There had been other explosive young divas before — Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner — but in the 1980s and early 1990s, Whitney Houston seized the spotlight so fast, so early, so young and so forcefully that she set a bar so high singers are still trying to vault it today.
The daughter of gospel great Cissy Houston and cousin of “I Say a Little Prayer” singer Dionne Warwick, Houston was discovered as a teenager and burst into the national consciousness in 1985 with her self-titled debut. The seamless mix of wide-screen ballads and dance-floor-worthy anthems spawned such iconic hits as “You Give Good Love,” “Saving All My Love for You,” “The Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know.” A radiant breath of fresh air, Houston rode the music-video wave to stardom, scooping up dozens of awards for her smash first album, including two Grammys and an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video for “How Will I Know.”
Along with Michael Jackson, Houston helped pave the way for a generation of black artists to exploit the video medium to reach a global audience. She did it by spinning off a string of indelible hits in such an joyful manner that her vocal feats of strength appeared effortless.
On the eve of the 54th annual Grammy Awards, Houston was found dead Saturday in Los Angeles at age 48. At press time, the cause of death was still unknown. She had last taken the stage Thursday night at a pre-Grammy event on Thursday night. Just hours before the news broke, friend Kelly Price said stories of Houston’s ongoing struggles were exaggerated. MTV News reported Saturday night that Jennifer Hudson would participate in a tribute to Houston at Sunday night’s Grammys. Houston died just hours before the start of the annual pre-Grammy party thrown by legendary music impresario Clive Davis, the mogul who signed Houston to Arista Records after seeing her perform in New York clubs in the early 1980s.
Though her hitmaking days were long past, Houston’s influence continues today, from the sound of such avowed acolytes as Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Mary J. Blige to an untold number of singers hoping to stake their claim on such reality singing competitions as “American Idol,” “X Factor” and “The Voice.” Houston’s muscular, gospel-tinged vocal gymnastics and her telegenic spark raised the bar to a level today’s singers — from Rihanna to Adele — are still striving to achieve.
By the time her career faltered in the 2000s as she struggled with substance abuse , personal drama and vocal issues, Houston had already blazed an unstoppable trail and was ranked by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most celebrated female vocalist of all time, including 26 Grammy nominations and 6 wins, along with sales of more than 170 million albums, singles and videos.
Some of Houston’s career achievements:
» Released when she was 22, Whitney Houston was the best-selling album by a female artist in the 1980s, with more than 9 million copies sold on its way to becoming the best-selling debut ever by a female artist.
» Her “Bodyguard” smash cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” was the best-selling single of all time by a female artist. The “Bodyguard” album was #1 for 20 nonconsecutive weeks, a record that could by tied by multiple-Grammy nominee Adele next week.
» The “Bodyguard” soundtrack was the first album in history to sell more than 1 million copies in a single week. Houston remains one of only four women — including Britney Spears, Norah Jones and Taylor Swift — to sell more than 1 million albums in a week. The “Bodyguard” album is one of the best-sellers of all times at 17-times platinum in the U.S. alone and more than 42 million worldwide. It was also awarded with the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1994.
» Houston was the first female artist to receive two diamond awards from the Recording Industry Association of America, signaling 10 million copies sold of an album or a single for the “Bodyguard” soundtrack and Whitney Houston.
» While many artists have sung the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl — including, most recently, Kelly Clarkson — Houston’s memorable, emotional rendition at the 1991 game is the only one to be certified platinum. The song regained notice following the 2001 terror attacks, when it was re-released as a single.
» The incomparable “I Will Always Love You” topped the Hot 100 charts on Billboard for 14 consecutive weeks, the longest-running #1 single ever by a female artist. It is one of the best-selling U.S. singles of all time.
» Houston is the only artist in pop history to land seven consecutive #1 hits.
» Her second album, 1987′s Whitney, was the first by a female artist to enter the Billboard 200 chart at #1.
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