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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

During this time, Houston started doing some light acting. She appeared in a commercial for Canada Dry and did a walk-on role on fellow singer Nell Carter's TV series "Gimme a Break." Few people know that she was considered at this time for the role of Sondra on "The Cosby Show."

Focusing instead on her singing, she was discovered by music impresario Davis, who offered her a recording contract. Davis went on to become Houston's mentor and lifelong friend. Houston's first recording was the duet "Hold Me" with soul legend Teddy Pendergrass in 1984. Her debut album, "Whitney Houston," was released in 1985 and produced three No. 1 singles: "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know" and "Greatest Love of All."

Success would follow with the albums "Whitney" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight." A highlight in her career was singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV in 1991, just days after the start of the Gulf War. The rousing rendition satisfied her established fans and garnered new ones, even taking the national anthem onto to the pop charts.

In 1992, Houston married singer Bobby Brown and gave birth to her only child, Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, in 1993. During this time, Houston would go back to acting, except this time on the big screen. She starred alongside Kevin Costner in "The Bodyguard." The movie's soundtrack gave birth to Houston's signature song, a cover of "I Will Always Love You." The film and its soundtrack were monster financial hits, and the album, thanks to Houston's work, won Grammys for Album of the Year and Record of the Year.

Continuing her work on the big screen in 1995, she starred alongside Angela Basset in "Waiting to Exhale," which was based on the bestselling book by Terry McMillan. Houston would sing on the film's soundtrack, which became a success.

Getting back to her gospel roots, Houston starred in "The Preacher's Wife" with Denzel Washington. Again contributing songs to the soundtrack, she also sang gospel music with the Georgia Mass Choir and solo secular songs, including a cover of "I Believe in You and Me." The following year, she starred in the made-for-TV movie of "Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" with young R&B sensation Brandy.

After an eight-year hiatus from solo album recording, Houston released "My Love is Your Love" in 1998. Working with Wyclef Jean and other producers, the album included the lovely title song "My Love is Your Love" and was a popular and critical success. Her comeback at the end of the decade also saw the release of "Whitney: The Greatest Hits" in 2000.

But as her professional life continued to soar, there began to surface rumors about Houston's personal struggles in the media. There was talk about drug use by her and her husband, and her body weight became precariously low. There was also erratic and disturbing public behavior, including when police found marijuana in 2000 in the couples' luggage at an airport.

In 2002, during an interview with Diane Sawyer, she proclaimed, "Crack is wack" in response to allegations of her drug use, but admitted to using other drugs, including cocaine. The albums "Just Whitney" and "One Wish: The Holiday Album" were released during this time.

In 2004, the world got an inside look into Houston's world with Brown through the reality show "Being Bobby Brown "on the Bravo network. In 2006, the two divorced and became engaged in a nasty custody battle. Houston detailed her marriage to Brown and her drug use in a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey. That same year she released what would be her final album, "I Look to You."

Despite all the trials and tribulations that she endured in her career and life, Black people, as well as people of all races, kept rooting for Houston to overcome her demons and challenges so that the world community and her Black community could see her great talent triumphing once again.

The day she passed away, the Rev. Al Sharpton was in California delivering a Black History Month sermon. As the news of Houston's untimely death broke, he said he was "stunned at the passing of Whitney Houston, whom I have known since the late 1980s. I have known her mother, the great gospel singer Cissy, and her [cousin] Dionne Warwick, down through the years, and the world is saddened by this great loss."

Additional reporting by Herb Boyd.