Whitney Houston
Singer, actress
Born: Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey
Died: Feb. 11, 2012, in Beverly Hills, California
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2013: Arts & Entertainment

Few stars have glowed so magnificently or dimmed as tragically as Whitney Houston. In her all-too-brief career, Houston sold more than 200 million recordings worldwide, won eight Grammy Awards and dozens of other accolades, and influenced a generation of singers who could only dream of matching her epic, emotional vocals.

Houston was born into music royalty. Her mother, Cissy Houston, is a Grammy-winning gospel and soul singer (and a fellow member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame). She was a first cousin of singers Dionne Warwick (another Jersey Hall of Famer) and Dee Dee Warwick, and a distant cousin of opera great Leontyne Price. Houston’s father was an administrator under Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson.

By the age of five, Houston was singing in the choir at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. At 12, she made her solo singing debut at New Hope. At 14, she was singing background at her mother’s cabaret shows in Manhattan and received a standing ovation for her solo performance at Town Hall. In the ensuing years, Houston recorded backup vocals for her mother and artists such as Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls, Jermaine Jackson, and Paul Jabara. She also became a sought-after fashion model.

Houston was 19 when Arista Records chief Clive David signed her to a recording contract. Her self-titled debut album, released in 1985, spent three years on The Billboard 200 albums chart, including 14 weeks at No. 1; it sold 25 million copies worldwide. Three of the album’s tracks—“Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” and “Greatest Love of All”—went to No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart and became instant Houston classics.

Fans were awed by Houston’s beauty and grace, but it was her staggeringly magnificent soprano voice that earned their adoration. Houston’s singing was technically perfect, but never seemed forced or showy. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, critic Elysa Gardner praised Houston for “exquisite vocal fluidity and purity of tone.”

The hits kept coming. Houston’s second album, “Whitney,” debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 albums chart and went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide. A third album, “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” released in 1990, was another global triumph.

In 1992, Houston made her film debut, co-starring with Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard.” The film grossed more than $400 million worldwide and served as the launch pad for Houston’s biggest single, “I Will Always Love You.” The song earned Houston the Grammy for record of the year; the accompanying album became the best-selling soundtrack in history. In the ensuing years, Houston starred in two more major Hollywood films, “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) and “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996), both of which were accompanied by hit Houston soundtracks.

Another hit studio album, “My Love is Your Love,” followed in 1998, but over the next decade, Houston’s career and personal life travelled a bumpy road. Reports of erratic behavior began to emerge, as her album sales lagged. In the face of constant press coverage, Houston acknowledged in several major televised interviews that she had been abusing drugs. In 2007, Houston’s marriage to fellow artist Bobby Brown—with whom she had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown–ended in divorce.  Houston’s 2009 album, “I Look to You,” marked something of a comeback. However, cancelled shows and mixed reviews limited the impact of the international tour that followed.

In 2011, Houston entered a rehab facility for the second time, acknowledging her issues with drugs and alcohol. This, and her family’s support, could not halt her downward spiral. On Feb. 11, 2012, Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel. A toxicology report found drugs in her system, including cocaine. As if this was not enough for her family to bear, Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, died three years later, at the age of 22.

In addition to her musical legacy, Houston was renowned for her philanthropy and social activism. Her Whitney Houston Foundation for Children provided medical, recreational and educational support for at-need youth. She supported benefits for HIV and AIDS; for Gulf War military and their families; and for New York-area firefighters after 9/11.

But ultimately, she is remembered for that voice. At Houston’s New Jersey Hall of Fame induction, her mother said it best: “All she wanted to really do was sing, and please all of you.”

Intro/Acceptance Video