Whitney Houston (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)
After a two-decade struggle with drugs, loss of her vocal ability, and being the target of often vicious tabloid coverage, pop legend Whitney Houston has died. Houston reportedly was pronounced dead at 3:55 Pacific Standard Time, February 11, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The cause of death was not announced. Houston was 48 at the time of her death.
Houston burst onto the music scene in 1985 with the release of the ballad “You Give Good Love.” Her soulful voice ensured her a place in the pantheon of music superstars. She had a distinct sound that was refreshingly different from other female R&B singers, with evidence of her mother, gospel-singer Cissy Houston, her cousin, Dionne Warwick, and the influence of her godmother Aretha Franklin in her songs. Her debut album topped the charts, and she dominated R&B through the early 1990s.
Her troubles began in 1992 when she married Bobby Brown, the bad boy of R&B. Their tumultuous relationship and her battles with drug addiction were feeding a tabloid frenzy by the late 90s. Houston was open about her problems and sought rehab, but by 2002, she’d lost her voice and her public performances disappointed fans, despite the success of her 2002 comeback album, “I Look to You.” In her 2010 “Nothing But Love World Tour,” angry fans stormed out of the venue demanding refund of their ticket money.
One of Whitney Houston’s greatest public performances was her rendition of the national anthem on January 27, 1991, at Tampa Stadium for the opening of Super Bowl XXV. Fans, enthralled by her soaring vocals, were unaware that she had recorded the song weeks before in a Los Angeles studio and was lip synching. The song, done without the usual flourishes and additions typical of other singers who attempt it, went on to become a top-selling single, earning over $500,000 for the Red Cross. Performed just ten days after the start of the start of the first Gulf War, it came at a time when, according to Houston in a later interview, “Americans needed to believe in their country.”
Despite her problems, Houston had a profound impact on pop music. One can see her influence in the music of young singers who followed her, such as Mariah Carey and Christina Aquilera. In addition to her singing talent, she was also a beautiful woman, gracing the covers of fashion magazines, until the ravages of drugs ruined her looks and figure.
The world might remember her for her troubles and eventual fall from grace, but music will be forever in her debt for her amazing, though squandered, talents.