Whitney Houston is one of the best-selling music artists of all-time, with 200 million records sold worldwide. She released seven studio albums and two soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold certification.
was born on August 9, 1963, in what was then a middle-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Army serviceman and entertainment executive John Russell Houston, Jr. (September 13, 1920 – February 2, 2003), and gospel singer Emily “Cissy” (Drinkard) Houston. Her elder brother Michael is a singer, and her elder half-brother is former basketball player Gary Garland. Her parents were both African American. Through her mother, Houston was a first cousin of singers Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. Her godmother was Darlene Love and her honorary aunt was Aretha Franklin, whom she met at age 8 or 9 when her mother took her to a recording studio.
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 and became one of the first women of colour 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 looks and girl-next-door charm made her one of the most sought after teen models of that time.
Houston had previously been offered several recording agencies (Michael Zager in 1980, and Elektra Records in 1981), but 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 was impressed and immediately 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 because of 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.
Whitney released 7 studio albums, her self titled debut in 1985, Whitney in 1987, I’m you baby tonight 1990, My love is your love 1998, Just Whitney 2002, One Wish: The holiday album 2003 and I look to you 2009.
Though Houston was seen as a “good girl” with a perfect image in the 1980s and early 1990s, her behaviour had changed by the late 1990s. She was often hours late for interviews, photo shoots and rehearsals, and she cancelled concerts and talk-show appearances. Missed performances and weight loss led to rumours about Houston using drugs with her husband. 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 rumours of drug usage by Houston and Brown would continue to surface. Two months later, Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Houston had been scheduled to perform at the event, but failed to show up.
In 2002, Houston did an interview with Diane Sawyer to promote her then-upcoming album. During the prime-time special, Houston spoke about her drug use and her marriage, among other topics. Asked about the ongoing drug rumours, she replied, “First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. Okay? We don’t do crack. We don’t do that. Crack is wack.” The “crack is wack” line was drawn from a mural that Keith Haring painted in 1986 on the handball court at 128th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. Houston did, however, admit to using other substances at times, including cocaine.
On February 11, Houston was found unconscious in Suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, submerged in the bathtub. 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. The cause of death was not immediately known. Local police said there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent”.
Houston was described as “dishevelled” and “erratic” in the days immediately prior to her death. On Thursday, 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 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: diphenhydramine, alprazolam, cannabis and cyclobenzaprine. The manner of death was listed as an “accident”.