Whitney Houston, one of the top-charting singers of the 1980s and 1990s, has died at the age of 48 on the eve of the American music industry’s biggest night – the Grammy Awards.
Her distinct voice, mixing pop sensibilities and gospel with the soulful prowess of Aretha Franklin, influenced a future generation of pop divas like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera.
Although already a platinum-selling artist, winning multiple Grammy, Billboard and American Music awards by the early 1990s, it was Houston’s crossover appearance alongside Kevin Costner in the 1992 film The Bodyguard that propelled her to super stardom. Houston’s contributions to the film’s soundtrack – including a rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” originally recorded by Dolly Parton – added to the recognition. It was the first album to sell one million units within its first week of release.
By the late 1990s, however, her drug problems and tumultuous marriage to R&B artist Bobby Brown had eclipsed past successes; over the next decade, Houston’s lifestyle became fodder for the tabloid press.
A New Jersey native, Houston’s career began as a back-up singer for Lou Rawls, Jermaine Jackson and Chaka Khan, with whom she collaborated on “I’m Every Woman,” a song Houston later covered on The Bodyguard soundtrack.
Her first album, Whitney Houston, generated three number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know” and “The Greatest Love Of All.” During this time, Houston embarked on a world tour, making numerous television appearances, which included an infamous visit on a French talk show where she was propositioned by Serge Gainsbourg.
A followup, Whitney, provided four more top 100 hits: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”
In 1992, Houston surprised the music industry and her fans when she married Brown. The following year she gave birth to her only child, Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown.
In an interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009, Houston related that her drug dependency escalated after the success of The Bodyguard and two followup films, Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife: “I would do my work, but after I did my work, for a whole year or two, it was everyday… I wasn’t happy by that point in time. I was losing myself.”
Brown and Houston were charged with possession of marijuana in January of 2000. They divorced in 2007.
Many of Houston’s performances over the last decade were marred by the ravaging effects of addiction. Her last appearance, recorded on Feb. 10, shows Houston singing “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” her voice a raspy, faint whisper compared to the audience-enthralling, histrionic-laden bellow for which she was renowned.
This article was originally published by CBC Music on Feb 11, 2012.