Whitney Houston, who died February 11 in Beverly Hills, California, is being remembered across the globe as a trailblazer. Here's a look back at her rise to superstardom and the songs that made her one of pop music’s most celebrated divas.
Among all of Houston’s groundbreaking achievements, including a tally of more than 400 career awards, her most significant feat was her record-setting string of seven consecutive Number One singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It broke the previous record of six set by The Bee Gees and The Beatles. The string began on October 26, 1985 with her Grammy-winning hit “Saving All My Love For You,” and ended on April 23, 1988 with her R&B ballad “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” It was the fourth single from her album “Whitney” to go to Number One, also a record for a female artist. She sold more than 170 million albums worldwide and co-produced and recorded songs for one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, The Bodyguard.
Whitney Houston was born the daughter of famed gospel singer Cissy Houston in Newark, New Jersey. Dionne Warwick was her cousin and Aretha Franklin her godmother. She began as a gospel singer and pianist in her mother’s church and sometimes performed alongside her in nightclubs. At age 15, Whitney sang backup on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” a tune she later performed on The Bodyguard soundtrack. Her multi-octave vocal range became her signature sound, and led to her discovery by Arista Records’ president Clive Davis.
Whitney signed with Arista in 1983 and released her self-titled debut album two years later. The New York Times called her first effort, “an impressive, musically conservative showcase for an exceptional vocal talent.” She continued to garner similar accolades for subsequent albums, while her fast-growing fan base catapulted her into the realm of world-class entertainer. She crossed over into acting, starring in the Hollywood blockbusters “The Bodyguard,” “Waiting To Exhale,” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” In 1998, she released her most musically-diverse album to date, “My Love Is Your Love.” The title track became her third best-selling single ever.
The past 10 years were filled with highs and lows. While Whitney’s contract at Arista Records was renewed for $100 million, album sales began to slide. Her 14-year marriage to singer Bobby Brown ended in 2007, she canceled concerts and interviews, and allegations arose of drug abuse. As recently as May 2011, she was enrolled at a rehabilitation facility for drug and alcohol problems. Her final album I Look To You, sold more than two million copies and reached the Number One spot in 2009.
Houston’s untimely death prompted tributes the world over. Celebrities in Los Angeles for the 54th Annual Grammy Awards spoke glowingly about her influences and contributions. Mariah Carey said, “She will never be forgotten as one of the greatest voices ever to grace the earth.” And Tony Bennett, who dedicated a song to her at a pre-Grammy party, said, “When I first heard her I called Clive Davis and said, ‘You finally found the greatest singer I’ve ever heard in my life.’”