Outstanding singer of her generation whose vocal range spanned five octaves
WHITNEY HOUSTON:WHITNEY HOUSTON died last Saturday in Beverly Hills, California; she was 48. The multimillion-selling singer emerged in the United States in the 1980s as one of her generation’s greatest R&B voices, only to deteriorate through years of cocaine use and an abusive marriage.
Her death came as the music industry descended on Los Angeles for the annual celebration of the Grammy Awards, and Houston was – for all her difficulties over the years – one of its queens. She was staying at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Saturday night to attend a pre-Grammy party being hosted by Clive Davis, the founder of Arista Records, who had been her pop mentor.
From the start of her career more than two decades ago, Houston had the talent, looks and pedigree of a pop superstar. She was the daughter of Cissy Houston, a gospel and pop singer who had backed Aretha Franklin, and the cousin of Dionne Warwick. Franklin is Houston’s godmother.
Houston’s range spanned five octaves and her voice was plush, vibrant and often spectacular. She could pour on the exuberant flourishes of gospel or peal a simple pop chorus, sing sweetly or unleash a sultry rasp.
Dressed in everything from formal gowns to T-shirts, she cultivated the image of a fun-loving but ardent good girl, the voice behind songs as perky as I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) and as torchy as what became her signature song, a version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.
But by the mid-1990s, even as she was moving into acting with films like The Bodyguardand The Preacher’s Wife, she became what she described, in a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, as a “heavy” user of marijuana and cocaine. By the 2000s she was struggling; her voice grew smaller, scratchier and less secure, and her performances became erratic.
Houston’s studio albums were million-sellers and two have sold more than 10 million copies in the US alone: Her 1985 debut album and the 1992 soundtrack to The Bodyguard, which includes I Will Always Love You.
But her marriage to the singer Bobby Brown grew miserable and in the 2000s her singles slipped from the top 10. Houston became a tabloid subject; the National Enquirerran a photograph of her bathroom showing drug paraphernalia.
At Central Park in 2009, singing for Good Morning America, her voice was frayed. And on the world tour that followed the release of the album I Look to Youthat year, she was often shaky.
Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey and sang in church and as a teenager in the 1970s and early 1980s. She worked as a back-up studio singer and featured vocalist with acts including Chaka Khan, the Neville Brothers and Bill Laswell’s Material.
Clive Davis signed her after hearing her perform in a New York nightclub and spent two years supervising production of the album Whitney Houston, which was released in 1985. It placed her remarkable voice in polished, catchy songs that straddled pop and RB and included three No 1 singles: Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Knowand The Greatest Love of All.With Saving All My Love for You, she won her first Grammy award, for best female pop vocal performance, an award she would win twice more.
Her popularity soared for the next decade. Her second album, Whitney, in 1987, became the first album by a woman to enter the Billboard charts at No 1 and it included four No 1 singles. She shifted her pop slightly towards R&B on her third album, I’l Be Your Baby Tonight, in 1990, which had three more No 1 singles.
For much of the 1990s, she turned to acting, bolstered by her music. She played a pop diva in The Bodyguardand its soundtrack album went on to sell 17 million copies in the US. It won the Grammy for album of the year.
Houston married Brown in 1992 and in 1993 they had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who survives her. Houston’s 2009 interview with Winfrey portrayed it as a passionate and then turbulent marriage, marred by drug use and his professional jealousy, psychological abuse and physical confrontations. They divorced in 2007.
Her albums in the 2000s advanced a new persona for Houston. Just Whitney, in 2002, was defensive and scrappy, lashing out at the media and insisting on her loyalty to her man. Her most recent studio album , I Look to You, appeared in 2009, and it, too, reached No 1.
Neil R Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which bestows the Grammys, called her “one of the world’s greatest pop singers of all time, who leaves behind a robust musical soundtrack”.
Whitney Houston: born August 9th 1963; died February 11th, 2012