August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey
February 11, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California
Though the peak years of her success comprised a relatively brief reign, Whitney Houston became one of the all-time queens of pop music when she emerged during the mid '80s. Her succession of hit singles, fueled by crystal-clear performances and production of choice material, still stands as one of the rock era's most impressive displays of talent, timing and execution. In light of her recent tabloid struggles and tragic early death, it may be easy to forget how big Houston was in her prime, but it would be a mistake to do so.
Early Years - Destined for Stardom:
Houston came from a lineage that belied her somewhat humble birthplace. The daughter of singer-actress Cissy Houston and cousin of singer Dionne Warwick, the younger Houston parlayed any music business savvy she may have cultivated into a precocious singing career. Just barely out of her teens, Houston secured a recording contract with Arista after label head Clive Davis heard her sing.
Debut & Immediate Success:
Two albums over the next three years would account for the lion's share of Houston's hitmaking clout, but that small window produced a stunning string of smash hit singles. Of four Top 10 singles from her eponymous debut album, three shot to No. 1. Then, 1987's Whitney yielded four more massive hits that reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. All in all, Houston enjoyed a record-breaking run of seven straight No. 1 singles.
Post-'80s Last Hurrah & Then Diminishing Returns:
Once the '90s rolled around, Houston continued her amazing dominion on the charts, posting the biggest-selling No. 1 single in pop history, her cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You." But after that, her most prominent contributions seemed to be as a wannabe actress (The Bodyguard) and as tabloid fodder, via her chaotic relationship with fellow '80s icon Bobby Brown and rumors of drug use. Still, Houston's status as ultimate pop diva stands firm based on her '80s legacy alone.
Decline, 2009 Comeback & Tragic Early Death:
Some may have dismissed the possibility of a legitimate comeback for Houston, but the singer's first new record in six years appeared in the late summer of 2009 to considerable acclaim. Besides being a choice opportunity for Houston to put her tabloid past in the rearview mirror, the project had been planned for more than two years, emerging initially just as the singer's divorce from Brown was reaching its finality. Despite topping the charts, the album didn't translate into lasting momentum for Houston's flagging career. Unfortunately, amid new reports of further substance abuse issues, Houston was found dead in an L.A. hotel on February 11, 2012. Yet another sad ending to a legendary pop music career.