Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born into a musical family on 9 August 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of gospel star Cissy Houston, cousin of singing star Dionne Warwick and goddaughter of soul legend Aretha Franklin.
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She began singing in the choir at her church, The New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, as a young child and by the age of 15 was singing backing vocals professionally with her mother on Chaka Khan’s 1978 hit, ‘I’m Every Woman’. She went on to provide backing vocals for Lou Rawls, Jermaine Jackson and her own mother and worked briefly as a model, appearing on the cover of ‘Seventeen’ magazine in 1981.
She began working as a featured vocalist for the New York-based funk band Material and it was the quality of her vocal work with them that attracted the attention of the major record labels, including Arista with whom she signed in 1983 and where she stayed for the rest of her career.
Her debut album, ‘Whitney Houston’, was released in 1985 and became the biggest-selling album by a debut artist. Several hit singles, including ‘Saving All My Love For You’, ‘How Will I Know’, ‘You Give Good Love’, and ‘The Greatest Love of All’, were released from the album, setting her up for a Beatles-beating seven consecutive US number ones. The album itself sold 3 million copies in its first year in the US and went on to sell 25 million worldwide, winning her the first of her six Grammies.
The 1987 follow-up album, ‘Whitney’, which included the hits ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, built on her success but it was the 1992 film The Bodyguard (1992) that sealed her place as one of the best-selling artists of all time. While the movie itself and her performance in it were not highly praised, the soundtrack album and her cover of the Dolly Parton song ‘I Will Always Love You’ topped the singles and albums charts for months and sold 44 million copies around the world.
That same year she married ex-New Edition singer Bobby Brown with whom she had her only child, their daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown in March 1993. It was about this time that her much documented drug use began and by 1996 she was a daily user.
Her 1998 album, ‘My Love Is Your Love’ was well reviewed but the drug abuse began to affect her reputation and press reports at the time said that she was becoming difficult to work with, if she turned up at all. She was dropped from a performance at The 72nd Annual Academy Awards (2000) because she was “out of it” at rehearsals. Her weight fluctuated wildly – she was so thin at a ‘Michael Jackson’ tribute in 2001 that rumors circulated the next day that she had died – and her voice began to fail her. She was twice admitted to rehab and declared herself drug-free in 2010 but returned to rehab in May 2011.
Her 2009 comeback album ‘I Look To You’ was positively received and sold well, but promotional performances were still marred by her weakened voice. Her final acting performance was in Sparkle (2012) (a remake of the 1976 movie, Sparkle (1976)), released after her death.
She was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room on 11 February 2012.
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