Saturday, 31 March 2012

Whitney Houston - A Celebration

As a fan of Whitney Houston's work from the very first time I heard her debut album Whitney, I'm still in a sense of disbelief, nearly two months on, that she is no longer with us. It is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to compose this. Its not a definitive history of her life by any means (there are plenty of websites and plenty of books that cover that subject) and I've concentrated on the positive, but hopefully you'll enjoy reading it. Some personal favourite tracks to come in the week.

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, N.J., and powerful female voices and the sound of choirs were in her ears before she could walk or talk. Cissy Houston, her mother, was a gospel singer and back-up singer who worked with the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Dusty Springfield. Aretha Franklin and was the youngster's godmother, and Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick were her cousins. There was little doubt that young Whitney would follow their career paths.

1973: Whitney grew up as the youngest of three in Newark, New Jersey. Here, at the age of 10, Whitney was already performing in the junior gospel choir

In her family's basement - which was Madison Square Garden in her imagination -  she would belt out Respect and bask in the applause that she might have considered her birthright. By high school she was singing back-up for Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls and had also embarked on a modeling career that put her in the glossy spreads of Seventeen and Glamour magazines.

1979: Whitney's mother Cissy was a notable gospel singer and close friends with Aretha Franklin, who taught Whitney how to perform
1979: Whitney spent her teen years accompanying mum Cissy on nightclub tours, occasionally joining her on stage 
At a showcase in Sweetwaters supper club in Manhattan -  she could sing at 19 but wasn't old enough to buy a drink - she was spotted by Clive Davis, the music mogul who has become legendary for his ear and his success in guiding the early careers of Rod Stewart, Carlos Santana, Barry Manilow, Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson. Davis saw in Houston a rare bundle of raw talent, beauty and pedigree. He spent two years and $250,000 to prepare and package her before releasing her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, which would became a mega-seller.

1985: Whitney was spotted by a photographer in the early 80s and went on to model for Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Young Miss. She also appeared on many TV adverts.
1985: Whitney signed with mentor Clive Davis's label in 1983, but didn't release debut album 'Whitney Houston' until 1985 
It became the first album by a new female artist to yield three No. 1 singles: Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know and The Greatest Love of All. Critics moaned that the material was too flimsy for such a prodigious instrument, but Houston reveled in the success. She became a major crossover star and, with her gospel background and relatively wholesome aura, she was the rare female recording star who was young and attractive but not overtly sexualized on stage and on screen.

1986: Whitney's album was nominated for a Grammy and the her first singles All At Once and Saving All My Love For You dominated the charts
Houston's follow-up album, Whitney, in the summer of 1987, delivered hit after hit with I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Didn't We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go. For her career, her sales totals would become dizzying: By some accounting, she sold more than 170 million albums, singles and videos in the pre-digital marketplace.

1988: Whitney performs at the Nelson Mandela Concert 
1988: During the Summer Olympics, her song One Moment In Time, which was originally recorded for NBC’s coverage of the Summer Games in Seoul, went on to reach number five on the Billboard charts, earn a Grammy nom for Best Song, Film & TV and win an Emmy.

Houston's stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the 1991 Super Bowl became a signature as well and a massive fundraiser for the American Red Cross. 

1992: Whitney crosses over into acting, starring in Hollywood blockbuster The Bodyguard:

1992: Whitney and Kevin Costner on the set of The Bodyguard. She releases iconic hit I Will Always Love You. Houston's version was a massive worldwide success, spending 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was a record. The single became her longest run at number one, smashing her previous record, which was three weeks with 1986's, Greatest Love of All. It is also the longest running number one single from a soundtrack album. It also appeared at number 68 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of All Time.

1995: Whitney's acting career continues with a leading role in Waiting To Exhale:

She also had roles in 1996's The Preachers's Wife...

...and 1997's Cinderalla, although the latter two don't experience similar success to her earlier films. As an aside, she also was a producer on the Disney film The Princess Diaries:

1998: Whitney has the honour of giving Muhammad Ali the Courage Award at the GQ Award

1998: Whitney releases My Love In Your Love, her first studio album in eight years. It marked a change of direction towards R&B and dance and was highly praised across the world.

1999: Whitney performs at VH1's Diva's Live with Mary J Blige...

...and with Mariah Carey performing their hit duet When You Believe at the Annual Academy Awards.

In August 2001, Houston signed the biggest record deal in music history with Arista/BMG. She renewed her contract for $100 million to deliver six new albums, on which she would also earn royalties. She later made an appearance on Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special.

In December 2002, Houston released her fifth studio album, Just Whitney.The album included productions from then-husband Bobby Brown, as well as Missy Elliott and Babyface, and marked the first time that Houston did not produce with Clive Davis as Davis had been released by top management at BMG.

In late 2003, Houston released her first Christmas album One Wish: The Holiday Album, with a collection of traditional holiday songs. Houston produced the album with Mervyn Warren and Gordon Chambers. A single titled One Wish (for Christmas) reached the Top 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and the album was certified gold in the US. Having always been a touring artist, Houston spent most of 2004 touring and performing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Russia. In September 2004, she gave a surprise performance at the World Music Awards in a tribute to long time friend Clive Davis. After the show, Davis and Houston announced plans to go into studio to work on her new album.

2005: Husband Bobby Brown starred in his own reality TV program, Being Bobby Brown (on the Bravo network in the US), which provided a view into the domestic goings-on in the Brown household. Though it was Brown's vehicle, Houston was a prominent figure throughout the show, receiving as much screen time as Brown.

2007: Whitney appears at a party in Hollywood:

2009: She releases the album I Look To You:

Performing My Love Is Your Love with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown on Good Morning America:

Whitney performs number one single Million Dollar Bill on The X Factor:

2012: Whitney's last ever performance as she shared the stage at Kelly Price & Friends Unplugged in LA:

More than sales units, Houston had stepped to the centre of pop culture in a way that would make her a powerful influence on several generations of singers, especially Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson.