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We Will Always Love You: Whitney Houston's Dynamic Talent
Whitney Houston was a one of a kind talent. Her voice opened the doors both literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, in 2012 that voice has been silenced forever.
She was found around 3:55 pm Pacific Time in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel by her bodyguard Ray. Paramedics arrived at the scene but were unable to resuscitate her. She was pronounced dead soon after. Whitney Houston is survived by her mother, Gospel artsist, Cissy Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina, whose father is Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown.
But what we want to remember is not how she died but how she lived and how unique her talent was.
Whitney Houston's family is known for their singing. Her mother Cissy was in a gospel group with Houston's aunts as well as a backup singer for legends such as Aretha Franklin who was Whitney's godmother.
Because of her exposure to music, she quickly picked up on the family gift. As a teenager, she sang backup for Chaka Khan alongside her mother. Whitney also sang backup for Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson. She was also featured as a lead vocalist on Paul Jabara's album, Paul Jabara and Friends released on Columbia Records back in 1983.
Alongside music, Whitney also had the opportunity to pursue modeling. She was one of the first women of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen. She also was featured in spreads for Glamour, Cosmopolitan and the now defunct Young Miss (later known as YM). She also got an early start in acting by appearing in a Canada Dry commercial.
While she was courted by several labels including Elektra Records, it was Arista Records that helped her launch her career. Scouted while performing in New York, she was soon brought to the attention of music impresario Clive Davis.
And with his guidance and insight, she was off and running.
A Lovely Introduction
Whitney Houston worked on her first album with writers and producers such as Jermaine Jackson, George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, and Michael Masser. She also recorded a duet with Teddy Pendgrass, "Hold Me" which was featured on his album Love Language as well as Houston's eponymous debut.
Whitney Houston's debut single "You Give Good Love" introduced her to the American audience, particularly African-American R&B fans. However, that was the first taste of her dynamic voice. Her second single, "Saving All My Love" hit number one on the R&B charts and number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
However, what really drove her to the top was her MTV-friendly single and video for "How Will I Know." The song was a number one smash and helped open the door for black female artists to be played on MTV in heavy rotation.
She became the first female artist to have three number ones from a debut album. And her success would continue as the final single from her debut, "Greatest Love of All" became an instant classic and is considered one of her signature song.
In support of the album, she did several promotional appearances including her Greatest Love Tour. She was also featured on the talk show circuit performing hits at the American Music Awards, The 3rd Annual MTV Video Music Awards, as well as the Grammys where she won her first Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
A controversy erupted when Houston was not so much as nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys. NARAS President Michael Green stated that since she had appeared on Teddy Pendergrass' album as well as Paul Jabara's record. But in her defense, Clive Davis noted that artists such as Crosby, Stills and Nash and Luther Vandross had early appearances on records but were still nominated. And while NARAS stuck by their decision, it still came under fire several years later after former Shalamar vocalist Jody Watley won in 1988.
And while she put that behind her, her next album would launch her into the stratosphere.
Her second album, Whitney followed in 1987 with the same Pop and R&B sensibility that brought her to prominence. Her first four singles all hit number one. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" all cemented her presence by giving her seven consecutive number ones.
She also became only the fifth solo artist and the first female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. This album also netted three Grammy nods and she won once again in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."
Whitney also made history across the pond becoming the first African American female artist to sell over two million copies. She also continued to dominate award shows such as the American Music Awards and The MTV Video Music Awards.
Whitney also became noted around this time for singing tribute songs and the National Anthem at events like the Special Olympics.
At the end of the 1980s, she met R&B superstar Bobby Brown and her career took another turn as the 1990s dawned.
Whitney Houston's third album marked the beginning of a new dynamic in Houston's life and career. I'm Your Baby Tonight was a commercial hit, selling twelve million copies to date. However, it was not the blockbuster album that were her first two albums.
Houston released two singles that hit number one, the title track and "All the Man that I Need." Subsequent singles later did modestly well but did not reach the heights that other efforts had.
Around the same time, Houston was embarking on a relationship with bad boy singer Bobby Brown whose fame peaked in the late 1980s after leaving R&B group New Edition for a solo career that resulted in a massive rise and fall. At the time of their relationship, many of us questioned her attraction to him. And while it was not understandable then, it definitely changed the course of Houston's life and career forever.
However, in 1991 Houston had another crowning achievement in singing the National Anthem during the 25th Superbowl. And while others have attempted to do the anthem justice, only Whitney Houston turned it into a charting hit. Just hearing her hit those raw notes stirs something deep within us.
In 1992, she married Bobby Brown and began filming "The Bodyguard" alongside Kevin Costner. She also contributed six songs to the soundtrack in addition to executive producing it. The soundtrack was a massive hit, thanks to Houston's biggest single " I Will Always Love You" a cover of the Dolly Parton classic. The soundtrack also helped her cleanup at the Grammys in 1994, winning Album of the Year and Record of the Year.
She also had a successful hand in another project, her daughter. Bobby Kristina was born and she began to devote herself to being a great mother.
Following her success in "The Bodyguard", she began to take roles in other films such as "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife". However, her music career took a backseat and she would not release an album until 1998's My Love is Your Love.
Whitney Houston also extended her hand into producing, appearing in the ABC's Wonderful World of Disney movie version of "Cinderella" as the fairy godmother to Brandy's Cinderella.
She would release two more albums following My Love is Your Love including Just Whitney in 2002 and 2009's I Look to You. She also recorded and released a Christmas record in 2003, to little fair. While her core fans were happy, the music was not as prolific or dynamic as her previous efforts.
Houston now became known for increasingly erratic behavior with then-husband Bobby Brown including drug arrests, court appearances, and interviews. They also had a much maligned reality show Being Bobby Brown which ultimately chronicled the demise of their relationship. In 2007, they had an acrimonious divorce.
Fortunately, Houston began to re-enter music but I Look To You was met with mixed reviews. Late last year she was offered a role in the remake of the 1970s cult classic Sparkle which will be released later this year.
However, no matter how much her life was scrutinized in the final years, her impact lives on through her music and the music of the generations she touched.
Whitney Houston is really the premiere African-American pop star. While Janet Jackson is a contemporary, Whitney appealed in a way that was different. Her voice was the center of her talent. She did not need auto-tune, background dancers, or gimmickry to appeal to us. She just stood there and sing.
Many young singers have referenced Whitney Houston and her impact in their lives. Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera, and Glee's Amber Riley are among the singers who honestly taken her appeal to the next level by letting their voice shine above above and beyond anything else.
Another thing Whitney Houston gave us was a certain class of performer. She never deemed it necessary to be scantily clad or streak her hair just for shock appeal. And even her darkest moments, she exuded a light that was one of kind.
When I think of the show "The Voice," her voice is one of those you automatically know as a the in front of it. It is the standard for vocal ability and real emotional power across any and every genre. Ironically enough, she was recently considered a possible judge by X Factor Executive Producer and Judge Simon Cowell to be a judge in the upcoming season. And to be honest, I cannot think of too many more qualified performers to do so.
Whitney's legacy continues even now after her death.
One Year Later
The first anniversary of Whitney's death follows a year of controversy, fighting, and heartache for Whitney's family, friends, and music industry colleagues.
In late 2012, Whitney's mother, brother, sister-in-law, and daughter were featured on the Lifetime reality show, The Houstons: On Our Own. Much like the reality show chronicling the lives of Michael Jackson's brothers following his death, it shows the family dealing with everyday life and family drama. One story that is featured is daughter Bobbi Kristina's relationship with her "adopted" brother Nick. While many media reports had them engaged, in the end the two decided to remain friends.
Also under scrutiny was mother Cissy's handling of Bobby Brown and his family at Whitney's funeral, it was said she had them escorted out of the funeral for causing a ruckus. More controversy was unleashed when Cissy penned a book about her life and Whitney's dissing Brown as a husband. Granddaughter Bobbi Kristina- openly opposed the book and the motivations behind it.
On the industry side of Whitney's death, the Grammys held a tribute to Whitney in November and will air a special documentary capturing how they rescheduled the program last year to deal with her death.
While we will never hear Whitney's voice live again, we can continue to honor her legacy in film and song.
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