Whitney Houston
Credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It’s been almost exactly six months since Whitney Houston passed away suddenly on February 11, 2012 in her hotel suite in Beverly Hills at the age of 48.

As undeniably sad and sordid as the circumstances surrounding her death were, it feels more right today on what would have been her 49th birthday to celebrate her extraordinary life, rather than focus on how it ended.

So with that in mind, we’ve gathered a few favorite clips that capture Houston at her unforgettable pop prime:

“How Will I Know (A cappella)”

There’s literally nothing on this isolated vocal track from her 1985 smash but her voice (though she originally wanted her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, to sing backup, the voices here all Whitney’s — double- and triple-tracked):

“The Star Spangled Banner”

Her 1991 Super Bowl XXV rendition, which charted not once but twice on the Hot 100 (in ’91 and again in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks) is still the standard that all other versions, from state fairs to stadiums, will be judged by. That money-note run that starts at 1:54! Unreal:

1986 French television appearance with Serge Gainsbourg (NSFW)

After the unsubtitled French bits, what sounds like a flattering series of compliments from the legendary French singer/sex lizard quickly turns into a drastically inappropriate come-on.

Super tacky? Oui. But Houston, barely into her mid-twenties, handles it with supreme grace (though not before making a spectacular array of “this is seriously happening” faces). As guarded as she would become in later interviews, here — even just starting out — she’s funny and charming and remarkably self-possessed:

Readers, what are your favorite memories of Whitney? Will you be seeing her final onscreen performance in Sparkle when the movie comes to theaters Aug. 17, or would you rather go back to your Bodyguard DVD one more time?