Get to Know Whitney Houston
Music historians cite Whitney's record-setting achievements: the only artist to have seven consecutive number one Billboard Hot 100 hits ("Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know," "Greatest Love of All," "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"); the first female artist to enter the Billboard 200 album chart at number one (her second album, Whitney, 1987); and the only artist with seven consecutive multiplatinum albums (Whitney Houston, Whitney, I'm Your Baby Tonight, The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale, and The Preacher's Wife soundtracks and My Love Is Your Love ).
In fact, The Bodyguard soundtrack is one of the top 10 biggest-selling albums of all time (at 17 times platinum in the United States alone), and Whitney's career-defining version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" is the biggest-selling U.S. single of all time (at four times platinum).
In 1983, near the end of Arista's first mega-successful decade of operation, Clive Davis was taken to a New York nightclub where Whitney was performing and signed her on the spot. Two years went into the making of her debut album, but the results were worth it. The self-titled Whitney Houston (March 1985) launched Arista's second decade and yielded a string of hits including "You Give Good Love" and three consecutive number one singles, the Grammy-winning "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know" and "The Greatest Love of All," which has become a veritable anthem. Not only did the album establish her as an important new recording artist, but it went on to sell more than 12 million copies in the United States, plus many millions more abroad. This LP set the record as the biggest-selling debut album by a solo artist.
Whitney's third best-selling album, I'm Your Baby Tonight (November 1990), displayed her versatility on a new batch of tough rhythmic grooves, soulful ballads and up-tempo dance tracks. With back-to-back number one hits for the title tune and "All the Man That I Need," followed by "Miracle" and "My Name Is Not Susan," sales records were set once again, as the album became an international multiplatinum best-seller, to the tune of 8 million copies worldwide.
"I Will Always Love You," the first single release, became the biggest-selling commercial single in history and reaped Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal. Three other singles from the album, "I'm Every Woman," "I Have Nothing" and "Run to You," were also major international hits for Whitney. The Bodyguard soundtrack album, featuring six Whitney Houston songs in all, has sold more than 42 million copies worldwide. At 17 times platinum in the United States, it is the biggest-selling motion picture soundtrack album in history, ahead of Saturday Night Fever, Forrest Gump, Titanic and so on.
Whitney's third motion picture, The Preacher's Wife (Buena Vista, December 1996), also starring Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance and directed by Penny Marshall, was based on the 1947 classic The Bishop's Wife (with Cary Grant and Loretta Young). The gospel-soaked Arista soundtrack, Whitney's lifelong dream, became the biggest-selling gospel album in Billboard chart history, three times platinum in the United States alone. Collaborations with an extraordinary roster of artists and producers (among them Grammy and Dove Award winner Mervyn Warren of Sister Act I and Sister Act II fame) resulted in a unique album. Whitney sang lead vocals on 14 of the album's 15 tracks, including the beautiful first single "I Believe in You and Me," "Step By Step" (written by Annie Lennox) and two songs produced by Grammy winner Babyface. Cissy turned the familiar 23rd Psalm into a spiritually touching song, "The Lord Is My Shepherd." Other luminaries on the album included Shirley Caesar and the Georgia Mass Choir.
Whitney added the medium of made-for-television movies to her list of accomplishments when The Wonderful World of Disney aired the musical Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella in November 1997. The special starred Whitney as the Fairy Godmother, Brandy as Cinderella, Bernadette Peters as the wicked stepmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the queen and an all-star multicultural cast. The program drew a U.S. audience of more than 60 million viewers and gave the ABC network its highest Sunday night rating in more than a decade. Whitney and her company, BrownHouse Productions, served as executive producers on the project, which garnered seven Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Variety, Musical or Comedy. The home video version shattered previous records to become the best-selling video of a made-for-television movie.
The success of My Love Is Your Love kicked off a phenomenal year for Whitney. She stole the show at VH1's second annual Divas Live/'99, with a performance characterized as "invincible" by Jon Pareles in The New York Times. Sharing the stage with a lineup that included Cher, Tina Turner, Mary. J Blige and others, Whitney emerged as the star. VH1 announced that the show was the highest-rated telecast in its history.
At the same time, gold, platinum and multiplatinum album sales were certified in every corner of the globe: Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and more. In late June, as "It's Not Right But It's Okay" became the 17th top five pop hit of her career, Whitney commenced a successful world tour, playing 16 cities in North America. The tour concluded in Europe in November.
A month later, in March 2000, Whitney was named Female Artist of the Decade at the Soul Train Music Awards annual ceremonies virtually 15 years to the day since her debut single, "You Give Good Love," entered the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart on March 9, 1985.
In the midst of her 15th anniversary year as an Arista recording artist, the double-album Whitney: The Greatest Hits (May 2000) celebrated the past, present and future. In addition to newly recorded tracks with Enrique Iglesias, Deborah Cox, George Michael and Q-Tip, there were rare vintage tracks unavailable for a decade, impossible-to-find club mixes and bonus tracks. The collection encompassed Whitney's success as a mainstay on the pop and R&B singles front (on the double CD/cassette), as a screen presence since her career began at the label (on DVD and VHS home video) and in the clubs as a remixer's delight (on a limited edition four-record vinyl box set).
Individually, the 36-track double CD/cassette comprised one volume of single hits (Cool Down) and another volume of memorable club mixes (Throw Down), each spanning Whitney's entire career to date, 1985 to 2000. She recorded new duets for the occasion with Enrique Iglesias (the Diane Warren composition, "Could I Have This Kiss Forever") and then-Arista label-mate Deborah Cox ("Same Script, Different Cast"), plus a new version of "If I Told You That" (from My Love Is Your Love ), remade as a duet with George Michael.
Hard-to-find rarities included "One Moment in Time," the 1988 Summer Olympics theme; 1991's Super Bowl XXV version of "The Star-Spangled Banner"; and a 1986 duet with Jermaine Jackson ("If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful"), released only on his second Arista album, Precious Moments, never as a single.
Those remixers were showcased on Whitney: The Unreleased Mixes, a special, limited edition four-record vinyl box set acknowledging her importance in clubs around the world. There were seven songs, eight mixes, one track on each side of four 12-inch vinyl discs: "How Will I Know," "Greatest Love of All," "I'm Every Woman," "Love Will Save the Day," "I Will Always Love You," "So Emotional" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight."
Whitney: The Greatest Hits was also the title of Whitney's first DVD and VHS home video collection. The lion's share of her hits were included in its 21 titles, a combination of video clips (with such noted directors as Wayne Isham, Peter Israelson, Julian Temple, Randee St. Nicholas, Brian Grant and Kevin Bray) and live performances. Links were provided to such rarities as her television premiere (on The Merv Griffin Show in 1985), appearances on several awards show, a tune from Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, interview segments featuring Whitney and her co-producer, Arista president Clive Davis, and much more.
The week after the release of Whitney: The Greatest Hits, she appeared on the NBC television network special benefit concert 25 Years of #1 Hits: Arista Records' Anniversary Celebration, a tribute to the label as well as its founder and leader, Clive Davis.
The following year saw the release of Just Whitney (December 2002), her fifth studio album and first for the new millennium. An A-list of handpicked hitmakers and producers contributed to the album, among them Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Missy Elliott, Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Teddy Bishop and Gordon Chambers. The diverse program of ballads included "Try It on My Own," (written by Babyface and Carole Bayer Sager); "My Love" (a duet with Bobby Brown); and a powerful remake of Debbie Boone's 1977 "You Light Up My Life." Also among the album's gems were such hip grooves as "Love That Man" and the old-school style jam "Things You Say" (written and produced by Missy Elliott).
The album opened with the classic "The First Nöel" and Mel Tormé's timeless "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)." Other favorites included Freddie Jackson's "One Wish (for Christmas)," "Cantique De Nöel (O Holy Night)," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "O Come O Come Emanuel" and a medley of "Deck the Halls/Silent Night." Two tracks originated on The Preacher's Wife soundtrack, "Who Would Imagine a King" and "Joy to the World." The centerpiece was 10-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown's recording debut on "Little Drummer Boy."
True to her church upbringing, the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children Inc. was established in 1989 as a nonprofit organization that cares for such problems as homelessness, children with cancer and AIDS and other issues of self-empowerment. In June 1995, the foundation was awarded a VH1 Honor for its charitable work. Funds have been raised for numerous causes involving children around the world, from South Africa to Newark, and generated more than $300,000 for the Children's Defense Fund as a result of a 1997 HBO concert.
Whitney's tireless efforts have earned recognition from such organizations as St. Jude Children's Hospital, the United Negro College Fund and the Children's Diabetes Foundation, all of which have benefited from the heart and soul of a great artist and humanitarian. Singing to audiences on every continent, Whitney has won her worldwide following the old-fashioned way, digging deep down into her soul and finding common threads with her millions of fans.
Whitney passed away on February 11, 2012. She was 48 years old.
Oprah's exclusive interview with Whitney Houston