Updated: Jul 3
Whitney Elizabeth Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012) was an American singer and actress. She is one of the most awarded and best-selling recording artists of all time, with over 200 million records sold worldwide. Houston released seven studio albums and two soundtrack albums, all of which have been certified from gold to diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Known for her powerful and soulful vocals, Houston has influenced many singers in popular music. She is the only artist to have had seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, from "Saving All My Love for You" in 1985 to "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" in 1988.
Houston began singing in church as a child and became a background vocalist while in high school. She was one of the first black women to appear on the cover of Seventeen after becoming a teen model in 1981. With the guidance of Arista Records chairman Clive Davis, Houston signed to the label at age 19. Her first two studio albums, Whitney Houston (1985) and Whitney (1987), both peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 and are among the best-selling albums of all time. She became the first female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 with her second studio album. Houston's third studio album, I'm Your Baby Tonight (1990), was certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA and yielded two Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles: "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "All the Man That I Need".
Houston made her acting debut with the romantic thriller film The Bodyguard (1992). She recorded six songs for the film's soundtrack album, including "I Will Always Love You" which won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and became the best-selling physical single by a female in music history, with sales of over 20 million copies worldwide. The soundtrack for The Bodyguard won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and remains the best-selling soundtrack album of all time, with global sales of over 45 million copies. Houston starred and recorded soundtracks for two other high-profile films, Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher's Wife (1996). Soundtrack of The Preacher's Wife became the best-selling gospel album of all time and scored hit singles with "I Believe In You And Me" and "Step by Step". Houston is credited as the music producer of the album. As a film producer, she produced multicultural movies including Cinderella (1997) and series including The Princess Diaries and The Cheetah Girls.
Houston's first studio album in eight years, My Love Is Your Love (1998), sold millions and spawned several hit singles, including "Heartbreak Hotel", "It's Not Right but It's Okay" and "My Love Is Your Love". Following the success, she renewed her contract with Arista for $100 million – one of the biggest recording deals of all time. However, her personal problems began overshadowing her career and the 2002 studio album, Just Whitney, received mixed reviews. Her drug use and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown received widespread media coverage. After a six-year break from recording, Houston returned to the top of the Billboard 200 chart with her final studio album, I Look to You (2009). On February 11, 2012, Houston accidentally drowned in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, with heart disease and cocaine use as contributing factors. News of her death coincided with the 2012 Grammy Awards and was covered internationally.
Houston was certified as the best-selling female R&B artist of the 20th century by the RIAA. She also sold more physical singles than any other female solo artist in history. Houston’s accolades include two Emmy Awards, eight Grammy Awards (including Record and Album of the year wins), 14 World Music Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020. In 1997, the Franklin School in East Orange, New Jersey was renamed to The Whitney E. Houston Academy School of Creative and Performing Arts. Houston was named as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time by Rolling Stone. She was also ranked by VH1 among the "Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and the "200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons of All Time". Houston's entrance into the music industry is considered one of the "25 musical milestones of the last 25 years", according to the USA Today in 2007. Referring to her vocal talent, Houston has often been dubbed "The Voice" by the media.