WHITNEY HOUSTON was an American singer and actress born on this date. She was certified as the most awarded female artist of all time by Guinness World Records and is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, with sales of over 200 million records worldwide. Houston released seven studio albums and two soundtrack albums, all of which have been certified diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). She is regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time. Her crossover appeal on the popular music charts as well as her prominence on MTV influenced several African-American female artists. She was the daughter of ex-Army serviceman and Newark city administrator John Russell Houston Jr. and gospel singer Emily “Cissy” (Drinkard) Houston. Her elder brother Michael is a songwriter, and her elder half-brother is former basketball player and singer Gary Garland. Her parents were both African-American. Through her mother, Houston was a first cousin of singers Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. Her godmother was Darlene Love and her honorary aunt was Aretha Franklin, whom she met at age eight or nine when her mother took her to a recording studio. Houston was raised a Baptist, but was also exposed to the Pentecostal church. After the 1967 Newark riots, the family moved to a middle-class area in East Orange, New Jersey, when she was four. Her parents later divorced.
At age 11, Houston started performing as a soloist in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she also learned to play the piano. Her first solo performance in the church was “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”.
While Houston was still in school, her mother, Cissy, continued to teach her how to sing. Cissy was a member of the group The Sweet Inspirations which also opened for and sang backup for Elvis Presley. Houston spent some of her teens touring nightclubs where Cissy was performing, and she would occasionally get onstage and perform with her. Houston was also exposed to the music of Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Roberta Flack, most of whom would have an influence on her as a singer and performer. In 1977, at age 14, she became a backup singer on the Michael Zager Band’s single “Life’s a Party”. In 1978, at 15, Houston sang background vocals for Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls.
Houston attended a Catholic girls’ high school in Caldwell, New Jersey; she graduated in 1981. During her teens, Houston met Robyn Crawford, who she described as the “sister she never had”. Crawford went on to become Houston’s best friend, roommate, and executive assistant. After Houston rose to stardom, she and Crawford were rumored to be lovers, which they both denied in 1987. In 2019, several years after Houston’s death, Crawford stated that their early relationship had included sexual activity, but that Houston ended this for fear of others’ reactions.
Houston renewed her contract with Arista for $100 million. However, her personal struggles began overshadowing her career, and the album Just Whitney received mixed reviews. Her drug use and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown received widespread media coverage. After a six-year break from recording, Houston returned to the top of the Billboard 200 chart with her final studio album, I Look to You. On February 11, 2012, Houston was found dead at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. The coroner’s report showed that she had accidentally drowned in the bathtub, with heart disease and cocaine use as contributing factors. News of her death coincided with the 2012 Grammy Awards and was featured prominently in international media. Houston was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.