Cissy Houston
Gospel and R&B singer
Born: September 30, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2019-20: Performing Arts

It can truly be said that Cissy Houston has lived a life of triumph and tragedy. Born Emily Drinkard, she was the youngest of eight children. Her mother died when Cissy was five; her father, when she was 18. Orphaned, she moved in with her older sister Lee and Lee’s husband, Mancel Warrick. The couple had two daughters, later known professionally as the singers Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick.

Cissy began singing gospel music at age five with a family group, the Drinkard Four, later renamed the Drinkard Singers. The group performed regularly at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark and recorded a live album for RCA called “A Joyful Noise.” Other performances included Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.

After a brief first marriage, Cissy met future second husband John Russell Houston Jr. in 1957. They would have two children: Michael, a songwriter and road manager; and Whitney, the legendary singer.

In 1963, Cissy (by then performing as Cissy Houston) formed the Sweet Inspirations. The group signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records, but achieved its greatest success as backup singers for such popular artists as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick, Houston’s hit-making niece. The Sweet Inspirations even backed Jimi Hendrix on one track, and went on tour with Elvis Presley.

Houston also recorded as a solo artist and sang backup for the likes of Bette Midler, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt and Aretha Franklin. Always close with her family, Houston made recordings with niece Dionne and daughter Whitney, by then a pop and R&B superstar.

First and foremost a gospel singer, Houston won Grammy Awards for best traditional soul gospel album in 1996 and 1998. Throughout her career, Houston maintained her association with New Hope Baptist Church, where she has long served as leader of the 200-member Youth Inspirational Choir.

Buoyed by her Christian faith, Houston overcame the early loss of her parents and lived to see the global success of daughter Whitney. She strived to help Whitney overcome her drug addiction, but to little avail. Whitney Houston was just 48 when she died of a drug overdose in 2012. The following year, Cissy shared her mother’s view of Whitney’s life and death in her heartfelt portrait of her daughter, “Remembering Whitney.”

Intro/Acceptance Video