Whitney Houston, 48, died mysteriously Saturday afternoon at the Beverly Hilton hotel. Her death is under investigation by the L.A. coroner’s office.
It will take several weeks before they have final answers about what caused her death.
While the world awaits the coroner’s report, it didn’t wait to begin the celebration of her magnificent career. Her name and legacy were invoked more times at the Grammy Awards Sunday night in Los Angeles than Adele won awards-the vocalist practically ran the table, winning all six categories in which she was nominated.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the evening was Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” Houston’s signature song, if it’s possible to select one from her repertoire of hits. Houston was peerless.
But her remarkable stay among us is immeasurable and can only be properly assessed by the moods she invoked; the songs she endowed so passionately with spiritual essence, gospel intensity and a profound understanding of rhythm and blues.
“She was something special,” her mother, Cissy Houston, told songwriters and producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff when her daughter was still developing her musical greatness as a child in front of the choir at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J.
There are clips making the rounds of a teenage Houston soloing in front of the choir, her voice already in possession of that angelic quality that left audiences as breathless as they were astonished.
Born Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark and raised in East Orange, N.J., Houston was the product of a musical family and was tutored early in voice and piano by her mother, who served as director of the New Hope Baptist Choir for years. She was also influenced and inspired by her cousins, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and her godmother, Aretha Franklin.
The extremely attractive Houston was still a teen when photographers and magazines began featuring her image in their portfolios and on their covers. As a backup singer, she performed with a number of artists, including Khan and Lou Rawls.
In the early ’80s, she was spotted by A&R representative Gerry Griffith while performing with her mother at a New York City nightclub. Impressed by her voice and style, he convinced Clive Davis, his boss at Arista Records, to check her out. Davis signed her to a contract and is credited with discovering Houston.
By 1985, she was ready for her debut album after brief recording stints with Teddy Pendergrass, particularly on “Hold Me,” which she would later reprise.
Among the singles on her first album, “Greatest Love of All” was rightfully given the lion’s share of promotion and it garnered Houston global recognition. A version of the song was filmed at the Apollo Theater, with her roaming around the empty theater.
Even so, it’s hard to ignore the prominence of “You Give Good Love” and “Saving All My Love for You,” which won her her first Grammy Award.
This was her impressive beginning, and from this moment on, it becomes a challenge to even shortlist her amazing highlights.
But it would be remiss not to note her political stances, none more admirable than her anti-apartheid activism in the late ’80s and her unwavering support for Nelson Mandela. She must be commended, too, for the creation in 1989 of the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children, which raises funds for needy children around the world.
Another performance highlight was her appearance at Super Bowl XXV, where she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” She did it so well that her rendition was later released as a single and made the Top 20 in the U.S. Hot 100, exceeding Jose Feliciano’s 1968 version.
Her marriage to Bobby Brown in 1992 followed their meeting on “Soul Train” three years earlier. A year later, their daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was born.
That year was also eventful because it marked Houston’s film debut with Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard.” Despite harsh reviews, the movie was a box-office success and provided her with yet another venue to express her charm and charisma.
“Whitney Houston was an unbelievable talent and one of the greatest voices of all time,” read a joint response from Gamble and Huff. “Her passing is a tremendous shock and terrible shame. She had a rough life and was under so much pressure as an artist because she gave so much to the music community. She was one of the most admired singers ever who was loved by everybody. We’re praying for her family.”
No matter the circumstances of her death, her life was deeply rewarding and her legacy is forever sealed in the beautiful music she created. “We will always love you,” Whitney.