Whitney Houston 1963-2012

By | Published on Monday 13 February 2012

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston died in the bathroom of a Beverly Hills hotel ahead of a Grammys party this weekend, aged 48. It brought to an end a life of both phenomenal highs and lows.

Houston was surrounded by talented female vocalists from birth, her mother Cissy Houston also a singer, while her godmother was Aretha Franklin and cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick. That said, the 20 year old Whitney was pursuing a career as a model when record label veteran Clive Davis signed her to his Arista Records in 1983. Davis closely guided Houston through the first two years of her musical career, partnering her with the right producers and songwriters to create the critically acclaimed chart topping debut album ‘Whitney Houston’.

Follow-up ‘Whitney’ confirmed Houston’s status as one of America’s biggest pop stars, arguably achieving greater crossover appeal than any of the black female singers who had gone before her, and paving the way for a new generation of female artists that followed her. Though despite the critical acclaim and commercial success, some criticised Whitney’s music for being too pop, and lacking the soul of some of the older singers who inspired her. Perhaps in response to that criticism, Houston worked with some more credible producers on album three, which had a less blatantly pop sound, though which sold fewer copies as a result.

Nevertheless, Houston’s career high was yet to come. After wowing the nation with her rendition of America’s national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, Houston hit a new high with the release of ‘The Bodyguard’, the film which saw the singer turn her hand to acting for the first time, as well as topping charts worldwide with the movie’s signature tune, Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’. More successes in both film and music, and a successful first venture as a producer, duly followed in the next few years.

However, as the 1990s proceeded, and Houston’s career started to wane from its ‘Bodyguard’ peak, stories of drug addiction began to circulate, and the media spotlight started to increasingly fall more on the private lives of both Houston and Bobby Brown, her husband since 1992. In 2000 marijuana was discovered in the couple’s luggage as they passed through security at a Hawaii airport, and concern grew as Houston became increasingly unreliable. So erratic had the singer become, she wasn’t involved in Davis’s induction into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, and she was fired from a planned appearance at the Oscars by that year’s musical director Burt Bacharach.

Nevertheless, she signed a new six album deal with Arista in 2001, but her performances were becoming less strong and she looked increasingly ill. In 2002 she admitted to taking drugs in an interview, though denied smoking crack. Her new albums received mixed reviews and only modest sales, and her reputation took a further nose dive when she appeared in her husband’s rather bizarre reality show ‘Being Bobby Brown’. The couple’s marriage also hit the rocks, with separation in 2006 and divorce in 2007.

In 2009 Houston admitted again in an interview her past drug taking, and the level it had got to, in part blaming Brown for her self-destructive lifestyle. Revealing she had been through rehab, there were hopes that Houston was on the mend, and her 2009 album ‘I Look To You’ was her best selling since ‘The Bodyguard’, though it didn’t reach the heights some expected. Subsequent live shows were at best mixed, occasional glimpses of the voice that once thrilled only emphasised the toll years of drug abuse had taken on her more general vocal abilities.

Prior to her death some hoped once again that Houston might manage a comeback, after she threw herself into the remake of the film ‘Sparkle’, a movie project she’d been involved in for years, and which will see her act, albeit in a supporting role, for the first time since the 1990s, as well as singing on two new songs. The film will now be released posthumously in August, and may as yet be a swan song that helps Houston’s fans remember her musical legacy over the demons of her private life.

Houston is survived by her daughter with Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina.