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The original diva!

SAROOP OOMMEN
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Pop queen Whitney Houston's life may have had its share of ups and downs, but the world will always remember her for one thing : the magic of her voice. SAROOP OOMMEN

Her smile! That effervescent, freeing, full of zest expression that you know comes from a heart that is so exuberant! A smile that confirmed that life is still beautiful, and reminded us to go out there and seize the day! Then when she started to sing, all heaven broke loose! It was a voice coated with the layers of God-given magnificence! Lionel Richie said, “She was just a gift in voice”! Her voice had range, power, steely control, and incredible dynamics and on top of that, each syllable was delivered with a delicate, divine touch!

Rise to the top

At age 11 she started singing at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark and her first solo was Guide me, Oh Thou great Jehovah . In her teenage years, she accompanied her mother Cissy Houston, as she toured the nightclubs and got on stage with her too. With Aretha Franklin as her godmother, Dione Warwick and her mother as influences, Whitney also watched Chaka Khan, Glady's Night and Roberta Flack in her growing years.

At 15, she sang backing vocals for Chaka Khan's hit single I'm every woman . At a Carnegie Hall concert with her mother, modelling agencies took notice and Whitney was on the cover of Seventeen, becoming the first African American woman to do so! At 19, a scout from Arista was floored by her performance in a New York night club, that he convinced Clive Davis, head of Arista Records to somehow find time to see her. Clive offered a worldwide recording contract — the rest is phenomenal history.

In 2009 the Guinness World Records titled her as the most awarded female act of all time! In total she has won 415 awards which includes six Grammys, 30 Billboards, 22 American Music Awards, two Emmy awards and her debut album is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's definitive 200 list.

Freaky firsts

There are too many awards and multi-platinum records broken by Whitney, but check out these freaky firsts!

With America entangled in the Gulf War in 1991, Whitney performed the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl XXV. Whitney's rendition became so popular that they released it as a commercial single, the video rose to Top 20 and she became the only act to turn the American National Anthem into a pop hit! Whitney donated all her share to the Gulf Crisis Red Cross Fund.

At the 1986 Grammy's, where she was nominated for three awards, Kenny Rogers introduces her to perform her hit single Saving all my love for you . Not only did she win the Grammy, her performance that night won her an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Programme”!

From her first film “Bodyguard”, co-starring with Kevin Costner, the song I will always love you peaked at No:1 at the Billboards Hot 100, R&B Charts and Adult Contemporary charts, making it the first single to top these three charts simultaneously! During Christmas week in 1992, the movie soundtrack sold over a million copies within a week, making it the first album in the world to do so!

In 1996, she starred with Denzel Washington for “The Preacher's Wife” for which she was paid 10 million, making her the highest paid African American Actress in Hollywood. The soundtrack for the movie sold six million copies and went on to become the highest selling Gospel album of all time!

In August 2001, Whitney Houston signed the biggest record deal in music history with Arista/BMG for $100 million to deliver six new albums.

The downside

The chink in the armour of this extraordinary talent came in the form of drugs which was accelerated with her 14-year horrendous, marriage to Bobby Brown.

In an interview with Oprah in 1996 she admitted that, “(doing drugs) was an everyday thing... I wasn't happy by that point in time. I was losing myself”.

She filed for divorce in 2007 and she was granted custody of the couple's daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown.

Now, it is devastating to read news descriptions like, “Crack cocaine user Whitney Houston found dead”, where the same space carried lines like, “Whitney Houston is one of the few contemporary pop stars of whom it might be said: the voice suffices. While almost every performer whose albums sell in the millions calls upon an entertainer's bag of tricks, from telling jokes to dancing to circus pyrotechnics, Ms. Houston would rather just stand there and sing!” (New York Times 1993)

Tributes

Living Jazz legend, Tony Benett calls her the “Greatest singer I've ever heard in my life”.

Jennifer Hudson who sang I will always love you to Whitney at last weekend's Grammy Awards, said she learned the difference between being able to sing and knowing how to sing, from Houston.

The best review that describes the magnitude of talent, achievement and grace that was her is the line from the Los Angeles Times: “Whitney Houston was a national treasure!”

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