Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey, on August 9, 1963. She grew up in a family of performers and entertainers and was accepted into stardom. Her mom, Emily “Cissy” Houston, was an American soul and gospel singer who primarily performed in nightclubs. Her father, John Russell Houston, was an entertainment manager and managed Whitney and her mother (Heppermann 15). In addition, Aretha Franklin was her Godmother, Dionne Warwick was her cousin, and Gladis Knight was a close family friend. On top of her mother being a nightclub singer, she was also a choir director and had Whitney singing in the choir at their church New Hope Baptist Church, at the young age of five (Griffith, Susan). She could move audiences with her exceptional talent even at a young age. At eleven, Whitney had her first solo performance at church. Whitney states that when the congregation would show the powerful effects she had on them by her singing, she knew that she had a God-given talent (Griffith, Susan).
At age fifteen, she began to go on tour with her mother. At this point in her career, Whitney wanted to start looking for record labels, but her parents highly encouraged her to continue her schooling and start her career after graduating high school. In her teenage years, she also sang backup for Chaka Khan (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Around this time, she was also discovered by photographer Bette Marshall. Marshall first saw Whitney when she was on tour with her mother and had a solo. She realized Whitney’s beauty and talent and wanted to document her discovery. Soon after being found by Marshall, Whitney became a popular teen model. This led to her being one of the first African American women in Seventeen Magazine. This opportunity helped open many other doors for the singer. While performing at a nightclub at nineteen, she was signed almost immediately by Clive Davis from Artista Records. This was how Whitney’s style went from gospel to pop and launched her career. Houston and Davis worked religiously on her debut album for the next two years. In addition to the record deal, she began to do television appearances when she was 21 years old (Heppermann 22). Her debut TV appearance was on The Merv Griffin Show, where she sang a beautiful rendition of “Home” from The Wiz (Biography.com).
In 1985 she released her debut album named Whitney Houston. This album had many hit singles like “Saving All My Love,” “Greatest Love of All,” and “How Will I Know.” This immediately launched her music career. This album stayed on the top of the charts for 14 continuous weeks. She then went on to win a Grammy in 1986 for Saving All My Love (McHugh 55). Because of this considerable success, she made the second release in 1986 called Whitney. This had one of her greatest hits, “I want to Dance with Somebody,” which also went on to win a Grammy. She then went on The Greatest Love of All tour in July 1986. Her debut tour lasted around four months, and she traveled to Europe, Japan, Australia, and North America.
She then began to get into acting roles. Her acting debut was the movie The BodyGuard. That movie was highly successful, making over 400 million dollars worldwide and becoming one of the highest-grossing films in 1992. In addition to starring in the movie, she recorded up to six songs on the movie’s soundtrack. Though the movie did not receive the best reviews, she still received a lot of recognition for the songs in the film. One of the songs is I Will Always Love You which went on to win a Grammy for record of the year and became the best-selling physical single by a woman in history. And not only did that one song win a Grammy, but the whole album won one for album of the year and remains the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time. She then recorded many other soundtracks for movies like The Preacher’s Wife and Waiting to Exhale. She then stayed in the music industry by helping produce classics like Cinderella, The Princess Diaries, and The Cheeta Girls.
At this point, Whitney seemed to be at the top of the world. Her career was going great, and she married Bobby Brown a few years later, in 1992. Bobby Brown is an American singer, songwriter, and dancer. He became famous in the 1980s and early 1990s for hits like “Humpin Around” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” The young couple met at the soul train music awards, which was love at first sight (Edmons, Lauren). After they got married, two years later, they had their one and only daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. Years after their child was born, their relationship began to go downhill, from drug abuse from both parties to domestic violence and even multiple cheating affairs. This relationship, as it is popularly known, was toxic, and they divorced in 2007.
In the midst of her rollercoaster of marriage, her career was still on the rise. In 1988 she released another album called My Love is Your Love and won another Grammy for her single “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.” She also collaborated with Mariah Carey in the animated film The Prince of Egypt. For that movie, she created another hit single, “When You Believe,” which went on to win an Academy Award. In 2004, She and her husband had a reality show Being Bobby Brown. But her health started to decrease during this time, and her drug abuse increased. The show portrayed Whitney at her lowest point in life and caused her reputation to suffer. She was still named the most-awarded woman through her struggles by Guinness World Records in 2006 (Biography.com Editors). After her divorce in 2007, Houston took a break from the industry for two years to focus on her physical and mental health. In 2009, Whitney then went on to release even more music. She released her album I Look To You, quickly reaching the top of the charts. She also began to do live shows again, but it was apparent she was not herself.
Sadly, Whitney Houston became heavily addicted to drugs. Some family members have stated that Whitney started using drugs at a very young age due to sexual abuse from her family members (Miller, Julia). This abuse, on top of the stress from her marriage and family, affected Houston her entire life, causing her to end up addicted to drugs. She started smoking marijuana at a young age, and in addition, she tried cocaine for the first time when she was only 14 years old. As time passed, she continued to smoke crack cocaine after shows, events, or in her free time. Her closest friend, Robyn Crawford, says to People Magazine that she asked Whitney to stop many times, but Whitney also said it was not time (McNeil, Liz). After she got married, her addiction started to spiral out of control. They even talked about rehab, but Whitney refused, stating that she was fine and it was not her time to go. This constant drug abuse led to her tragic and unexpected death on February 12, 2012. The singer was found face down in her tub in her Beverly Hilton suite bathroom ( Margaitoff, Marco). It was later found that she had cocaine and marijuana in her system. Though her death was ruled accidental, millions of people mourned her death, including her at the time 18-year-old daughter Bobbi.
Until the end, Whitney Houston is an icon who sold seven studio albums, six compilations, three soundtrack albums, five box sets, six extended plays, and 57 singles. Though her personal life was not as perfect as it may have seemed, she will always be remembered for her many accomplishments, catchy songs, and fantastic voice.
Heppermann, Christine. Whitney Houston: Recording Artist & Actress. ABDO Pub. Co., 2013.
KENNEDY, GERRICK. Didn’t We Almost Have It All: In Defense of Whitney Houston. HARRY N ABRAMS, 2022.
McHugh, Carolyn. Whitney Houston: The Greatest Love of All. Sona Books, 2022. Editors
Biography.com. “Whitney Houston.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 3 May 2021, https://www.biography.com/musician/whitney-houston.
Miller, Julie. “Whitney Houston’s Dark Family Secret Uncovered in New Documentary.” Vanity Fair, 17 May 2018, https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/05/whitney-houston-documentary-abuse.
Editors, Encyclopedia Britannica. “Whitney Houston.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Whitney-Houston.