Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston is a pop/R&B legend and wig-snatcher. She has sold nearly 200 million records worldwide and won over 400 awards — and just so you know: your favorite will never do it (comma) Your favorite will never do it (comma) Your favorite will never do it (semi-colon) Your favorite will never do it (exclamation point).

Artist Background

Whitneysus Elegendbeth Houston was born on August 9, 1963 in Newark, NJ. Her cousin is R&B/Pop legend Dionne Warwick and her mother, Cissy Houston, was a highly-regarded gospel singer and prolific session and backing singer for artists such as Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin.

As a teenager, Whitney herself became a background singer and successful fashion model before being signed to Arista Records at the age of 19.

And then all hell broke loose.

Slayfest (Part 1) Starring Whitney Houston

With her first album, Whitney achieved an unprecedented level of success for a debut artist. It was the biggest-selling female album of the 1980s, it spent 14 weeks at #1 and she became the first female artist ever to have the top-selling album of the year and the first female artist to post 3 #1 singles on the Hot 100 from one album. Her album was the highest-selling debut album in history and won 1 Grammy, 7 American Music Awards, 1 MTV Video Music Award and has sold over 25 million copies around the world.

The Slave Revolt Against Whitney Houston

Despite her massive success, Whitney received criticism from Black audiences. She was criticized for catering too much to White audiences and some remarked that although she had a strong voice she was essentially a soul singer with no soul. In actuality, from the very beginning of her career, Whitney went out of her way to please Black audiences and incorporate her Black musical pedigree into both her recordings and live shows. She frequently rearranged her songs with hints of jazz and blues, she routinely featured gospel medleys in her setlists, she appeared on Black-oriented TV programs such as Soul Train and Video Soul and performed several benefits for the United Negro College Fund; and when you consider the fact that her critics were far more gracious to Black female artists who didn’t sing half, as well as she, did, it becomes obvious that the problem was not a lack of Blackness in Whitney’s voice, but a lack of Blackness in her success.

As a Black female singer, her success was both unprecedented and unusual; most Black crossover artists build up a name with Black audiences before crossing over, but Whitney was an instant smash across the board. From the very beginning of her career, she was just as popular (if not more so) on pop radio as she was on Black radio, so there was the idea that she did not need Black support to become successful and therefore did not belong exclusively to Blacks. Once you crossover to wide audiences there’s the idea that you’ve watered yourself down to fit with the masses, as opposed to fitting in with some people’s views of what it means to be a “real” artist.

Adding to the backlash, was the fact that there was a lot of Whitney, in a lot of places, in a very short amount of time. She performed on the Grammys every single year from 1986 to 1989. To promote her first two albums, she
performed over 200 concerts around the world. She won two Grammy Awards, 11 American Music Awards (including the award for Best Pop Female artist four years in a row), and dozens of other prizes. This worldwide ubiquity could have been seen as a victory for Black music as a whole, but to the crabs in a barrel Houston’s critics, she was too much, too soon, too fast and they just couldn’t deal.

Perhaps as an answer to her critics, her 3rd album was decidedly more R&B-oriented. Although it was critically acclaimed and the highest selling R&B album of 1991, Whitney’s critics were quick to point out that did not sell as well as her more pop-friendly releases. Despite the slower album sales, the I’m Your Baby Tonight era produced several more hit singles and one of the most iconic moments of her career — performing the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl.

Slayfest (Part II) Starring Whitney Houston

The Bodyguard album and film were not only massive successes but important pop cultural moments. The film grossed over $400 million around the world and the soundtrack was just as successful. “I Will Always Love You”, the lead single from The Bodyguard soundtrack, peaked at #1 and stayed there for 14 weeks, and became the first single by a female artist to be certified 4X platinum.

The soundtrack album stayed at #1 for 20 non-consecutive weeks (the longest by any post-Soundscan album). The album became the first album to scan over one million copies in a week and has sold over 44 million copies worldwide, making it the biggest-selling soundtrack album of all time. The album won 3 Grammys (including Album of the Year), 8 American Music Awards, 11 Billboard Awards, and 5 years after being booed the Soul Train Music Awards, she was named their Entertainer of the Year in 1994.

Artists Who Battled Whitneyitis

The following is a list of artists who suffered from Whitneyitis. This list features some of the greatest vocalists to ever pick up a microphone and although they’re all magnificent in their own right, they just weren’t able to overcome the majesty and power of Whitney’s lungs, her wigs, and her promotional team:

  • Miki Howard
  • Lisa Fischer
  • Phyllis Hyman
  • Karyn White
  • Stacy Lattisaw
  • Taylor Dayne
  • Melba Moore
  • Meli’sa Morgan
  • Regina Belle
  • Shirley Murdock
  • Stephanie Mills
  • Angela Winbush
  • Alyson Williams
  • Vesta Williams
  • Lisa Stansfield
  • Cheryl “Pepsi” Riely
  • Oleta Adams

Artists Who Survived Whitneyitis

The following are artist who were able to make something of themselves despite the glory of Whitney’s omnipotent lacefront:

  • Anita Baker
  • Toni Braxton
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Mariah Carey
  • Janet Jackson
  • Sade
  • Vanessa Williams

Lessons Learned

We have learned absolutely nothing from our treatment of Whitney Houston. We still value personality and packaging over talent and technical proficiency. Too much attention is paid to discussing addiction as a vice and not of enough attention paid to discussing the factors and environments that would cause a person to self-medicate in the first place.

Legacy & Influence

Despite several highly-publicized personal battles, Whitney Houston remains the most commercially successful African American female entertainer of all time and the most awarded female recording artist in history.

27 years after her debut, Whitney continues to be an entertainment force and an influence on new generations of vocalists and entertainers. As a testament to her achievements and impact, she has received the following career achievement awards:

  • The Soul Train Award Quincy Jones Award for Outstanding Career Achievement
  • The American Music Award of Merit
  • The American Music Award for International Achievement
  • The Billboard Award for
  • The BET Lifetime Acquirement Award
  • BET Honors Inductee
  • VH1 Honors Honoree
  • Dove Award for Outstanding Mainstream Contribution to Gospel Music
  • Soul Train Hall of Fame Inductee
  • World Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • Her former Grammar school was renamed The Whitney E. Houston Academy For Creative And Performing Arts.
  • The World Music Award for World’s Best Selling Female Recording Artist of the Era
  • Guinness World Record for The Most Awarded/Popular Female Artist of All Time