Born 9 August 1963 in Newark, NJ, Whitney Houston was the daughter of an acclaimed gospel and R&B backup singer, Emily "Cissy" Houston, and cousin to Dionne Warwick. (Cissy had turned professional at age six, performed in a family gospel group, the Drinkard Sisters, and formed the R&B quartet called Sweet Inspirations.) Whitney sang in the New Hope Baptist Junior Choir; legend has it that at age eight she did a solo performance of "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" that reduced the entire congregation to tears. As a teenager Whitney did backup work for Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls. She also pursued a modeling career, appearing in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Seventeen. She studied acting and dance, and landed guest appearances on TV sitcoms (Silver Spoons and Gimme A Break). In 1981, at age 18, she signed a management deal with Gene Harvey and Seymour Flics, and for the next few years was carefully groomed for the superstardom that everyone associated with her felt certain was in the cards.
Clive Davis, founder of Arista Records, is introduced to Houston by Arista R&B executive Gerry Griffith and signs her to a worldwide contract. Davis will spend the next year and a half shaping Houston for stardom and working on her debut album.
That debut album, Whitney Houston, is released in the US. Initially, sales are slow.
Houston's debut single, "You Give Good Love," finally reaches US#3. It rouses little interest in the UK, where it fails to chart.
The ballad "Saving All My Love For You" hits the top of the US singles chart. Two months later it will reach UK#1, while its parent album peaks at UK#2. (It will spend 100 consecutive weeks on the UK chart.)
"Saving All My Love" garners Houston trophies in the Favorite Single (Soul/R&B) and Favorite Video Single (Soul/R&B) at the 13th Annual American Music Awards. She will win Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female at the Grammy Awards next month.
Produced by Narada Michael Walden, "How Will I Know" tops the US Hot 100 and R&B charts. It will climb to the #5 spot in the UK.
Whitney Houston reaches #1 on the US album chart, and will go multi-platinum.
Houston's cover of the 1977 George Benson hit "The Greatest Love Of All" becomes her third #1 hit in the US, and climbs to UK#8. Whitney becomes the first solo female artist to ever have three #1 hits from one LP.
Houston wins Best Female Video for "How Will I Know" at the 3rd Annual MTV Awards.
Following a successful American tour, Houston begins a sell-out European tour.
At the 14th Annual American Music Awards, Houston wins Favorite Female Artist (Soul/R&B), Favorite Video Single (Soul/R&B), Favorite Female Artist (Pop/Rock) and Favorite Album (Pop/Rock).
Houston's second album, Whitney, is released, entering the UK album chart at #1. In the US it becomes the first album by a female singer to debut at the #1 spot, and will remain there for eleven weeks. The first single, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," tops both the US and UK singles charts.
Arista signs a deal withTri-Star Pictures to find a film vehicle for Houston.
The ballad "Didn't We Almost Have It All" becomes Houston's fifth consecutive #1 single in the US, while peaking at UK#14. A world tour is announced.
"So Emotional" hits #1 in the US, Houston's sixth chart-topper in a row. A few weeks earlier it had reached UK#5. Houston wins Favorite Female Artist (Pop/Rock) and Favorite Single (Pop/Rock) at the 15th Annual American Music Awards.
Houston wins Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards. Later this month, she wins Album of the Year, Female at the 2nd Annual Soul Train Awards.
Houston sets a record with seven consecutive US chart-toppers when "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" reaches #1 -- the previous record-holders had been the Beatles and the Bee Gees, both with six.
The fifth single from Whitney, "Love Will Save The Day" soars to UK#10. While on a sell-out world tour, Houston headlines Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute at Wembley Stadium, London.
"Love Will Save The Day" stalls at US#9.
"One Moment In Time," a ballad from an Olympics musical tribute album of the same name, tops the UK chart for two weeks. In November it will reach US#5.
At the 16th Annual American Music Awards, Houston wins Favorite Female Artist in both the Soul/R&B and Pop/Rock categories.
While preparations for Houston's debut in film continues, her duet with Aretha Franklin, "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be," stalls at US#41. It will peak at UK#29 in September.
Whitney Houston (Arista, 1985)
You Gave Good Love
Thinking About You
Someone For Me
Saving All My Love For You
Nobody Loves Me Like You Do
How Will I Know
All At Once
Take Good Care Of My Heart
Greatest Love Of All
"Blessed with the most exciting new voice in years, Whitney Houston sings the hell out of the pleasant but undistinguished pop-soul tunes on her album, which were put together by a consortium of top producers: Michael Masser, Jermaine Jackson, Kashif, Narada Michael Walden. But . . . many of the songs here are so featureless they could be sung by anyone. They make what could have been a stunning debut merely promising."
Don Shewey, Rolling Stone (449)
Whitney (Arista, 1987)
Didn't We Almost Have It All
Lonely Talking Again
Where You Are
Love Is A Contact Sport
I Know Him So Well
Where Do Broken Hearts Go
I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Love Will Save The Day
For The Love Of You
You Are Still My Man
"Whitney is like the pop pros of an earlier generation. Her work is cool, authoritative, no-nonsense and delivered with a facility that is almost off-putting. If it's sometimes hard to locate an emotional heart in Houston's songs, the sheer talent is obvious. Still, the narrow channel through which this talent has been directed is frustrating. Turning Whitney Houston into a crossover queen, a yuppie icon, might satisfy the record biz, but it leaves a much richer and more complex promise unfulfilled."
Vince Aletti, Rolling Stone (506)
As a teenager, Whitney sang lead on the title track of the Michael Zager Band's Life's A Party (1979). Zager offered her a recording contract, but Whitney's mother declined on her daughter's behalf.
When Whitney's second #1 single, "How Will I Know," reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100, it displaced Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends Are For" -- only the third time in rock history that blood relatives had back-to-back chart-toppers.
George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, who collaborated to write "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" met when they were hired as singers to perform at the wedding of Susan Boeing (of the airline family.) In the mid-Eighties they formed the band Boy Meets Girl and released an album; their single "Oh Girl" peaked at #39 in May 1985.
Whitney Houston made her film debut in 1992's The Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner. The soundtrack sold 16 million copies and spent 20 weeks at US#1. The first single, a cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," was #1 for 14 weeks and sold 5 million copies, making it the bestselling single of all time.
After being romantically linked with Eddie Murphy, Jermaine Jackson and pro football star Randall Cunningham, Whitney married R&B artist Bobby Brown, and the following year gave birth to a daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
In 1994 Whitney filed a restraining order against Charles Gilsberg, who claimed to be the father of Houston's daughter. A year later she had to file a restraining order against Steven J. Marriott, who claimed to be her brother.