CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I’m Christopher Cruise. Today on our show we remember the life and music of singing superstar Whitney Houston …
(MUSIC: “One Moment in Time”)
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Saturday, hundreds of people will gather in Newark, New Jersey, for the funeral of Whitney Houston. The forty-eight year old performer died a week earlier at a hotel in California. June Simms looks back at the life of the singer, actress, and mother.
JUNE SIMMS: That is Whitney Houston performing the song, “I’m Every Woman.” And that is what many who loved the singer say: Whitney was every woman. People in her hometown of Newark say she never forgot where she came from. Her close friend and gospel singer Marvin Winans recently said that below the surface Whitney Houston was still the same little girl from New Jersey.
A childhood friend of the star, Gregory Whittle, remembers growing up with her.
GREGORY WHITE: “A lot of time in the basement you could hear her singing. Singing in the back by the pool. She had a gift. It was strictly from God.”
Marvin Winans is to speak at the funeral. It will be held at the New Hope Baptist Church. Whitney Houston attended that church while growing up. It was also the first place she sang publicly. She was a member of the church choir.
(MUSIC: “Greatest Love of All”)
Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born in Newark in nineteen sixty-three. Her mother Cissy Houston is a gospel singer. Her father served in the military and was in the entertainment business. Cissy Houston was not the only family musician. Singers Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick were cousins of Whitney Houston. And her godmother was Aretha Franklin. At a performance earlier this week, Aretha Franklin remembered her goddaughter with a song and praise for the music and memories.
A 22 year-old Whitney Houston performing in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1986
As a teenager, Whitney Houston performed as a back-up singer for Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls and other artists. But she also had a successful modeling career by the time she was twenty. Her picture appeared on the cover of Seventeen and inside magazines including Glamour and Cosmopolitan.
In nineteen eighty three, Clive Davis, the head of Arista records, heard Whitney Houston singing in New York City. He offered her a recording agreement soon after. For the next two years, Whitney Houston worked on her first record album. “Whitney Houston” was released in nineteen eighty-five.
Slowly but surely, it became a huge hit. It stayed in the number one position on Billboard magazine’s Top Two Hundred Albums chart for fourteen weeks. The first number one single from the album was “Saving All My Love for You.”
Another popular song from that first album was this dance number “How Will I Know.”
The album “Whitney Houston” had seven number one hit singles. It remains the biggest-selling first album by any artist.
The singer followed that success with another. Her album “Whitney” sold twenty million copies. It also made her the first female artist to enter the Billboard Top Two Hundred at number one. Whitney Houston was clearing a path of recognition for women artists.
However, her next professional move was her most important. She recorded the soundtrack for and starred in “The Bodyguard,” in nineteen ninety-two.
Kevin Costner played opposite White Houston in the movie. It is the story of a relationship between a pop music star and a former secret service agent who protects her. The movie was a big hit, making more than four hundred million dollars in ticket sales worldwide. But the film’s popularity did not even come close to the success of the album that went with it.
“The Bodyguard” is the fourth highest selling album of all time. Forty-four million copies have been sold. Among the singles is “I Will Always Love You,” a song written and recorded earlier by Dolly Parton. Whitney Houston’s version sold many more copies.
In nineteen ninety-two, Whitney Houston’s personal life also grew. She married singer Bobby Brown, of the band New Edition. The marriage surprised many people both in and outside the music industry. Bobby Brown was considered an industry “bad boy,” while Whitney Houston had an innocence that led to her nickname the “prom queen of soul.”
Whitney Houston, husband Bobby Brown, left, and Clive Davis, president and founder of Arista Records, in New York City in 1998
She and Bobby Brown had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in nineteen ninety-three. In the late nineteen nineties, Whitney Houston’s professional behavior began to come under question. She began to cancel shows and was late for important events. Her appearance changed; she lost weight and looked unhealthy. Her voice also was suffering. Many reports said she was abusing drugs and alcohol.
(MUSIC: “I Have Nothing”)
Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown ended their marriage in two thousand seven. She also publicly admitted to drug abuse. But she entered a treatment program. In two thousand ten, she reported she was drug-free.
But, last Saturday, the singer and actress was found dead in her hotel room in Los Angeles. Officials have not yet released a cause of death. However, news reports say Whitney Houston’s family has been told the entertainer died from taking too many prescription drugs.
Her seventh and final studio album, “I Look to You,” was released in two thousand nine. Critics generally praised the effort. We leave you with Whitney Houston performing the Leon Russell song, “A Song for You.”
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: I’m Christopher Cruise. This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver.
Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.