Whitney Elizabeth Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012) 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. Houston was one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 200
million records worldwide. She released six studio albums, one holiday album and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification. 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. 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-endcharts. Houston’s 1985 debut album Whitney Houstonbecame 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 Album 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.
On February 11, 2012, Houston was found dead in her guest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California. Subsequent toxicology reports showed that she had accidentally drowned in the bathtub due to the effects of chronic cocaine use and heart disease. News of her death coincided with the 2012 Grammy Awards and featured prominently in American and international media.
During the 1980s, MTV was coming into its own and received criticism for not playing enough videos by black artists. With Michael Jackson breaking down the color barrier for black male artists, Houston did the same for black female artists. She became the first black female artist to receive heavy rotation on the network following the success of the “How Will I Know” video. Following Houston’s breakthrough, other African-American female artists, such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker, were successful in popular music. Baker commented that “Because of what Whitney and Sade did, there was an opening for me… For radio stations, black women singers aren’t taboo anymore.”
All music noted her contribution to the success of black artists on the pop scene, commenting, “Houston was able to handle big adult contemporary ballads, effervescent, stylish dance-pop, and slick urban contemporary soul with equal dexterity” and that “the result was an across-the-board appeal that was matched by scant few artists of her era, and helped her become one of the first black artists to find success on MTV in Michael Jackson’s wake”. The New York Times stated that “Houston was a major catalyst for a movement within black music that recognized the continuity of soul, pop, jazz and gospel vocal traditions”. Richard Corliss of Time magazine commented on her initial success breaking various barriers:
Of her first album’s ten cuts, six were ballads. This chanteuse [Houston] had to fight for air play with hard rockers. The young lady had to stand uncowed in the locker room of macho rock. The soul strutter had to seduce a music audience that anointed few black artists with superstardom. […] She was a phenomenon waiting to happen, a canny tapping of the listener’s yen for a return to the musical middle. And because every new star creates her own genre, her success has helped other blacks, other women, other smooth singers find an avid reception in the pop marketplace.
Stephen Holden of The New York Times said that Houston “revitalized the tradition of strong gospel-oriented pop-soul singing”. Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times referred to the singer as a “national treasure”. Jon Caramanica, other music critic of The New York Times, called Houston “R&B’s great modernizer,” adding “slowly but surely reconciling the ambition and praise of the church with the movements and needs of the body and the glow of the mainstream”. He also drew comparisons between Houston’s influence and other big names’ on 1980’s pop:
She was, alongside Michael Jackson and Madonna, one of the crucial figures to hybridize pop in the 1980s, though her strategy was far less radical than that of her peers. Jackson and Madonna were by turns lascivious and brutish and, crucially, willing to let their production speak more loudly than their voices, an option Ms. Houston never went for. Also, she was less prolific than either of them, achieving most of her renown on the strength of her first three solo albums and one soundtrack, released from 1985 to 1992. If she was less influential than they were in the years since, it was only because her gift was so rare, so impossible to mimic. Jackson and Madonna built worldviews around their voices; Ms. Houston’s voice was the worldview. She was someone more to be admired, like a museum piece, than to be emulated.
The Independent‘s music critic Andy Gill also wrote about Houston’s influence on modern R&B and singing competitions, comparing it to Michael Jackson’s. “Because Whitney, more than any other single artist ― Michael Jackson included ― effectively mapped out the course of modern R&B, setting the bar for standards of soul vocalese, and creating the original template for what we now routinely refer to as the ‘soul diva’,” stated Gill. “Jackson was a hugely talented icon, certainly, but he will be as well remembered (probably more so) for his presentational skills, his dazzling dance moves, as for his musical innovations. Whitney, on the other hand, just sang, and the ripples from her voice continue to dominate the pop landscape.” Gill said that there “are few, if any, Jackson imitators on today’s TV talent shows, but every other contestant is a Whitney wannabe, desperately attempting to emulate that wondrous combination of vocal effects – the flowing melisma, the soaring mezzo-soprano confidence, the tremulous fluttering that carried the ends of lines into realms of higher yearning”.
Houston was considered by many to be a “singer’s singer”, who had an influence on countless other vocalists, both female and male. Similarly, Steve Huey from Allmusic wrote that the shadow of Houston’s prodigious technique still looms large over nearly every pop diva and smooth urban soul singer – male or female – in her wake, and spawned a legion of imitators. Rolling Stone, on her biography, stated that Houston “redefined the image of a female soul icon and inspired singers ranging from Mariah Carey to Rihanna”. Essence ranked Houston the fifth on their list of 50 Most Influential R&B Stars of all time, calling her “the diva to end all divas”.
A number of artists have acknowledged Houston as an influence, including Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Christina Aguilera, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, Nelly Furtado, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Ciara, P!nk, Ashanti, Robin Thicke, Jennifer Hudson, Stacie Orrico, Amerie, and Destiny’s Child. Mariah Carey, who was often compared to Houston, said, “She [Houston] has been a big influence on me.” She later told USA Today that “none of us would sound the same if Aretha Franklin hadn’t ever put out a record, or Whitney Houston hadn’t.” Celine Dion who was the third member of the troika that dominated female pop singing in the 1990’s, did a telephone interview with Good Morning America on February 13, 2012, telling “Whitney’s been an amazing inspiration for me. I’ve been singing with her my whole career, actually. I wanted to have a career like hers, sing like her, look beautiful like her.” Beyoncé told the Globe and Mail that Houston “inspired [her] to get up there and do what [she] did”. She also wrote on her website on the day after Houston’s death, “I, like every singer, always wanted to be just like [Houston]. Her voice was perfect. Strong but soothing. Soulful and classic. Her vibrato, her cadence, her control. So many of my life’s memories are attached to a Whitney Houston song. She is our queen and she opened doors and provided a blueprint for all of us.”
Mary J. Blige said that Houston inviting her onstage during VH1’s Divas Live show in 1999 “opened doors for [her] all over the world”. Brandy stated, “The first Whitney Houston CD was genius. That CD introduced the world to her angelic yet powerful voice. Without Whitney, half of this generation of singers wouldn’t be singing.” Kelly Rowland, in an Ebony‘s feature article celebrating black music in June 2006, recalled that “[I] wanted to be a singer after I saw Whitney Houston on TV singing ‘Greatest Love of All’. I wanted to sing like Whitney Houston in that red dress.” She added that “And I have never, ever forgotten that song [Greatest Love of All]. I learned it backward, forward, sideways. The video still brings chills to me. When you wish and pray for something as a kid, you never know what blessings God will give you.”
Alicia Keys said “Whitney is an artist who inspired me from [the time I was] a little girl”. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson cites Houston as her biggest musical influence. She told Newsday that she learned from Houston the “difference between being able to sing and knowing how to sing”. Leona Lewis, who has been called “the new Whitney Houston”, also cites her as an influence. Lewis stated that she idolized her as a little girl.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia