The Life & Legacy of the Legendary Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston: An Icon & Legend

By: Amber Jones


I conducted this research by perusing sites such as google scholar and online research databases at Robert W. Woodruff Library. This led to me discovering insightful and informative articles on Whitney Houston’s career, personal life, struggles, and accomplishments. The articles that I read helped me better understand Whitney Houston. As I was researching Whitney Houston, it was through the focal point of her tremendous success and legacy as one of the greatest singers in music history. My research revealed Whitney Houston’s many accomplishments as well as her struggles. Through reading these articles, I was also able to discover the direction I wanted to take in my paper.


Summary & Abstract

The late Whitney Houston had a great impact on popular culture during her greatest years of stardom in the 1980s and 1990s. She rose to fame in 1985 with her debut album Whitney Houston. Her incomparable success is one that reflects her immense talent. Throughout her career she received many awards including grammys, emmys, and american music awards. She also made history on the billboard charts with her albums. Although Whitney Houston became a renowned artist in her music career, she faced many struggles in her personal life. These included issues with drugs and her marriage to Bobby Brown. However, her trials don’t distract from the fact that Whitney Houston had a revolutionary career as a Black woman. Throughout her career, she released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums. She is considered to have one of the most powerful and moving voices during her lifetime and beyond.

Musical Background

Whitney Houston’s mother Cissy Houston and cousin Dionne Warwick were legendary figures in American gospel, soul and pop music. Whitney Houston sang backups for artists such as Lou Rawls and Chaka Khan before she was discovered in a nightclub by Clive Davis at 19 years old. Clive Davis signed her immediately in 1983 and took charge of her career as she transitioned from gospel to pop stardom. Whitney Houston possessed one of her generation’s most powerful gospel-trained voices. However, Clive Davis spent two years after signing her to balance her gospel-like sound with contemporary melodies by gathering lyricists and producers. Her voice was a mezzo-soprano, included major range, and she was able to use a range of different notes in one syllable (Roberts 2012). Her musical styles included gospel, pop, and r&b. However, she used gospel phrasing only sparingly, and communicated self-assurance and strength in her music. The many pop ballads she sang included continued peaks of intensity. Overall, Whitney’s style was characteristic of the vocal power of rhythm and blues music in the post-hip-hop era.

Rise to Fame

In 1985, Whitney Houston released her debut album which was titled Whitney Houston. Upon release of her album, she almost immediately became a pop sensation and rose to stardom. The album broke sales records by selling 30 million copies globally. Her hit singles “Saving All My Love for You”, “How Will I Know”, and “Greatest Love of All” helped the album reach the top of the charts, where it stayed for 14 non-consecutive weeks. Houston received the 1986 Grammy award for best pop vocal performance as well as five trophies from the US music awards. Furthermore, her concerts also sold out throughout both the U.S. and Europe. The commercial success of this album is representative of a cross-over of R&B/soul which is Black music into the predominantly White genre of Pop music. Her second album titled Whitney was released in 1987. It debuted at the number one position on the Billboard chart. Whitney made history because this was the first album by a female artist to do so. Its first single, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” went straight to the top. This album had three other number-one hits which included “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” This album led to more awards for Whitney including the 1988 Grammy for “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and she won both the female pop and soul/rhythm and blues vocal honors at the American Music Awards in 1989. Throughout the 1980s Whitney Houston continued to break barriers and made her mark in the music industry.

Film Career

Whitney Houston starred in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, alongside Kevin Kostner. The film was a huge box office success. It grossed $390 million worldwide by mid-1993. The soundtrack album, which featured six Whitney Houston performances, sold about 24 million copies. The biggest single made from the soundtrack was her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which earned Whitney two of her three Grammys in 1994. It was also one of the longest running number one singles ever. Whitney Houston also starred in several other films including Waiting to Exhale in 1995, The Preacher’s Wife in 1996, and Sparkle in 2012. Whitney Houston’s success as an actresses exemplifies her versatility and many talents.

Trials and Tribulations

In 1992, Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown following a three year engagement. She then gave birth to their daughter Bobbi Kristina in 1993. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Whitney Houston’s marital problems and struggles with drugs threatened to wreck her career. By the end of her career, Whitney Houston’s drug use led to the demise of her marriage and almost ruined her career. This was illustrated through her plunging albums sales and lack of hit records. Her once calm and beautiful image was shattered by her wild behavior and crazy  public appearances. She later confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills. As she got older there was a noticeable difference in her voice which became raspy and hoarse. She was also unable to hit the high notes as she had during her prime. On February 11th, 2012 the world lost a beautiful talent when Whitney Houston died of an accidental drowning at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The toxicology report later noted five illegal substances that contributed to her death.

Whitney Houston: The Legend

Whitney Houston left her mark on the world as one of the best-selling artists and one of the most powerful voices ever heard. Whitney Houston reached a record of seven consecutive number one hits and became the first woman to produce four number-one singles from one album throughout the late 1980s. Her success transcended music with her success as both an actress and model. Whitney Houston influenced successful singers such as Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce. Houston also did many philanthropic endeavors. She formed the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children in 1989. She also supported the United Negro College Fund, the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and various AIDS-related causes. Through Whitney Houston’s lifetime her seemingly effortless, powerful, and captivating voice touched the world and music was forever changed.



Roberts, Robin. “Whitney Houston 1963–2012.” Popular Music and Society 35, no. 5 (2012): 701-02. doi:10.1080/03007766.2012.703511.

Shelton, M. “Whitney is Every Woman?: Cultural Politics and the Pop Star.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 12, no. 3 36 (1995): 134-53. doi:10.1215/02705346-12-3_36-134.

Kooijman, Jaap. “The true voice of Whitney Houston: commodification, authenticity, and African American superstardom.” Celebrity Studies 5, no. 3 (2014): 305-20. doi:10.1080/19392397.2014.911110.

Norment, L. 1990. “`Forever daddy’s girl.’ (cover story).” Ebony 45, no. 8: 132. MAS Ultra – School Edition, EBSCOhost(accessed February 18, 2018).

Samuels, Allison. 1998. “Whitney on the Record.” Newsweek 132, no. 21: 76. MAS Ultra – School Edition, EBSCOhost(accessed February 18, 2018).

Norment, Lynn. “Whitney Houston. (cover story).” Ebony 48, no. 3 (January 1993): 118. MAS Ultra – School Edition, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2018).

Samuels, Allison. 2000. “Worrying About Whitney.” Newsweek 135, no. 15: 81. MAS Ultra – School Edition, EBSCOhost(accessed February 18, 2018).


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