Whitney Houston dies: A tribute in videos
Whitney Houston, who passed away on Saturday, Feb. 11, began her career just as the video age was just starting to blossom, and she scored some of her greatest success in that medium.
Houston was an MTV pioneer and a singular television performer in the most traditional sense, lending her singular voice to broadcast specials, sporting events, and awards ceremonies that became cultural touchstones.
She lived her life in public, for better or for worse, and most of it is captured in the never-ending cavalcade of archived videos online. Below, a few of her greatest (and most notorious) career moments caught on tape.
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“Saving All My Love For You”
Houston’s self-titled debut came out on Valentine’s Day in 1985 and had a near-instant impact, eventually going platinum 13 times in the United States and moving more than 25 million units worldwide. Much of that sales clout was delivered on the strength of a string of chart-topping singles—including “Saving All My Love For You,” her first number one hit. The video, like the song, is uncomplicated: there’s little more than Houston, a microphone, and her spectacularly dynamic voice.
“How Will I Know”
The second chart-topper from Whitney became Houston’s first clip to be put into heavy rotation on MTV, which not only made her a network staple over the course of the next two decades but also paved the way for black women on the still-nascent cable hub. “How Will I Know” also legitimized her standing as a pop star, as she proved that she wasn’t just an excellent balladeer:
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
Whitney Houston kept Whitney at the top of the charts for the bulk of 1985 and 1986, and she proved that she was a career artist with 1987’s Whitney. Her second album managed to take her incredible instrument and marry it with cutting-edge pop sounds that allowed her to be fully embraced by fans of dance music, R&B, and traditional pop. It’s a combination that comes across best on “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” a jubilant vocal workout with a knockout hook. Clearly, she was also getting the hang of making memorable videos:
“So Emotional” (Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute)
In just a few short years, Houston had elevated herself from pop star to national treasure, a trend that would continue as the ’80s gave way to the ’90s. She was invited to perform at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday party celebration in London in 1988, proving that she was not only a definitive American songstress but a worldwide phenomenon:
“One Moment In Time” (Live at the Grammys 1989)
Houston scored another hit with this inspirational ballad recorded specifically for the 1988 Olympics. Her performance of the song at the Grammy Awards in 1989 opened that show and remains a definitive moment in the show’s history (though she later lost the prize for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance to Tracy Chapman).
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“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Super Bowl XXV
At the dawn of 1991, Houston performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the start of Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Florida. Her pitch-perfect, emotionally walloping performance is largely considered to be the greatest publicly broadcast delivery of the national anthem, made all the more poignant by the fact that the United States was in the final throes of the Gulf War.
Welcome Home Heroes
Her “Star-Spangled Banner” was such a huge moment that Houston subsequently staged a concert for troops returning home from the Gulf War. The show, staged in Norfolk, Virginia, featured just over 3,000 attendees, consisting of active-duty soldiers and their families, and was broadcast on HBO.
Because of the nature of the program, HBO agreed to allow non-subscribers to watch the concert, which opened with Houston’s rendition of the national anthem that segued into a rollicking take on “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” The show remains one of Houston’s greatest career triumphs, a symbol not only of artistic excellence but also personal altruism.
“I Will Always Love You”
Houston’s foray into film landed her one of the biggest singles ever to crack the Billboard Hot 100. “I Will Always Love You,” the centerpiece tune from the 1992 film The Bodyguard, was originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton, but it took Houston to turn it into a global smash. It spent a total of 14 weeks on top of the Hot 100, which also kept the soundtrack album on the top of the chart for 20 non-consecutive weeks, a record in the Billboard era.
“Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
Houston’s film-related hits kept coming. 1995’s Waiting to Exhale brought “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” another of Houston’s collaborations with hitmaker Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Both the film and the soundtrack were huge successes for Houston, who followed up with another film and soundtrack combination in 1997 in the form of The Preacher’s Wife.
“When You Believe” (with Mariah Carey)
This song, another Babyface production, accompanied the 1999 animated film The Prince of Egypt and teamed Houston up with another massive voice who helped redefine modern R&B.
“My Love Is Your Love”
Houston came back to pop music full time with 1999’s My Love Is Your Love, which returned her to her heavy rotation ways. Both “My Love Is Your Love” and “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” were Top 10 hits, and Houston was also once again embraced by MTV thanks to her willingness to let her style and approach evolve.
Interview With Diane Sawyer
Houston hit her first career hiccup with 2002’s Just Whitney, and her narrative became more about her personal life than her work. In an interview with Diane Sawyer (which broke ratings records at the time), Houston talked about her substance abuse issues and her tumultuous marriage with singer Bobby Brown. In a notorious moment, she addressed the rumor that she had regularly abused crack cocaine, uttering the legendary line, “Crack is whack.”
Being Bobby Brown
Though her music career suffered after the turn of the century, she was rarely out of the public’s consciousness for long. In 2005, Bravo began airing Being Bobby Brown, a reality show in the style of The Osbournes that focused on Brown, his attempts to get his career and life back on track, and his loopy marriage to Houston. She often came across as erratic on the show, and their exchanges usually ended in shouting.
“Million Dollar Bill”
In 2009, Houston made a proper comeback to the pop scene, releasing the well-received I Look To You. Though it didn’t do the same sort of sales numbers are her early work and also revealed that her voice was not the same as it had once been, it was still a strong collection of songs that teamed her with contemporary artists who were clearly inspired by her—like Alicia Keys, who co-wrote “Million Dollar Bill,” a song that gave Houston a number one on the U.S. Dance Chart.
Interview With Oprah Winfrey
To promote I Look To You, Houston sat down with Oprah Winfrey for perhaps the most revealing interview of her career. She discussed her troubled marriage, her substance abuse issues, and her music, appearing more lucid and clear than she had in years.
The 2009 Grammy Awards
Houston presented the award for Best R&B Album at the Grammy Awards in 2009, where she was greeted with a massive standing ovation. After shouting out “industry father” Clive Davis, Houston embraced winner Jennifer Hudson in what was seen as a symbolic passing of the torch. It was Houston’s final Grammys, a place where she was handed a total of six prizes.