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Obituary: Whitney Houston
Pop legend and actress Whitney Houston left a remarkable trail of work until her sad decline.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2012 06:19

Pop legend Whitney Houston was the vocal star of a generation, whose soaring voice broke records and inspired millions of fans, before substance abuse sent her on a downward spiral.

With a ferociously powerful voice and a dazzling range, Houston achieved stardom as a pop-soul singer known as "the Voice" and the "Queen of Pop" in the 1980s and 1990s.

Houston's fantastic success - and that of fellow pop icon Michael Jackson - was propelled by a brand new device at the time: the pop music video.

Her trove of six Grammy awards included one for record of the year - for a soaring cover of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, and another for album of the year for The Bodyguard.

Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey on August 9, 1963.

She seemed destined for musical stardom, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, the cousin of 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of Aretha Franklin.

Houston first started singing in the church as a child. In her teens, she sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modelling.

'Stunning impact'

It was around that time when music mogul Clive Davis first heard Houston perform.

"The time that I first saw her singing in her mother's act in a club ... it was such a stunning impact," Davis told Good Morning America.

Whitney Houston
  Won two Emmy Awards and six Grammy Awards, along with hundreds of other honours in her lifetime
  Remains the only artist to have seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits
  The 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, was the best-selling debt album by a woman artist at the time of its release
  First acting role was the lead in The Bodyguard (1992)
  Sold more than 200 million albums worldwide

"To hear this young girl breathe such fire into this song. I mean, it really sent the proverbial tingles up my spine," he added.

Before long, the rest of the country would feel it, too. Houston made her album debut in 1985 with Whitney Houston, which sold millions and spawned hit after hit.

Saving All My Love for You brought her a first Grammy, for best female pop vocal. How Will I Know, You Give Good Love and The Greatest Love of All also became hit singles.

The New York Times wrote that Houston "possesses one of her generation's most powerful gospel-trained voices, but she eschews many of the churchier mannerisms of her forerunners.

"She uses ornamental gospel phrasing only sparingly, and instead of projecting an earthy, tearful vulnerability, communicates cool self-assurance and strength, building pop ballads to majestic, sustained peaks of intensity."

Her decision not to follow the more soulful inflections of singers like Franklin drew criticism by some who saw her as playing down her black roots to go pop and reach white audiences.

The criticism would become a constant refrain through much of her career. She was even booed during the Soul Train Awards in 1989.

"Sometimes it gets down to that, you know?" she told US journalist Katie Couric in 1996.

"You're not black enough for them. I don't know. You're not R&B enough. You're very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them."

At the height of her career she had the perfect voice and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had sex appeal but was never overtly sexual, who maintained perfect poise.

Hollywood career

In 1992, she became a star in the acting world with The Bodyguard.

Despite mixed reviews, the story of a singer [played by Houston] guarded by a former Secret Service agent [played by Kevin Costner] was an international success.

It also gave her perhaps her most memorable hit: a searing, stunning rendition of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, which sat atop the charts for weeks.

But during these career and personal highs, Houston was using drugs.

 Whitney Houston and her former husband Bobby Brown

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2010, she said by the time The Preacher's Wife was released, "[doing drugs] was an everyday thing. ... I would do my work, but after I did my work, for a whole year or two, it was every day. ... I wasn't happy by that point in time. I was losing myself."

In the interview, Houston blamed her rocky marriage to Brown, which included a charge of domestic abuse against Brown in 1993. They divorced in 2007.

Houston would go to rehab twice before she would declare herself drug-free to Winfrey in 2010.

But in the interim, there were missed concert dates, a stop at an airport due to drugs, and public meltdowns.

She was so startlingly thin during a 2001 Michael Jackson tribute concert that rumours spread she had died the next day.

Her crude behaviour and jittery appearance on Brown's reality show, Being Bobby Brown, was an example of her sad decline.

Whitney Houston died on Saturday, February 11 in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 48, on the eve of the Grammy Awards, the music industry award ceremony at which she had been honoured so many times in the past.

Source:
Agencies
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