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This week Fusionites I want all of you to celebrate love with me this Valentines week by looking at the work and lives of two very important and talented women. Unfortunately for todays article there is a little bit of a bittersweet sting. But what is love without a little bitter sweetness to it? Love always makes us appreciate what he have and what we had when it is gone.
I’m sure many of us have already heard about the recent and sudden death of one of the most celebrated songbirds of our time, Ms. Whitney Houston this past Saturday February 11th 2012. Ms. Houston passed on the eve of the 54th ammy Awards this weekend. The determining factor in her sudden death are still very much under investigation but I wanted to take a step back and remember the life and career of one of the most important and influential Pop Icons of our day! So let’s take a look at the deeply talented and deeply troubled songstress Whitney Elizabeth Houston.
If you Google or even Wiki her this is what you will find out about our fallen songstress. She was born in New Jersey in the Summer of 1963. She was of African-American, Native American, and Dutch descent. Her Mother is famous Gospel legend Cissy Houston, her cousins were Dionne and Dee Dee Warrick, her Godmother-Aretha Franklin. Born into a highly musical family Whitney was first exposed to music through the Baptist and Pentecostal church as she grew up. She was also impacted by artists such as Chaka Khan, Roberta Flack, and Gladys Knight.
She had an uncanny Mezzo-Soprano voice and became a backup singer for Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson when she was only fifteen years old. She also was a background singer for Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” which would later turn into an even larger hit due to Whitney’s version on the Grammy winning album The Bodyguard. She also started modeling after she was spotted by a fashion photographer, at Carnegie Hall, singing with her mother. She became the first African-American woman to grace the cover of Seventeen Magazine.
She was finally discovered in 1983 and was signed to Arista Records by Clive Davis himself after he saw the songstress sing at a club with her mother. Her first album came out in February of 1985 which was self titled spawning a ton of acclaim and recognition with songs like “You Give Me Good Love,” “Saving All My Love For You,” and the “Greatest Love of All.” The album would stay atop Billboards 200 top albums for fourteen weeks straight and her song, “Greatest Love of All” became the number one album of the year and was certified 13x’s Platinum in the U.S. and sold a total of 25 million copies Worldwide.
In 1986 she won her first Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance for “Saving All My Love For You.” She later won an Emmy for that same performance at the Grammys, for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.
Her 2nd album was released in 1987 with her first name as the title. Though the album had mixed reviews Whitney ended up being the first artist to land at #1 on both U.S. and U.K. charts. With her single “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” she won her 2nd Grammy award. When it came to her 3rd album she took an edgier approach working with producers like Babyface, Stevie Wonder, and L.A. Reid. Some thought the album was too over the top and superficial but others loved her fresher R&B direction. In 1990 Houston performed the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Superbowl and her rendition of the song was released as a commercial single and reached the top 20 on the U.S. charts making her the only artist to turn the national anthem into a pop hit! Proceeds went to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund and stirred patriotism across the board in the nation due to the U.S. being in the thick of the Persion Gulf War.
1992 would bring her biggest success, I believe to date, with the release of her film debut, “ The Bodyguard.” The soundtracks lead single, “ I Will Always Love You” written and originally recorded by Ms. Dolly Parton was acclaimed by many critics. The single peaked at #1 on Billboard and went 4x’s platinum and became the best-selling single by a female artist in U.S. history! Whitney went on to win three more Grammys, a slew of Billboard Awards, Soul Train Awards, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sammy Davis Jr Entertainer of the Year award!
In 1998 My Love Is Your Love was released to critical acclaim with an even more funkier and edgier vibe due to producers Missy Elliot, Rodney Jerkins, and Wyclef Jean. Singles such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “It’ Not Right But It’s Okay” became huge on the dance and club charts spinning at number one once again! The Album went 4x’s Platinum. That same year she also won an Academy Award for her duet with Mariah Carey, who she had a respectful rivalry with back then, with the song, “When You Believe” for the Prince of Egypt soundtrack.
Just Whitney came out in 2002 and was released to mix reviews and a few of the singles did top the Billboards Hot Dance Club Play hits. The rumors began after this about her drug use to which she denied to a point but did admit to having had substance abuse with alcohol, weed, and cocaine.
After years of controversy with her marriage to bad boy Bobby Brown, and the rumors of drug use spinning out of control Whitney released I Look to You in 2009. The single “I Look to You” went Gold and marked her first #1 album since the Bodyguard! The album itself went Platinum.
After all of the accolaides and her comeback album, the tour she embarked on was trampled by sad reviews and fans who actually walked out of her concerts. The tour was cancelled do to Whitneys health issues and poor reviews. Her battle she kept behind closed doors most of the time with substance abuse, but was visible for everyone to see.
Her influence shined through so many people and her art dominated the Pop and dance scene leading the way for other artists to this day! Her charity work and stance on Aparthide were exceptional. She became one of the 1st African American Female Artists to grace MTV. There was a Barbie Doll inspired in Houstons image, but I think what Richard Corliss of Time magazine said of her career explains it all,
“Of her first albums ten cuts, six would be ballads. This chanteuse Houston, had to fight for air play with rockers. The young lady had to stand uncovered 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 listeners 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.”
Her acheviements were many here are some just to name a few: She is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most awarded female act of all time having 6 Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, 2 Emmys, 1 Oscar, and has sold over 170 million albums worldwide! She set the bar for female performers and actresses with movies like the Bodyguard, and Waiting to Exhale and her soon to be released remake of Sparkle. Her style and grace influenced a generation of young artists and will continue too because her voice will never be anything less then perfection. Her light may have dimmed early, but it will always shine on through her music, her movies, and her angelic voice. I will leave you with this message from Ms. Houston herself on this Valentines week, “I wish you joy and happiness but above all I wish you love.”