x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Whitney Houston reaches the end of her song

Whitney Houston is found dead in Los Angeles just as the Grammys get under way, we look back at her life.

Whitney Houston bows after performing I Didn't Know My Own Strength at the 2009 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Houston has died at age 48, media reports said on Saturday. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Whitney Houston bows after performing I Didn't Know My Own Strength at the 2009 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Houston has died at age 48, media reports said on Saturday. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

 Tonight's Grammy Awards were meant to celebrate the reformation of musical legends.

Instead, while the original Beach Boys line-up came back to perform for their 50th anniversary, the ceremonyis to be held in the dark shadow of the sudden death of a musical legend in her own right.

On Saturday afternoon, R&B soul diva Whitney Houston, 48, was found dead in the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. At press time, no statement had been released regarding the cause of death.

Houston was meant to be performing a few hours later at a pre-ceremony gala hosted by the record producer and music industry heavyweight Clive Davis. In his statement to the press, the emotional music mogul expressed Houston's excitement at being part of the event and confirmed the party would continue, as "simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on".

One can argue that Houston's death was more shocking to the music world than the tragic demise of Amy Winehouse. While the latter's career was spiralling out of control, Houston's career finally seemed - although slowly - to be getting back on track.

She seemed to have recovered from her ill-fated 2010 world tour, which was met with derision from press and fans who lambasted her gaunt appearance and her inability to finish her songs without taking rest breaks.

Houston was also set to meet with The X Factor's Simon Cowell to talk about appearing as a judge on the hit show. It would have been a great fit; Houston's feisty yet compassionate persona would have endeared her to the masses and a Jennifer Lopez-style comeback could have been in the cards.

Her under-appreciated acting chops were also set to return in the remake musical drama Sparkle, which will premiere in August. Starring alongside Jordin Sparks, the film is loosely based on The Supremes and follows a young, all-sisters group as they attempt to navigate the pitfalls of fame. Houston will portray the sisters' protective mother.

Show business is full of ironies like that.

For a star so full of God-given talent - and Houston always viewed her booming vibrato as a divine gift - it was frustrating to watch her wilfully waste it in her final years.

Gospel-trained, Houston first tasted the stage at the age of 11 as part of her church choir in New Jersey. It was an inevitable fate considering the musical luminaries in her family. Her mother was gospel star Cissy Houston, a cousin of Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of Aretha Franklin.

After cutting her teeth by performing alongside her mother during her solo concerts, Houston branched off on her own, lending her booming pipes as back-up vocalist for Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman (which Houston later turned into a solo hit), as well as singing with Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson.

However, it was Clive Davis, then president of Aritsa Records, who saw something more than a willowy, efficient session singer in her.

Personally supervising Houston's debut album, Davis introduced her as a 21-year-old to the masses with her self-titled record.

Unlike now, this was a time when an artist was allowed to develop slowly. The album gradually began to catch public attention, until a year later it finally topped the charts for 14 weeks, courtesy of three number one singles, including the signature ballad, the Grammy-winning Saving All My Love for You.

From then on, she all but dominated the pop landscape, releasing seven albums and breaking records set by The Beatles and the Bee Gees by releasing seven number one singles in a row. She also went on to scoop six Grammys and become the highest paid black entertainer at the time.

She reached her peak with the 1992 film The Bodyguard, alongside Kevin Costner. Her critically acclaimed performance as a feisty diva not only propelled the film and accompanying soundtrack to the top of the charts, but also acted as a template for future R&B and hip-hop performers who viewed film as a promising extension of their brand.

Her musical career, however, seemed to screech to a halt after she married Bobby Brown.

Despite the drug-fuelled dramas of their marriage and eventual divorce, Houston still managed to display some of her talent - although fleetingly - in the four albums since. The widely panned world tour promoting Houston's last album, I Look to You, was a welcome return to form.

Although the songs were devoid of Houston's signature high notes, her assured vocal prowess promised better things to come.

Sadly, we will never know if that promise would have been kept.

 

sasaeed@thenational.ae