Whitney Houston Biography and Profile

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston. Photo by Kevin Winter

Whitney Houston has been cited by the Guinness Book of Records as the most awarded female performer of all time. She sold more than 170 million records worldwide.

Whitney Houston's Early Life and Relations

Whitney Houston was born August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother was gospel and R&B singer Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick was a cousin. She also counted singer Darlene Love as godmother and Aretha Franklin as an honorary aunt. By the age of 11, Whitney Houston was performing as a soloist at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. She attended the Roman Catholic School Mount Saint Dominic Academy. Whitney Houston counts Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack among her early musical influences.

Background Vocalist

As a teenager Whitney Houston began touring with her mother as a backup vocalist. In 1978, at the age of 15, she backed Chaka Khan on the hit single "I'm Every Woman." Whitney Houston also sang on recordings by Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson. In addition to her music career, Houston began working as a model and appeared on the cover of Seventeen magazine, one of the first Black women to do so. She made an appearance on the 1982 album One Down by Bill Laswell's avant funk band Material. Whitney Houston sang the ballad "Memories." Whitney Houston was given multiple offers for a recording contract in the early 1980s, but her mother insisted that she complete high school first. Finally, legendary music executive Clive Davis signed Whitney Houston to a recording contract with Arista Records in 1983 after seeing her performance in a nightclub.

Whitney Houston's Debut Album

Clive Davis did not rush the recording of Whitney Houston's self-titled debut. In the meantime she recorded "Hold Me," a duet with R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass for his solo album Love Language. It became a top five R&B hit in 1984. It was also later included on her debut album. That collection titled Whitney Houston was released in February 1985. She immediately received rave critical reviews. The first single "Someone For Me" was a relative failure and did not chart in the US or UK. The second single "You Give Good Love" took off with R&B audiences hitting #1 on the R&B chart in May 1985. It then started to climb the pop chart and ultimately landed at #3 in July. The following three singles all topped the pop singles chart. The album hit #1 on the album chart a year after its release and stayed there for 14 weeks. It ultimately sold over 13 million copies in the US. At the time, it was the bestselling debut album ever by a solo artist.

Whitney Houston's album earned three Grammy Award nominations in 1986 including for Album of the Year. The early appearance in a duet with Teddy Pendergrass made Whitney Houston ineligible for the Best New Artist category. Her performance on the song "Saving All My Love For You," Whitney Houston's first #1 pop hit, also won her first Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal.

Whitney Album

Anticipation was very high for Whitney Houston's second solo album. Upon release in June 1987, some critics complained that Whitney was too similar to her first album. However, pop audiences disagreed. The first four singles all went to #1. Whitney Houston became the first recording artist to ever release seven consecutive singles that topped the Billboard Hot 100. She bypassed the previous record of six by the Beatles and the Bee Gees. A fifth single from the album, "Love Will Save the Day," also hit the top 10. The album was the first by a female artist to debut at #1 on the US album chart. The success of concert tours helped Whitney Houston break into the Forbes list of the top 10 moneymaking entertainers.

Whitney Houston repeated her Grammy Awards success in 1988 with three more nominations including a second for Album of the Year. She also won the Best Female Pop Vocal for a second time with "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."

Whitney Houston's Marriage to Bobby Brown

Whitney Houston met R&B singer Bobby Brown at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards. They dated for three years and married in 1992. Their relationship was beset with tabloid headlines and Bobby Brown's run-ins with the law. Their family was the subject of a reality TV show Being Bobby Brown which debuted on Bravo in 2004. The pair separated in September 2006, filed for divorce the following month, and the divorce was eventually finalized in April 2007.

Top Hit Singles

  1. "I Will Always Love You" - 1992
  2. "Greatest Love Of All" - 1986
  3. "How Will I Know" - 1985
  4. "All the Man That I Need" - 1990
  5. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" - 1987
  6. "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" - 1988
  7. "Didn't We Almost Have It All" - 1987
  8. "Saving All My Love for You" - 1985
  9. "I'm Your Baby Tonight" - 1990
  10. "So Emotional" - 1987

I'm Your Baby Tonight

In response to some critics that her first two albums were "selling out" to white audiences, Whitney Houston's music took a more adamantly urban turn on her 1990 album I'm Your Baby Tonight. It included production by Babyface and Stevie Wonder among others. The album only reached #3 on the US chart but eventually sold over four million copies. The singles "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "All The Man That I Need" both topped the pop singles chart. In January 1991 Whitney Houston performed the "Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV during the Gulf War and it was hailed as one of the most stunning televised performances ever. A single of the performance was released and it reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Whitney Houston became the first artist to turn the national anthem into a top 40 hit.

Whitney Houston's Acting and The Bodyguard

In the early 1990s Whitney Houston branched out beyond music into acting. Her first role was co-starring with Kevin Costner in 1992's The Bodyguard. She recorded six songs for the soundtrack of the film, and one of these, a cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," became the biggest hit of her career and one of the biggest pop hits of all time staying at #1 for 14 weeks. Whitney Houston later starred in the feature films Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher's Wife. "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," released in 1995 on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, became Whitney Houston's final #1 pop hit.

My Love Is Your Love

Whitney Houston's first studio, non-soundtrack, album in eight years was released in November 1998. My Love Is Your Love was heavily oriented toward the urban and dance markets. The album included "When You Believe," a duet with Mariah Carey, and four consecutive #1 dance hits, "Heartbreak Hotel," "It's Not Right, But It's OK," "My Love Is Your Love," and "I Learned From the Best." The album failed to reach the top 10 but ultimately sold four million copies and received some of the best reviews of Whitney Houston's career.

Whitney Houston's Decline, Return, and Death

In the early 2000's rumors of drug use, missed performances, and late appearances all tarnished Whitney Houston's public image. She released her fifth studio album Just Whitney in 2002 to mixed reviews. The album debuted inside the top 10 on the album chart but failed to produce any top 40 singles. It did eventually sell a million copies. Whitney Houston released One Wish, a Christmas album, in 2003.

Whitney Houston embarked on a world concert tour in 2004, but the following few years found her doing little connected with music. In March 2007, as her divorce with Bobby Brown was being finalized, Clive Davis announced she would be going into the studio to record new material. After nearly two years of rumors, Whitney Houston took the stage at Clive Davis' pre-Grammy party in February 2009. She released the album in August, 2009. It debuted at #1 and was ultimately certified platinum. The title song and "Million Dollar Bill" were top 20 R&B hits.

In late 2011 reports surfaced that Whitney Houston was planning to produce and star in a remake of the 1976 film Sparkle. However, she was found dead February 11, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California just hours before the annual Clive Davis pre-Grammy Awards party. At the Grammy Awards ceremony itself, Jennifer Hudson performed "I Will Always Love You" in tribute.

The invitation-only memorial service at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey was originally scheduled to last only two hours, but it ultimately went on for four. A wide range of top R&B and gospel artists performed live at the service including Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, and CeCe Winans. Clive Davis, Kevin Costner, and Dionne Warwick all spoke at the service.