It was another sunny Sunday in New Jersey. The date was August 9, 1963; and the venue Newark. That little girl sleeping peacefully in a wooden cradle is Whitney Elizabeth Houston. She is two hours old. Her exhausted but recuperating mother, Cissy, is a gospel singer. But in no mood for Alleluia chorus. At least for now! Her voice was subdued, her energy sapped, and her joy contended the leftovers of a protracted labor. Proud dad, John, sat at the foot of his wife’s bed. But as he caressed and urged Cissy to take a nap before the baby wakes, a sensitive Whitney shuddered, sneezed—and then shrilled. Eyes were still shut. But she has just echoed her very first song.
Right from birth, everything that pertained to Whitney Houston pertained to song. Aside from having a singer mother, she had a godmother in Aretha Franklin. One cousin is Dionne Warwick, and another Dee Dee. It was a complete team. All she had to wait for is the appropriate time.
Her family relocated to West Orange, NJ, when she was four. At eleven, her parents enrolled her in the junior category of their church’s choir. She was at home there; showed interest in piano, and would always demand that mum sing for her in the evenings. Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack were regulars on the family’s aging gramophone. And, intermittent entertainments from godmother, Aretha Franklin, and cousin, Dionne Warwick, spiced-up everything. Lifestyle was modest, but enjoyable.
She attended Mount St. Dominic Catholic High School at nearby Caldwell. At this same period, she backed-up mum in some of her contract-singings at local nightclubs. Dad was now residing in a different address—following an irreconcilable separation. Divorce was quick to follow. But Whitney managed to put on a brave face. She buried herself in her curricula. She had a stint as a model; and in the process, bagged commercials that included prominently featured adverts for “Canada Dry” soft-drinks. She effortlessly excelled to the point of becoming one of the first Black women to grace the cover of the famous “Seventeen” magazine. Meanwhile, she never stopped thirsting for songs—despite her modeling success.
Having pocketed valuable tutorials from mum, Whitney showcased her budding talent before the Grammy Award-winning songstress, Chaka Khan. An impressed Chaka urged Cissy to let the fifteen year-old join her as a background vocalist. Mutual agreement was reached, and Whitney never disappointed. She featured in Chaka Khan’s much-acclaimed hit-single, “I’m Every Woman”. Both Jermaine Jackson and Lou Rawls could not resist her tenderness. She later served both as backups.
Having cut her teeth on renowned professional stages, Whitney was in the must-catch lists of several recording labels, including: Arista, and Elektra Records. With an undisclosed worldwide recording contract, Arista triumphed as the first label to catch the goldfish. Paired in duet with the affable Teddy Pendergrass, Whitney’s debut duo, “Hold Me” (in Teddy’s album, “Love Language”) became an instant hit. It made it all the way to the R&B Top 5. She would later (in 1985), reheat this old lead—as a solo artiste.
Miss Houston’s solo moment arrived as the year 1985 dawned. She released her self-titled album, “Whitney Houston”, on the Valentine’s Day of that year. Co-produced by Jermaine Jackson and few other experienced hands, it prompted endless accolades to rain from left, right, and center. The much-respected “Rolling Stone Magazine” praised the lass thus: “Whitney Houston is one of the most exciting new voices to arrive in years.” Not to be outdone, “The New York Times” added: “The album is an impressive, musically conservative showcase for an exceptional vocal talent.” The first hit-song of this debut album, “You Give Good Love”, made its way to the very top. It coveted and finally grabbed the number one slot on the R&B Chart, and simultaneously rested at number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was also a magnificent success in several other countries. As if that was not enough, the next hit-release, “Saving All My Love For You”, muscled its way to number one in both the U.S. and the U.K. Then, it was time for “How Will I know” to make its mark. This singles-release was not satisfied with occupying the number one spot; it also, ensured that its accompanied video kept most MTV viewers humming—day and night.
Even as 1986 rolled in, the album “Whitney Houston” had remained atop U.S Billboard 200 for fourteen consecutive weeks. This set the stage for the biggest and the most successful of the hit-singles, rightly titled “The Greatest Love Of All”. It seized the number one position for three weeks, and instigated the artiste’s famous and highly successful “Greatest Love Tour”. All in all, the album, “Whitney Houston”, became a global hit—with fantastic thirteen platinum awards in the U.S.A. alone! Many more accolades (both in the U.S. and overseas) followed. With her first solo album, Whitney Houston deservedly plucked every award that mattered in the music world.
Her second album simply titled “Whitney” would soar to even greater heights. It made Whitney Houston the first female American artiste to top both the U.S. and the U.K. album charts. Incorporating songs like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, this second album sold over ten million copies in the U.S. Altogether, it successfully vended some thirty million copies worldwide. And, more awards followed.
Whitney Houston’s successful career continued to blossom. She would partake in, help out, and sponsored many charitable causes and organizations, including the Red Cross. In 1991 she sang the official U.S. National Anthem at the Super Bowl XXV. She married a follow pop-star, Bobby Brown, the next year. Her first film role, “The Bodyguard” was released that same ’92. It was a box-office video hit: amassing well-over four hundred million dollars worldwide.
Endless successes followed Whitney wherever she went, and in whatever she embarked on. Then, in the early 2000s, allegations of drug abuse began to surface. They were first dismissed as rumors—but soon, serious thoughts took hold. Even without any compelling evidence, an erstwhile delinquent, hubby Bobby Brown, was widely condemned for leading the ‘good girl’ astray. Accusations and counter-accusations raged. Insinuations were rife—emanating from all quarters. Other events that followed become unverifiable but undenied bones-of-contention. Whitney Houston finally separated from Bobby Brown in 2006, and divorced him the following year. Since then she had worked on reviving her career. In February this year (2009), Whitney performed alongside Clive Davies. It was appreciated by all those who witnessed it.
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