Just hours before Clive Davis was to hold his annual pre-Grammy party, Whitney Houston was found unresponsive in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. By around 4 pm, she was pronounced dead. She was 48.
So where do we go from here? What is there to say through the tears and the shock?
Houston had one of the best pure voices in music. Period
She was the most awarded female vocalist of all time, landing six Grammy Awards, 22 American Music Awards, two Emmys, and 30 Billboard Music Awards among other honours. She sold over 170 million albums.
Before all the glitz and attention, Houston was born in Newark as the youngest child of John Russell Houston, Jr. and gospel singer Cissy Houston. Young Whitney was surrounded by music, with the legendary Aretha Franklin as her godmother and Cissy’s gospel soul sailing through the air.
The music bug eventually came and Whitney was belting it out in church. Her mother guided her and the two sometimes performed together at nightclubs. By age 15, the wheels were well in motion for what would be a hell of a career. Whitney sang background vocals on Chaka Khan’s "I’m Every Woman" and also supported the likes of Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson.
With her exposure growing, it wasn’t long before the record companies came calling. Clive Davis’ Arista Records won out and Houston was signed to a recording contract in 1983. Her first work under contract came as a duet with Teddy Pendergrass ("Hold Me"). In 1985, Whitney's debut record was finally released and the world was aware of her powerful but controlled voice.
To say Houston broke the doors down would be an understatement. She blew them wide open, unleashing a series of singles and hits that would dominate the charts for most of the 1980s. She was everywhere and her music shifted with her experiences. By the time her third album, I’m Your Baby Tonight, was released, she had shifted to more urban influences.
Finding moments of Whitney Houston’s career to zero in on is an uphill climb because there are so many. There’s the Super Bowl XXV rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," complete with bone-headed lip-sync controversy. And there’s The Bodyguard, with its soundtrack spawning the megahit "I Will Always Love You." Her gospel roots came shining through with her work on the soundtrack to The Preacher’s Wife.
A lot can obviously be said about Whitney’s troubles, too, and the spotlight, as it often does, seemed to shine brightest on her personal struggles. Much commentary will press those issues over the coming days.
But the truth is simple: on this day, music is missing one of its brightest lights. Whatever her stumbles, Whitney Houston had one of the boldest, clearest voices of all time. She possessed a nearly explosive range and sang with an almost breathless exhilaration as though she could barely contain the fire within. She was astonishingly fluid and she stole every show.
So where do we go from here? We go on the only way we know how.