Whitney Houston remains one of the greatest singers of all time and one of the best-selling artists in music history. She not only shaped several music genres for years to come and influenced almost all of the biggest artists today, but she became one of the most awarded and successful musicians of all time.
Though taken from us far too early, her legacy lives on and touches the lives of people the world over. In this article, we’ll dive into some of the most interesting facts about Houston and her life.
Her Family Is Full of Singers
While Houston is definitely the most famous singer in her family, she was far from being the only one. Emily Houston, her mother, was a gospel and soul singer who helped her get her singing career started in the church they attended. She was also a backup singer for artists like Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, eventually having a successful solo career that earned her two Grammy Awards.
Houston’s older brothers are also in the music industry. Her older brother Michael is a songwriter and singer while her half-brother had a singing career in his spare time as a basketball player. Several other members of her family have tried out the music business as well.
Whitney Houston Began Her Singing Career Young
Houston began her singing career at church, but it wouldn’t stop there. At 11, she performed her first solo in the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. By the age of 15, she was a backup singer for Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls, and Jermaine Jackson. By 19, she was singing for Michael Bienhorn, Bill Laswell, and Martin Bisi on their album One Down.
Her Debut Album Is Listed As One Of The Greatest Albums of All Time
It’s no surprise that Houston is one of the best-selling artists of all time with over 220 million record sales worldwide. What is surprising is how early her success started. Her debut, self-titled album—and her second as well—stands among the best-selling albums of all time and topped the Billboard 200.
Her 1985 album would eventually be certified as 14-times platinum with over 25 million sales, earn her four Grammy nominations with one win, and be ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time. Oh, and it produced three number-one singles: Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, and Greatest Love of All. It was the first time a debut album or an album by a female artist produced that many number-one singles.
She Was A Model On Top Of Being A Music Artist
While still in her teenage years, Houston spent some time modeling. The biggest and most defining moment of her modeling career came when she was featured on the covers of both Seventeen and Glamour magazines, marking the first time a woman of color was put on the cover of that publication. She would also model for other publications and be featured on the covers of US, Esquire, Redbook, Jet, Blues & Soul, Essence, Jane, Rolling Stone, and several others.
Whitney Houston Played A Leading Role in Three Films
Outside of music and modeling, Houston would also become an accomplished actress. She appeared and played a lead role in three films: The Bodyguard (1992), Waiting To Exhale (1995), and The Preacher Wife (1996).
The most successful of these was undeniably The Bodyguard. It ended up grossing over $410 million worldwide and still holds the spot of the best-selling soundtrack of all time today, thanks in large part to it featuring her song I Will Always Love You. It earned her both a Golden Globe nomination and a Razzie Award for worst actress, so judge her performance on your own time.
She Owns One of the Best-Selling Singles of All Time
A lot of Houston’s music found success, which should be fairly obvious by the fact that she’s one of the best-selling artists in history and charted so many singles. But she stands above almost all other competition when it comes to individual single sales. Her song I Will Always Love You sold well over 20 million copies, placing it in a virtual tie for the fourth-best-selling single of all time with Elvis Presley’s It’s Now Or Never and USA For Africa’s We Are The World.
She Also Owns The Most Sold-Out Shows At Wembley Stadium
Speaking of records that Houston holds, she still owns the most consecutive sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium in London. A prestigious venue that’s known around the world, she sold out 10 consecutive shows there, a record that still stands today.
Whitney Houston Is Among the Most Awarded Female Artists In History
It’s impossible to talk about Houston’s career without mentioning the numerous accolades she was awarded during her time with us. She remains one of, if not, the only artist(s) to have won at least one Grammy, Emmy, MTV Video Music Award, MTV Movie Award, People’s Choice Award, and Billboard Music Award.
Her trophy cabinet contains 415 awards, including two Emmys, six Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. In 1993 alone, she won 11 Billboard Music Awards, tying her with Michael Jackson for the most wins in a single year.
She Charted Seven Number-One Songs In A Row
Houston holds quite a lot of records, many of which we have talked about here. But perhaps the most impressive record she was able to grab onto was most number-one singles in a row. She saw seven straight singles rise to the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Those included: Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, Greatest Love Of All, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go.
All Of The Proceeds from Her Super Bowl XXV Performance of the National Anthem Were Donated
Houston was invited to perform the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991, Super Bowl XXV. The recording of her performance would be processed and released as a single, eventually earning quite a bit of money. All of the proceeds raised from selling the single were donated to the Red Cross in support of the soldiers fighting in the Gulf War.
She would also put together a concert in cahoots with HBO titled Welcome Home Heroes With Whitney Houston that supported the soldiers fighting in the war and their families at home.
Her Relationship With Bobby Brown Was Tumultuous
As great as Houston’s music career was, she’s just as well known today for the personal problems in her life, and here is where we begin to tackle them. She would be romantically linked—at least in headlines—to quite a lot of notable men, from Randall Cunningham to Jermaine Jackson and Eddie Murphy to Brad Johnson. However, it would be her marriage to legendary R&B singer Bobby Brown that made the most headlines.
Houston and Brown met at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards and would marry three years later. Their relationship included a few song collaborations, with the most successful of those coming in the form of Something In Common. The couple would have a child, Bobbi Kristina Brown, in 1993, but would never again be able to conceive.
Rumors of spousal abuse would occasionally pop up in tabloids, but little would be confirmed before 2003. That year, Brown would be charged with battery following an argument in which he threatened to beat Houston before assaulting her. The official police reports stated that she had notable visible injuries to her face.
From here, more dirty laundry would be aired to the public, including on the Bravo reality show Being Bobby Brown in 2005. That same year, Houston was hospitalized with what was said to be food poisoning, though very few believed that was the cause of her hospitalization.
Houston would eventually file for legal separation in 2006, and the divorce would be granted in 2007.
Whitney Houston’s Personal Life Was Full Of Problems
Houston’s love life was far from the only problem behind the inspiring music she was producing.
Several times, allegations came up that Houston was abusing drugs throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Her behavior had changed in drastic ways over the two decades, seeing her show up hours late to important things like interviews and rehearsals while acting erratic during them. On several occasions, she had postponed or canceled concerts.
At one point, she made the news when half an ounce of marijuana was found in her bag while she was traveling. Two years later, she would confirm in an interview that she had been abusing alcohol, marijuana, pills, and cocaine. She entered rehabilitation facilities on two occasions, undergoing drug rehab programs in 2005 and 2006.
At 15, her daughter would attempt suicide. She was unsuccessful, but Bobbi Kristina Brown would also tragically pass in 2015 at the age of 22.
Her Death Was Tragic
Whitney Houston made her last public appearance on February 9, 2012. She performed with Kelly Price, singing a version of Jesus Loves Me, and visited Brandy, Monica, and Clive Davis earlier in the day at the pre-Grammy Awards party located at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Reportedly, Houston looked erratic and disheveled at each of those appearances.
On February 11, 2012, Houston was found unconscious in Suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton, lying submerged in the bathtub. Paramedics arrived at 3:30 PM, performing CPR after she was found to be unresponsive. At 3:55 PM, she was pronounced dead. Initial reports left her cause of death blank, as there were no signs of criminal intent in the room.
In October 2012, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office reported that Houston’s death had been caused by drowning, coronary heart disease, and cocaine use. Toxicology reports showed she had used cocaine, Benadryl, Xanax, marijuana, and Flexeril all shortly before her death. While drug overdose was the likely cause, it was listed as an accident.
The pre-Grammy party Houston had visited went ahead as scheduled but would be turned into a tribute for the now-late artist. Some celebrities opposed the plan to continue with the party, including both Chaka Khan and Sharon Osbourne. After her death was announced, all major news outlets broke from regular coverage to dedicate non-stop coverage of Houston’s death. Her loss was felt across the music industry, public audience, and the world as a whole.
Whitney Houston’s Death Marked New Records for Posthumous Music Sales
In February 2012, Houston became the first female artist, first solo artist, and first posthumous artist in history to place three or more albums in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 simultaneously. In March, she eclipsed that by placing nine albums within the top 100 of the chart, later setting the world record for albums on the Billboard 200 with 10, a feat now tied by Taylor Swift.
Some of Your Favorite Artists Likely Hold Whitney Houston as one of Their Influences
Houston’s legacy and the number of artists she had an impact on is undeniably massive. In the 1980s, she was one of the three biggest figures in all of pop music, shaping the genre alongside Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Rihanna, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande, LeeAnn Rimes, Christina Aguilera, Adele, and untold numbers of other artists all credit Houston as an influence and inspiration on their own work.
It isn’t just that Houston made good music. Her vocal range was nearly unmatched and her prodigious technique is still something many attempt to replicate. Her voice and style dominated, shaped, and steered modern R&B, soul, and pop music to this day. Rolling Stone placed her at number 34 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time based on vocal talent alone.
Whitney Houston’s Hall of Fame Inductions
I would be remiss to not list out the numerous music Halls of Fame that Houston has been inducted into.
In 2020, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making her one of only 50 women to receive such an honor. She has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, and New Jersey Hall of Fame. Her single I Will Always Love You was also included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, and the song itself has surpassed one billion streams on YouTube.
Whitney Houston Was a Philanthropist
Much of the news you hear about Houston came from her star-studded singles or her tumultuous personal life. But she used her platform to found charities, help others, and spent time working as an activist. All of that often gets glossed over, but not today.
In 1989, she established the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children. The main goals of the charity were to offer medical assistance to sick and homeless children, prevent child abuse, teach children to read, support inner-city kids with parks and playgrounds, and offer college scholarships. One of those is for the prestigious Juilliard School.
Her charity, The Whitney Houston Foundation for Children, had a particular focus on helping children who suffered from HIV/AIDS. She would go on to support that cause throughout her career, performing at Arista Records’ 15th anniversary gala to support it as an AIDS benefit. Later, she took part in the Reach Out and Touch Someone AIDS vigil in London.
She also devoted time to benefit concerts and recordings. We already talked about her donating all the money that came in from her recording of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, but that wasn’t the only time she did such a thing.
She gave a concert in Madison Square Garden in 1988 that earned over $250,000 for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). Throughout the 1980s, she also refused to perform in South Africa due to their apartheid policies. She traveled to London to perform at the 1988 Freedomfest in support of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
During her time as a star, Houston would also become a gay icon and revolutionize stigmas surrounding big artists performing at LGBTQ events. She gave a surprise performance at the 13th Annual New York City Lesbian and Gay Pride Dance on one of the city’s west-side piers.
Instinct magazine hailed it to have “ushered in a new era that would eventually make high-profile artists performing at LGBTQ events virtually commonplace.” When asked why she attended the event, Houston replied, “We’re all God’s children, honey.”
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.