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Remembering Whitney

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Whitney Houston

AS IS the case with any significant life event, most people will probably remember where they were when news broke that Whitney Houston had died. The passing of the superstar stunned many to the core and sparked grief amongst her millions of fans, who couldn’t believe the world had lost this legend.

One year on, the I Will Always Love You hitmaker is set to be remembered once again by organisers of the Grammy Awards with a behind-the-scenes TV show documenting how the ceremony worked fast to honour her last year, just 24 hours after she died. Entitled The Grammys Will Go On: A Death in the Family, the hour-long documentary will air in the US on February 9, a day before the 2013 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. It will honour the late legend who had performed at many Grammy ceremonies in years gone by.

In addition, it was announced last month that the singer is to be immortalised in wax at Madame Tussauds in the US, with four separate wax figures being unveiled, each representing memorable points in her career. And here in the UK, the star’s legacy lives on  with the theatrical adaptation of Houston’s 1992 film, The Bodyguard, which features a host of the star’s classic hits. 

Singer and actress Heather Headley, who plays the role of singing sensation Rachel Marron – who was depicted by Houston in the film – told The Voice last year: “I grew up listening to Whitney; she was like my mentor. I remember watching Whitney Houston videos as a youngster and wishing I could sing like her. If someone had told me then, ‘In 20 years from now, you’ll be playing Whitney’s role in a theatre production,’ I never would have believed them. So I feel extremely blessed.”


MOTHER’S LOVE: The singer with her daughter Bobbi Kristina

Clearly, Houston’s legacy continues to live on, and rightly so. 

The sudden death of Whitney Elizabeth Houston on February 11, 2012 at the age of 48, sent shock waves throughout the world. Though the singer’s drug abuse had been widely documented, news that she had been found dead in the bath of her Los Angeles hotel room on the eve of the Grammy Awards – the cause of which was later determined as accidental drowning, with drug abuse and heart disease also listed as contributing factors – still evoked worldwide sadness.

Possessing what was arguably one of the greatest and most unmistakable voices of the 20th Century, Houston proved her versatility throughout the years, delivering ballads, pop hits and R&B classics.

Rising to fame in the 1980s under the guidance of music mogul Clive Davis, Houston released her self-titled debut album in 1985 and made her voice known with hits including How Will I Know, The Greatest Love Of All and the classic Saving All My Love For You.

Follow-up album Whitney (1987) followed the trend of its predecessor, proving Houston’s ability to deliver both ballads – such as Didn’t We Almost Have It All and Where Do Broken Hearts Go – and fun pop numbers like the classic dancefloor filler I Wanna Dance With Somebody. 


YOUNG TALENT: Houston was fresh-faced in the video for her 1985 single How Will I Know

It was both talent and versatility that earned the singer her wide audience. With her classic ballads, Houston, who was born in New Jersey on August 9, 1963, was able to lean on her gospel roots and truly demonstrate the power of her vocals. And with her pop hits, she set herself apart from black female singers of earlier years – like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Houston’s cousin Dionne Warwick – who were better known for their soul and R&B output.

In addition, the songstress broke down racial barriers when she became the first black female artist to be regularly featured on MTV. And with her commercialised image – like the unforgettable blonde weaves and fluorescent make-up she donned in the videos for her hits How Will I Know and I Wanna Dance With Somebody – the pretty, fresh-faced singer broke the mould for black female artists and earned mainstream appeal, becoming a true American pop princess. 

Houston later demonstrated her acting talents, starring alongside Kevin Costner in the 1992 hit film, The Bodyguard; the soundtrack for which became the biggest album of her career, selling 44 million copies and spawning her classic rendition of Dolly Parton’s hit, I Will Always Love You. The inescapable song spent 14 weeks at number one in the States and earned the top spot in charts worldwide. 


THE HITS LIVE ON: Heather Headley (left) plays Houston’s role in the theatrical adaptation of The Bodyguard in London’s West End

That same year, Houston wed R&B star Bobby Brown and the marriage produced Houston’s only child, Bobbi Kristina who was born in 1993. The couple’s turbulent marriage was widely reported, with Brown often being blamed for the drug addiction that would later ravish his wife’s career. 

Houston and Brown divorced in 2007 and in her infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, Houston described her ex-husband as being emotionally abusive, and alleged that he once spat in her face. 

Despite splitting from Brown, Houston’s drug troubles undoubtedly plagued the later years of her life. Her 2009 album I Look To You was widely billed as her comeback – even though she dismissed this description in the album’s final track Salute, singing: “Don’t call it a comeback – I’ve been here for years.” But while Houston looked refreshed and appeared to have put her life back on track, many of her live performances the following year were panned, with audiences claiming the singer seemed disorientated, took long breaks during the show, and – most tragically – no longer possessed her powerhouse vocals.


IMMORTALISED: Madame Tussauds in the US will unveil four separate wax figures of Houston this week

Nevertheless, Houston achieved feats that many singers can only dream of. She broke barriers for fellow black female artists that followed her path; she sold over 170 million albums, singles and videos; she was the first female artist to enter the Billboard 200 album chart at number one with her second album, Whitney; and she is the only artist with seven consecutive multi-platinum albums. 

Often, described quite simply as ‘the voice’, her vocal ability has yet to be rivaled and she established a level of superstardom that left many of her contemporaries in awe. And with a host of hits that serve as her legacy, Houston remains a true legend that the world will never forget.

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