By JOHN PARELES and ADAM NAQUORNEY New York Times Syndicate
Posted Monday, February 13 2012 at 18:00
Posted Monday, February 13 2012 at 18:00
- With a ferociously powerful voice and a dazzling range, Whitney Houston achieved stardom as a pop-soul singer known as “The Voice” and the “Queen of Pop” in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Her fantastic success — and that of fellow pop icon Michael Jackson — was propelled by a brand new device at the time: the pop music video. Now she is no more. Here’s a tribute to this dashing goddess.
Whitney Houston, the multimillion-selling singer who emerged 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, died Saturday in Beverly Hills, California. She was 48.
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.
Houston was found in her room at 3:55pm, and paramedics spent close to 20 minutes trying to revive her, authorities said.
There was no immediate word on the cause of her death, but authorities said there were no signs of foul play.
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 up 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.
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.She could pour on the exuberant flourishes of gospel or peal a simple pop chorus; she could sing sweetly or unleash a sultry rasp.
But by the mid-1990s, even as she was moving into acting with films like The Bodyguard and 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 grew erratic.
All of Houston’s studio albums were million-sellers, and two have sold more than 10 million copies in the United States alone: her 1985 debut album and the 1992 soundtrack to The Bodyguard, which includes IWill Always Love You.
But her marriage to the singer Bobby Brown — which was, at one point, documented in a Bravo reality television series, Being Bobby Brown — grew miserable, and in the 2000s, her singles slipped from the top 10.
Houston became a tabloid subject; the National Enquirer ran a photo of her bathroom showing drug paraphernalia.
And each new album — Just Whitney in 2002 and I Look to You in 2009 — became a comeback.
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 You that year, she was often shaky.
Whitney Houston was born on August 9, 1963 in Newark, NJ. She sang in church, and as a teenager in the 1970s and early 1980s, she worked as a backup studio singer and featured vocalist with acts including Chaka Khan, the Neville Brothers and Bill Laswell’s Material.
Davis signed her after hearing her perform in a New York City 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 R&B, and it included three No 1 singles: Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know and The Greatest Love of All.
Because Houston had been credited on previous recordings, including a 1984 duet with Teddy Pendergrass, she was ruled ineligible for the best new artist category of the Grammy Awards; the eligibility criteria have since been changed.
But 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 toward R&B on her third album, I’ll 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 Bodyguard, and its soundtrack album — including the hits I Will Always Love You, I’m Every Woman, I Have Nothing and Run To You — went on to sell 17 million copies in the United States.
It won the Grammy for album of the year, and I Will Always Love Youwon record of the year (for a single).
After making the films Waiting To Exhale in 1995 and The Preacher’s Wife in 1996 — which gave her the occasion to make a gospel album — Houston resumed her pop career with My Love Is Your Love in 1998.
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 by 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.Houston sang, “I crashed down and I tumbled, but I did not crumble/I got through all the pain,” in a voice that showed scars. 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”. “A light has been dimmed in our music community today,” he said.