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Whitney Houston: The voice of a generation

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 2/16/2012, 2:44 p.m.
Whitney Houston: The voice of a generation

Perhaps it was her instantly recognizable mezzo-soprano voice or her contagious smile that set Whitney Houston apart from other singers. Regardless, it was powerful enough to make the world stop and take in her untimely death.

Houston was found dead in her suite at the Beverly Hilton in California last Saturday afternoon on the eve of the Grammy Awards. She was reportedly found in the bathtub when paramedics arrived. After performing CPR, paramedics were unable to revive the singer.

At press time, Houston's cause of death had not been determined. She was 48.

Houston was in town for Clive Davis' Grammy party. During the days before her death, she had been seen around town in Los Angeles and even sang an impromptu song to her close friend Kelly Price at a party the night before her death. It was her last public performance.

Throughout Houston's stellar career, she won several awards, including six Grammys, two Emmys, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards. She sold over 170 million albums, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time, male or female, and the most-awarded solo female vocal artist ever. She was also the only artist to ever have seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard 100 hits. Her most popular songs include "I Will Always Love You," "How Will I Know," "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and, more recently, "Million Dollar Bill."

But Houston wasn't simply a singer, she was also an accomplished actress, having starred in several films, including "The Bodyguard," "The Preacher's Wife" and "Waiting to Exhale." She recently completed work on a highly anticipated remake of the 1976 film "Sparkle," slated to come out this summer.

Houston was born in Newark, N.J., and was later raised in Orange, N.J., where her family settled. Coming from a line of singers, she was the daughter of famed gospel songstress Cissy Houston and cousin to singer Dionne Warwick. Aretha Franklin was her godmother. Her father, John Houston, was also in the entertainment business, and he was actively involved in her career for many years, though the two had a falling out in later years. He died in 2003.

Houston's incomparable music career began like so many African-American singers, starting in the Black church. She sang in the choir in the New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother was the choir director for more than 50 years. On a video of her singing at age 15, she can be seen belting out gospel lyrics, mesmerizing the sanctuary. Her astonishing vocal instrument made it abundantly clear a star was soon to be born.

Houston's mother took her on tour, singing with her in nightclubs. In 1978, she sang background vocals on Chaka Khan's hit song "I'm Every Woman." Houston would later sing her own version.

Throughout her life, Houston was seen as a great beauty, and she began her professional career as a model. She was discovered as a potential cover girl while singing with her mother at Carnegie Hall. As a teenager, Houston already made history by becoming the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine. She would also do spreads in Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Young Miss during the 1980s.