Born on Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, to John and Cissy Houston, Whitney Elizabeth Houston was destined for a career as a singer: Her mother sang backup for Elvis Presley; her cousin was superstar Dionne Warwick; and her godmother was the legendary Aretha Franklin. Unsurprisingly, young Whitney also proved to have a vocal gift, performing her first solo at age 11 at the New Hope Baptist Church.
ON THE RISE
In her teens, Houston worked as a model, appearing in Seventeen, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, and performed in New York City clubs. It was during one particular singing gig in 1983 that she caught the ear of Arista music exec Clive Davis, who signed her to a record deal on the spot.
OFF THE CHARTS
Released in March 1985, Whitney Houston established the star as a major recording artist, prompting Rolling Stone to rave, “With her sleek beauty and her great voice, Whitney Houston is obviously headed for stardom.” Indeed, her freshman effort sold over 12 million copies in the U.S., produced three consecutive No. 1 singles — “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know” and “The Greatest Love of All” — and made history as the biggest selling album by a solo artist.
“Being around people like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick and Roberta Flack, all these greats, I was taught to listen and observe,” Houston, pictured with Warwick and mom Cissy, said of her natural talent. “It had a great impact on me as a singer, as a performer, as a musician. Growing around it, you just can’t help it … It was something that was so natural to me that when I started singing, it was almost like speaking.”
Houston was up for three awards at the 1986 Grammys, including album of the year, and ultimately took home the honor for best female pop vocal performance. She garnered even more trophies that year, including seven American Music Awards and an MTV Video Music Award.
A BROKEN RECORD
With the June 1987 release of her second album, Whitney, Houston made history again, becoming the first female artist to enter the Billboard album charts at No. 1, and surpassing the Beatles with her seven consecutive No. 1 hits, including “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “So Emotional” and “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.”
Despite being busy with performing and touring, Houston managed to find time for romance, mainly with Eddie Murphy. “Because of my career and his career – I’m here and he’s there; I’m there and he’s here – it’s hard to establish a relationship,” admitted Houston, who would go on to fall for singer Bobby Brown after meeting him at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards.
As the Persian Gulf War raged on in 1991, Houston united the entire nation with her stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV. The powerhouse performance was released as both a single and a video, and landed in the Top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100.
TAKE A VOW
“You know, I was raised as a Christian, and my mother was very strict with me as far as boys were concerned,” said Houston, who shocked fans when she tied the knot with bad boy Bobby Brown on July 18, 1992. Despite the former New Edition star’s rough reputation, Houston insisted, “Bobby’s got a good heart and a good soul.”
Following two minor acting stints — on the ‘80s sitcoms Gimme a Break! and Silver Spoons — Houston became a full-fledged movie star, headlining 1992’s The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner. The film, released in November, grossed $410 million worldwide, and its soundtrack, featuring “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” “Run to You” and “I Will Always Love You,” became the best-selling soundtrack of all time.
On March 4, 1993, Houston gave birth to daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, whom she called her greatest inspiration. “She supports me, she loves me, she gives me good mommy hugs,” Houston told Access Hollywood of their bond.
Houston followed up her Bodyguard success by appearing opposite Loretta Devine, Angela Bassett and Lela Rochon in the 1995 big-screen adaptation of author Terry McMillan’s best-seller Waiting to Exhale. Though the film was a success, Houston was unhappy on set. “You know, I was a movie star. I really didn’t want to be one,” she told Vibe. “I was raising my daughter. I wasn’t with my husband. I had to be in Phoenix. And it was like, Yo, f— this. I don’t wanna do this.”
A HOLY UNION
Despite her reservations, Houston took another film role, this time starring alongside Denzel Washington in 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife. The family drama, about the troubled marriage between a reverend and his gospel choir mistress, earned her a reported $10 million paycheck. The weeks leading up to the film’s December release were turbulent, with Houston denying her own union is in trouble and, more tragically, suffering a miscarriage.
Putting rivalry rumors to rest, Houston shared the stage with Mariah Carey — in matching dresses — at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. The duo also collaborated on the ballad “When You Believe” from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack that same year. “Mariah and I got along very great,” Houston told Ebony. “It’s good to know that two ladies of soul can still be friends.”
Houston and Brown were all smiles at a February 2000 pre-Grammys party, despite being dogged by rumors of drug abuse. One month earlier, the pair made headlines when marijuana was found in their luggage at a Hawaii airport (charges were later dropped), and Houston also raised eyebrows the previous year after canceling appearances at the American Music Awards and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Just weeks after signing a $100 million Arista record contract, Houston kicked off the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special in September 2001 alongside Usher and Mya, singing “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” But it was her gaunt figure that really started some talk; after blaming a “bad shot,” she would admit years later her thinness was due to drug use.
'CRACK IS WACK’
In an alarming yet candid 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, Houston insisted she makes too much money to be a crack user, as rumored. “Crack is whack!” she said, blaming emotional stress for her erratic behavior. “This is not fun any more,” she said of working in the music industry.
On a whirlwind tour of Israel in May 2003, Houston and Brown dipped themselves, baptism-style, in the River Jordan — even though they were guests of the Black Hebrews, a religious sect of about 2,000 black Americans who observe certain Jewish rituals.
BACK ON TRACK
It was a surprise comeback: Following a March 2004 stay in rehab, Houston commanded the stage at the September World Music Awards with a medley of “I Believe in You and Me” and “I Will Always Love You,” in tribute to longtime producer Clive Davis. Though they immediately planned on working on a new album together, I Look to You wouldn’t be released till 2009.
Instead of a new album, in 2005 Houston would do another stint in rehab — and appear on reality television. Bravo’s Being Bobby Brown was a ratings hit for the network, thanks to the couple’s outlandish behavior. PEOPLE’s TV critic pointed to Houston’s “unflatteringly diva-ish behavior, shooing away a fan who dares to interrupt her meal.” The show would last one season; their marriage just one more year.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Released in August 2009, Houston’s seventh effort, I Look to You, marked her first No. 1 album since The Bodyguard. Though it seemed she was ready for a career revival, even launching a world tour the following February, she canceled several live performances and received poor reviews for her shows.
“I want her to count on me to try to understand what she’s going through,” Houston told InStyle of daughter and aspiring singer Krissy (together on Good Morning America in 2009). “No damnation, no condemnation, nothing that’s going to make her feel like she can’t come to me.”
Fifteen years after The Preacher’s Wife, Houston returned to the big screen for Sparkle with Jordin Sparks. “Part of the fun of making this movie is definitely the costumes and the hairstyles,” an excited Houston told PEOPLE. “The movie is set in 1963, and we had a great wardrobe, hair and makeup person and I loved wearing the outfits.” Her costar was equally thrilled: “I sang her songs into a hairbrush when I was little. … It was a dream come true.”
Ten Greatest R&B Bands of All-Time From About Entainment
1. Earth, Wind & Fire
Founded by Maurice White (who passed away February 3, 2016 at the age of 74) in Chicago in 1969, Earth, Wind & Fire is one of the greatest bands in music history. The group has sold over 100 million albums, including three triple platinum and two double platinum albums. Known as “The Elements of the Universe,” EW&F combines elements of African music, Latin music, R&B, jazz, and rock into a unique sound featuring the dynamic lead voice of Philip Bailey. Recording for over 40 years, the group has won six Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, four American Music Awards, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s concerts are legendary. In the 1970s and 1980s, the group featured amazing illusions, including bass player Verdine White performing while being levitated above the stage, and the members appearing and vanishing in transparent cylinders as if they were traveling through space via the Star Trek transporter beam. Earth, Wind & Fire has recorded numerous classics over five decades, including “After The Love Has Gone (1979), "Shining Star” (1975), and “That’s The Way of the World” (1975).
2. The Isley Brothers
Recording for over 50 years, The Isley Brothers began as a vocal trio in the 1950s in Cincinnati, Ohio with Ronald Isley as lead singer performing with brothers Rudolph and O'Kelly Isley. The group expanded to six members in 1973 with their 3 + 3 album. Younger brothers Ernie lsley (guitar) and Marvin Isley (bass) joined the group along with Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper (keyboards).
The Isley Brothers have released four double platinum, six platinum, and four gold albums. Seven of their singles have reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart. Two of their songs, “Shout,” and Twist and Shout.“ were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Isleys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. They have also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a BET Lifetime Achievement Award.
George Clinton is the legendary leader of the bands Parliament and Funkadelic which record separately and perform together in concert. Parliament began in the 1960s in New Jersey as a doo-wop vocal group called The Parliaments, and Funkadelic served as their band. The Parliaments eventually evolved into a mainstream funk group under the name Parliament, and Funkadelic assumed its own identity as a psychedelic soul group inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone. Known collectively as Parliament-Funkadelic, P-Funk became the most outrageous African-American band of the 1970s and 80s, famous for landing the "Mothership” on stage during 4 hour marathon concerts. Mastermind Clinton is a genius lyricist who is idolized in the hip-hop world, and his talented musicians, especially keyboardist Bernie Worrell, bassist Bootsy Collins (from James Brown’s band), and guitarists Michael Hampton, Eddie Hazel, and Gary Shider are worshipped by rock fans.
Parliament-Funkadelic hit number one five times on the Billboard R&B singles chart, including “Flash Light” (1978), “One Nation Under A Groove” (1978), and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” (1979). P-Funk was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
4. Kool & The Gang
Formed in 1964 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kool & The Gang has been performing for over 50 years. Led by bass player Robert “Kool” Bell, the group began as a jazz instrumental band before transitioning into R&B and funk. Kool & The Gang has sold over 70 million records, including five platinum, three gold, and one double platinum album (Emergency in 1984). Its eight number one singles include “Celebration” (1980), “Ladies’ Night” (1979), “and "Joanna” (1983). Their honors include five American Music Awards, a Soul Train Legend Award, and a Grammy for Album of the Year for Saturday Night Fever (which included their song, “Open Sesame”).
5. Sly & the Family Stone
Formed in 1967 in San Francisco by Sylvester Stewart, Sly & The Family Stone was one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and 70s. They were the leaders of the “psychedelic soul” movement, combining R&B and rock into their own unique sound. The Family Stone were trailblazers with their integrated, multi-gender lineup. Their unforgettable performance at the historic Woodstock Festival in 1969 elevated their stature to one of the most revered acts in the world.
The group released three platinum albums, including the five times platinum Greatest Hits in 1970. They also recorded four number one singles including “Everyday People” (1968), “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (1969), and “Family Affair” (1971). The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
6. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
The group Maze featuring Frankie Beverly began as Raw Soul in Philadelphia in 1970. After moving to the San Francisco Bay area, they were discovered by Marvin Gaye who renamed the band, Maze. Beginning with their 1977 self-titled debut release, all of their eight studio albums have been certified gold, plus their 1981 Live In New Orleans album. Maze has two number one singles, “Back In Stride” in 1985, and “Can’t Get Over You” in 1989. Their signature song, “Before I Let Go,” only reached number 13 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1981, however, it is one of the greatest live party jams of all-time. Now in its fifth decade, Maze continues to be one of the top touring attractions in R&B, and is a favorite of the annual
7. The Commodores
Formed in 1968 on the campus of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, The Commodores were one of the most successful R&B acts in he mid 1970s and early 1980s. Prior to releasing their first album Machine Gun on Motown Records in 1974, the band toured in 1971 as the opening act for The Jackson Five. With Lionel Richie as lead vocalist, the group recorded four number one albums, and six number one singles, including “Three Times Lady” (1978), “Easy” (1977), and “Still” (1979). After Richie left for a solo career, The Commodores won their first Grammy Award in 1986: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “Nightshift.”
8. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan recorded four gold and two platinum albums, including four number one albums, in the 1970s. The band hit the top of the Billboard R&B singles chart five times, including “Sweet Thing” (1975), “Do You Love What You Feel,” (1979) and “Ain’t Nobody” (1983) which won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Their first hit single, “Tell Me Something Good,” composed by Stevie Wonder, also won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Khan left the group for a solo career in 1978, however she reunited with the band for the 1983 album, Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live.
In 1974, Larry Blackmon formed the group New York City Players which became one of the greatest funk bands known as Cameo. From 1979-1988, the group recorded eight gold and one platinum albums. It also reached number one on the Billboard R&B singles chart four times, including two consecutive chart topping songs in 1987, “Word Up!” and “Candy.” In 1987 and 1988, Cameo won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band/Duo/Group, and two Soul Train Music Awards: Best R&B/Soul Single - Group, Band or Duo (“Word Up!”), and Best R&B/Soul Album - Group, Band or Duo (Word Up!)
10. The Ohio Players
The Ohio Players dominated the mid 1970s with four consecutive number one albums on the Billboard R&B chart (including three platinum) Skin Tight (1974), Fire (1974), Honey (1975), and Contradiction (1976). The band also recorded five chart topping singles, including “Funky Worm” (1973), “Sweet Sticky Thing” (1975), “Love Rollercoaster” (1975). In addition to their distinctive, funkified sound, The Ohio Players were famous for the most erotic album covers
'We Are the World' at 30: 12 tales you might not know
The all-star recording session for We Are the World, the biggest charity single of all time, took place 30 years ago Wednesday.
On Jan. 28, 1985, at A&M Recording Studios in Hollywood, following the
American Music Awards, more than 40 artists gathered to record a song
Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson had written to raise awareness of
widespread, life-threatening poverty in Africa. Most of that show’s
winners — including Cyndi Lauper, Hall & Oates, Bruce Springsteen,
Huey Lewis, Willie Nelson, Tina Turner, the Pointer Sisters, Kenny
Rogers and the Jacksons — participated.
Inspired by the U.K. all-star charity single Do They Know it’s Christmas?, released a few months earlier, We Are the World
was released March 7, 1985, and went on to sell more than 20 million
copies. The more than $75 million raised by non-profit organization USA
for Africa helped to fight poverty on the continent. The song also won
three Grammy Awards in 1986, including song and record of the year.
great song lasts for eternity,” says Quincy Jones, who produced the
track. “I guarantee you that if you travel anywhere on the planet today
and start humming the first few bars of that tune, people will
immediately know that song.”
Here are 12 things you might not know about the song and the recording session:
Stevie Wonder, not Michael Jackson, originally was supposed to be Richie’s co-writer.
was really trying to get in touch with Stevie and couldn’t do it,”
Richie says. “Stevie was touring a lot. He was doing a lot of stuff.” A
phone call with Jones got him and Jackson involved. “I got Michael
before I could get Stevie,” Richie says. “We said, ‘If Stevie calls me
back, we’ll get him in. In the meantime, I think we can get it done with
Richie and Jackson listened to national anthems to get in the proper frame of mind to write.
didn’t want a normal-sounding song,” Richie says. “We wanted bombastic,
the biggest thing you got.” Knowing they needed to create something
that immediately sounded important and had global appeal, they prepped
for their songwriting sessions by listening to national anthems from
several countries, including the USA, England, Germany and Russia. “We
put all that into a pot in our heads and came up with a rhythm that
sounded familiar, like a world anthem. We wanted people to feel like it
was a familiar song. Once we got that — show business, man.”
The We Are the World recording session caused Richie to forget the American Music Awards.
it was just sleep deprivation — after all, the session began at 9 p.m.
and lasted 12 hours — but Richie claims to have no memory of hosting
that night’s American Music Awards ceremony and winning five
awards, including favorite pop/rock male artist. “I walked through that
door, and I forgot I had done that,” he says. “The group of people in
that room was so mind-changing. There’s Bob Dylan, Billy Joel — give me a
freaking break. I had never in my life experienced anything like that.”
It may have been a massive gathering of celebrities, but few other people knew the session was taking place.
of the singers arrived in limousines, having just come from the awards
show, but not everybody showed up in style. “I think Bruce Springsteen
parked his truck in the parking lot of the Rite-Aid or a grocery store
that used to be across the street,” Richie says. “He parked over there
and walked in. He didn’t know you could come through the gate.” The
logistics of such a session would be exponentially more difficult in the
era of cellphone cameras and social media. “Today, you couldn’t keep
that a secret,” Richie says. “You’d have to have a full-on runway, and
everybody would have to check their phones.”
Most of the singers had never heard the song before walking into the studio.
did not have MP3s,” Richie says. “We had cassettes back then. We had to
send it to you, so most of them had not heard the song.” After all,
Richie and Jackson had just barely finished the song in time for the
initial tracking session held a week previous at Kenny Rogers’ studio.
Even Rogers hadn’t heard it: “We didn’t know what we were going to sing
until that night,” he says. Hall & Oates’ John Oates, who sang in
the backing choir, says, “It had the anthemic quality and the simplicity
of melody that made pulling off a giant ensemble like that very easy to
do. And it was a room full of amazing singers, so that wasn’t exactly a
The choir roster had its roots in Donna Summer’s State of Independence.
The choir for Summer’s 1982 hit,
which Jones produced, included Jackson, Richie, Wonder, James Ingram,
Kenny Loggins and Dionne Warwick, all of whom also appeared on We Are the World.
“I was on familiar ground,” Jones says. “If I hadn’t worked
individually with over half of these singers before, there was no way I
would’ve signed on.”
As one of the song’s writers, Richie got dibs on his solo line.
said, 'Now, Lionel, where would you like to come in?’ ” Richie recalls.
“I said, 'Are you kidding me? I’m coming in first, so I can get out of
the way!’ ” According to Richie, the session’s secret hero was Jones’
vocal arranger, Tom Bähler. Before the session, he had listened to the
recorded output of each of the soloists, determined their vocal ranges,
then identified which melodic phrases best suited their registers. “The
parts they assigned fit the vocalists really well,” Rogers says. “I
couldn’t have done the stuff that was done at the end that Steve Perry
did. They were incredibly well-laid-out.”
When Ray Charles spoke, everybody listened.
Charles, being who he was, commanded a certain deference and respect
from everyone, even though he didn’t assert himself in any weird way,”
Oates says. “He was just standing in the middle, doing his part. Lionel,
Michael and Quincy were running the show. It was their song, their
production, and everyone was very respectful, trying to make it happen.
There were moments when people — and I will not name names because it’s
not worth it — in the chorus started to put their producers’ hats on.
They started to say, 'What if we did this?’ and 'What if we did that?’
Coming up with ideas. It was obvious it was a complicated thing to pull
off in general, and having too many cooks in the stew would be a giant
catastrophe. Ray, every once in a while, would just pipe up: 'C'mon.
Hey. Let’s go. Listen to Michael. Let’s get this thing done.’ He was
there to sing, and he sensed that it could go south very quickly. He
commanded a lot of respect, and I thought that was very cool.”
Bob Dylan was nervous about singing his solo.
In a one-hour behind-the-scenes documentary produced to coincide with the release of We Are the World, there’s a surreal scene in which Stevie Wonder sits at the studio piano, imitating Bob Dylan to
Bob Dylan to help him get the phrasing for his “There’s a choice we’re
making” solo phrase. “Dylan turned to me and Stevie and said, 'How do
you want me to sound?’ Richie recalls. "We were all kind of doing it,
and we wanted to make sure we didn’t insult anybody.” Oates, who stood
directly behind Dylan while the chorus was recording, remembers him
being anxious about singing his solo. “He’s not a melodic guy, and it
was a very specific melody,” Oates says. “I think he felt uncomfortable
singing that particular melody, and he worked around it in his own way.”
participants autographed the first page of the sheet music for the song
'We Are the World,’ written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The
song was designed to raise awareness and funds for a worldwide hunger
relief program, and its international success led the way for the Live
Aid concerts later that year.
Kenny Rogers wanted to get everybody’s autograph.
we sang it all the way through and realized how well-thought-out it
was, we realized it was something special,” Rogers says. “So I took a
sheet of music from the session and started getting people to sign it.
Once I started, Diana Ross started, then everybody was running around
trying to get everybody. It’s framed on the wall of my house in
Atlanta.” Oates, who also got an autographed chart, echoes Rogers almost
word for word: “I have it framed in my studio in Colorado. When people
come in and see it, they freak. I made sure I got everybody. I even got
Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder to sign it. For once, I had the presence
of mind to do something like that, and it’s one of my most treasured
possessions.” Jones’ signed sheet music hangs in his den: “It always
makes me smile when I look at it and start reading those names.”
That “Check your egos at the door” sign turned out not to be necessary.
what Jones says. “Here you had 46 of the biggest recording stars in the
entire world in one room, to help people in a far-off place who were in
desperate need,” he says. “I don’t think that night, that experience,
will ever truly be duplicated again. I know and believe in the power of
music to bring people together for the betterment of mankind, and there
may be no better example of this than the collective that was We Are the World.”
USA for Africa is still around.
Thirty years after We Are the World,
USA for Africa still works on behalf of communities in Africa. Recent
initiatives have addressed climate-change issues, arts campaigns and the
shipment of medical supplies to Liberia and Sierra Leone to combat the
spread of ebola. Royalties from We Are the World continue to be
the organization’s primary source of funding. “We still earn, but
certainly not the kind of money we earned 25 years ago,” says executive
director Marcia Thomas, who joined the non-profit in 1986 to work on
Hands Across America, another USA for Africa initiative. “Our biggest
support in terms of where We Are the World is bought most frequently is not in the U.S. but other parts of the world, primarily Japan and Asia.”
We Are the World soloists, in order of appearance:
These people sang in the chorus: Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey
Buckingham, Mario Cipollina, Johnny Colla, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Bill
Gibson, Chris Hayes, Sean Hopper, Jackie Jackson, La Toya Jackson,
Marlon Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Bette
Midler, John Oates, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Pointer, June Pointer, Ruth
Pointer and Smokey Robinson.
“One of the only things
regrettable about this whole 30-year anniversary is that Michael’s not
here to share his part of it,” Richie says. “There was a lot of
craziness happening with us and a lot of silliness. I’m just sorry he’s
not here to share it.”