Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Legends: Whitney Houston

Many would argue that Whitney Elizabeth Houston isn’t a legend. I beg to differ. Born on August 9, 1963, she passed away February 11, 2012. She was an American recording artist, actress, producer, and model. In 2009, the Guinness World Records cited her as the most-awarded female act of all-time. (Point one) Houston was one of the world's best selling music artists, having sold over 170 million albums, singles and videos worldwide. (Point two) She released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification. (point three) Houston's crossover appeal on the popular music charts, as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for "How Will I know", influenced several African American female artists to follow in her footsteps.


Houston is the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits. (Point four) A feat that not even the Beatles or Elvis Presley ever accomplished in their illustrious careers. She is the second artist behind Elton John and the only female artist to have two number-one Billboard 200 Album awards (formerly "Top Pop Album") on the Billboard magazine year end charts. (Point five) - (Get the point?) Houston's 1985 debut album “Whitney Houston” became the best-selling debut album by a female act at the time of its release. The album was named Rolling Stone’s best album of 1986, and was ranked at number 254 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Her second studio album “Whitney” (1987) became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

Houston's first acting role was as the star of the feature film “The Bodyguard” (1992). The film's original soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy Award for Albunm of the Year. Its lead single "I Will Always Love You", became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. With the album, Houston became the first act (solo or group, male or female) to sell more than a million copies of an album within a single week period under Nielsen Sound Scan system. The album makes her the top female act in the top 10 list of the best selling albums of all time, at number four. Houston continued to star in movies and contribute to their soundtracks, including the films “Waiting To Exhale” (1995) and “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996). “The Preacher’s Wife” soundtrack became the best-selling gospel album in history.


Whitney Houston was born in what was then a middle-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, the second child of Army serviceman and entertainment executive John Russell Houston, Jr. (September 13, 1920 – February 2, 2003), and gospel singer Cissy Houston (née Emily Drinkard). She was of African-American, Native American and Dutch descent. Her mother, along with cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, godmother Darlene Love and honorary aunt Aretha Franklin were all notable figures in the gospel, rhythm and blues, pop, and soul genres. She met her honorary aunt at age 8, or 9, when her mother took her to a recording studio. Houston was raised a Baptist, but was also exposed to the Pentecostal church. After the 1967 Newark riots, the family moved to a middle-class area in East Orange, New Jersey, when she was four years old.

At the age of 11, Houston began to follow in her mother's footsteps and started performing as a soloist in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she also learned to play the piano. Her first solo performance in the church was "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah". When Houston was a teenager, she attended Mount Saint Dominic Academy , a Catholic girls' high school in Caldwell, New Jersey, where she met her best friend Robyn Crawford, whom she described as the "sister she never had". While Houston was still in school, her mother continued to teach her how to sing. In addition to her mother, Franklin, and Warwick, Houston was also exposed to the music of Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack, most of whom would have an impact on her as a singer and performer.



Houston spent some of her teenage years touring nightclubs where her mother Cissy was performing, and she would occasionally get on stage and perform with her. In 1977, at age 14, she became a backup singer on the Michael Zager Band’s single "Life's a Party". In 1978, at age 15, Houston sang background vocals on Chaka Kahn's hit single "I‘m Every Woman", a song she would later turn into a larger hit for herself on her monster-selling “The Bodyguard” soundtrack album. She also sang back-up on albums by Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson.


In the early 1980s, Houston started working as a fashion model after a photographer saw her at Carnegie Hall singing with her mother. She appeared in Seventeen magazine and became one of the first women of color to grace the cover of the magazine. She was also featured in layouts in the pages of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Young miss, and appeared in a Canada Dry soft drink TV commercial. Her striking looks and girl-next-door charm made her one of the most sought after teen models of that time. While modeling, she continued her burgeoning recording career by working with producers Michael Beinhorn, Bill Laswell and Martin Bisi on an album they were spearheading called “One Down“, which was credited to the group “Material“. For that project, Houston contributed the ballad "Memories", a cover of a song by Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice called her contribution "one of the most gorgeous ballads you've ever heard". She also appeared as a lead vocalist on one track on a Paul Jabara album, entitled “Paul Jabara And friends“, released by Columbia Records in 1983.

Houston had previously been offered several recording contracts (Michael Zager in 1980, and Elektra Records in 1981), however her mother declined the offers stating her daughter must first complete high school. In 1983, Gerry Griffith, an A&R representative from Arista Records, saw her performing with her mother in a New York City nightclub and was impressed. He convinced Arista's head Clive Davis to make time to see Houston perform. Davis too was impressed and offered a worldwide recording contract which Houston signed. Later that year, she made her national televised debut alongside Davis on The Merv Griffin Show.


Houston signed with Arista in 1983, but did not begin work on her album immediately. The label wanted to make sure no other label signed the singer away. Davis wanted to ensure he had the right material and producers for Houston's debut album. Some producers had to pass on the project due to prior commitments. Houston first recorded a duet with Teddy Pendergrass entitled "Hold Me" which appeared on his album, “Love Language”. The single was released in 1984 and gave Houston her first taste of success, becoming a Top 5 R&B hit. It would also appear on her debut album in 1985.


Throughout the 1980s, Houston was romantically linked to American football star Randall Cunningham and actor Eddie Murphy, whom she dated. She then met R&B singer Bobby Brown at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards. After a three-year courtship, the two were married on July 18, 1992. On March 4, 1993, Houston gave birth to their daughter Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, her only child, and his fourth. Brown would go on to have several run-ins with the law, including some jail time.

With the commercial success of her albums, movie offers poured in, including offers to work with Robert De Niro, Quincy Jones, and Spike Lee; but Houston felt the time wasn't right. Houston's first film role was in “The Bodyguard“, released in 1992 and co-starring Kevin Costner. Houston played Rachel Marron, a star who is stalked by a crazed fan and hires a bodyguard to protect her. USA Today listed it as one of the 25 most memorable movie moments of the last 25 years in 2007. Houston's mainstream appeal allowed people to look at the movie color-blind. It was one of the top 100 all-time grossing films upon its release.


Houston won three Grammy’s for the soundtrack of “The Bodyguard” album which featured the songs, “I Will Always Love You”, “I’m Every Woman” and “I Have Nothing”. Including Album of the Year, Record of the Year. In addition, she won a record 8 American Music Awards at that year's ceremony including the Award of Merit, 11 BillBoard Music Awards, 3 Soul Train Music Awards in 1993 - 94 including Sammy Davis Jr. Award as Entertainer of the Year, 5 NAACP Image Awards including Entertainer Of The Year, a record 5 World Music Awards, and a BRIT Award.



Though Houston was seen as a "good girl" with a perfect image in the 1980s and early 1990s, by the late 1990s, her behavior changed. She was often hours late for interviews, photo shoots and rehearsals, and canceling concerts and talk-show appearances. With the missed performances and weight loss, rumors about Houston using drugs with her husband circulated. On January 11, 2000, airport security guards discovered marijuana in both Houston's and husband Bobby Brown's luggage at a Hawaii airport, but the two boarded the plane and departed before authorities could arrive. Charges were later dropped against them but rumors of drug usage between the couple would continue to surface. Two months later, Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Houston had been scheduled to perform at the event, but failed to show up.

Shortly thereafter, Houston was scheduled to perform at the Academy Awards but was fired from the event by musical director and longtime friend Burt Bacharach. Her publicist cited throat problems as the reason for the cancellation. In his book The Big Show: High Times And Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards, author Steve Pond revealed that "Houston's voice was shaky, she seemed distracted and jittery, and her attitude was casual, almost defiant", and that while Houston was to sing "Over The Rainbow", she would start singing a different song. Houston later admitted to having been fired. Later that year, Houston's long-time executive assistant and friend, Robyn Crawford, resigned from Houston's management company.


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. Her extremely thin frame further spurred rumors of drug use. Houston's publicist said, "Whitney has been under stress due to family matters, and when she is under stress she doesn't eat." The singer was scheduled for a second performance the following night but canceled. Within weeks, Houston's rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" would be re-released after the September 11 Attacks, with the proceeds donated to the New York Firefighters 9/11 Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Fraternal Order of Police. The song peaked at No. 6 this time on the US Hot 100, topping its previous position.

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. Upon its release, “Just Whitney” received mixed reviews. The album debuted at number 9 on the Billboard 200 chart and it had the highest first week sales of any album Houston had ever released. The four singles released from the album, didn't fare well on the Billboard Hot 100, but became Hot Dance Club Play hits. “Just Whitney” was certified platinum in the United States, and sold approximately three million worldwide.

Houston released her new album, “I Look To You“, in August 2009. The album's first two singles are "I Look to You" and "Million Dollar Bill". The album entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1, with Houston's best opening-week sales of 305,000 copies, marking Houston's first number one album since “The Bodyguard”, and Houston's first studio album to reach number one since 1987's “Whitney“. Houston also appeared on European television programs to promote the album. She performed the song "I Look to You" on the German television show “Wetten, dass?” Three days later, she performed the worldwide first single from I Look To You, “Million Dollar Bill“, on the French television show Le Grand Journal.



Houston appeared as guest mentor on The X factor in the United Kingdom. She performed "Million Dollar Bill" on the following day's results show, completing the song even as a strap in the back of her dress popped open two minutes into the performance. She later commented that she "sang [herself] out of [her] clothes".

On February 9, 2012, Houston visited singers Brandy and Monica, together with Clive Davis, at their rehearsals for Davis' pre-Grammy Awards party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. That same day, she made her last public performance, when she joined Kelly Price on stage in Hollywood, California, and sang "Jesus Loves Me".

On February 11, 2012, Houston was found dead in suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, submerged in the bathtub. The cause of death was not immediately known. It was later ruled by the coroner to have been an "accidental drowning". Beverly Hills paramedics arrived at approximately 3:30 p.m. and found the singer unresponsive and performed CPR. Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. PST. Local police said there were "no obvious signs of criminal intent." On March 22, 2012, the Los Angeles County coroner's office reported the cause of Houston's death was drowning and the "effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use". The office stated the amount of cocaine found in Houston's body indicated that she used the substance shortly before her death. Toxicology results revealed additional drugs in her system: Benadryl, Xanax, marijuana and Flexiril. The manner of death was listed as an "accident".


Houston had an invitation-only memorial on Saturday, February 18, 2012, at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. The service was scheduled for two hours, but lasted for four hours. Among those who performed at the funeral were Stevie Wonder (rewritten version of "Ribbons In The Sky," and "Love‘s In Need Of Love Today"), CeCe Winans ("Don‘t Cry" and "Jesus Loves Me"), Alicia Keys ("Send Me An Angel"), Kim Burrell (rewritten version of "A Change Is Gonna Come") and R. Kelly ("I Look to You"), interspersed with hymns by the church choir and remarks by Clive Davis, Houston’s record producer; Kevin Costner; Ricky Minor, her music director; her cousin Dionne Warwick and Ray Watson, her security guard for the past 11 years. Aretha Franklin was listed on the program and was expected to sing, but was unable to attend the service. Bobby Brown, Houston's ex-husband, was also invited to the funeral but he left before the service began. Houston was buried on Sunday, February 19, 2012, in Fairview Cemetery, in Westfield, New Jersey, next to her father, John Russell Houston, who died in 2003.


Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitney_Houston

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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