years after the death of Whitney Houston, Bobbi-Kristina was found unresponsive and facedown in a bathtub at her home in Georgia. After husband Nick Gordon was unable to get a response out of her after performing CPR, Bobbi-Kristina was taken to the hospital.
When the news broke and the realization that it was painfully similar to her mother’s death, many people questioned whether or not Bobbi-Kristina was facing similar demons, in addition to her grief. But a source told People that Bobbi-Kristina had previously said, “I know how my mother died, and I’ve learned from her mistakes.”
A Tragic Ending
Although she was reported to be alive and breathing after being rushed to the hospital, and police found no evidence of drug or alcohol abuse in her home, Bobbi-Kristina’s family prayed for a speedy recovery. However, after doctors determined her brain function was “significantly diminished,” she was put into a medically induced coma and was put on a medical ventilator.
She remained unresponsive as she went in and out of comas for about six months. By June that year, she was put into hospice care and sadly passed away late July 2015 at the age of 22. She was buried next to her mother at the Fairview Cemetery in New Jersey.
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In September 2018, BET aired a two-part documentary called The Bobby Brown Story that was filled with shocking allegations. The program was based on Brown’s 2016 memoir, Every Little Step, and revealed a lot about his relationship with Whitney Houston. According to the doc, Brown had a one-night stand just days before he proposed to Houston… an affair that led to a pregnancy and the birth of his son Bobby Jr. with the other woman.
The alleged affair took place around the same exact time that Brown impregnated Houston with a baby that she eventually lost. The Bobby Brown Story also uncovers a romance between Houston and friend Robyn Crawford, as well as one between Brown and singer Janet Jackson.