Talent, good looks and connections in high places—that’s a combination that might spell success for almost any aspiring pop star, and Whitney Houston had all three. Both beautiful and talented, Houston was the daughter of soul singer Cissy Houston and niece of pop star Dionne Warwick, and she parlayed her hereditary gifts and the professional nurturing of her well-connected family into superstardom of a kind rarely matched before or since. A near-unknown prior to the release of her debut album Whitney Houston, she shot to stardom when her first chart-topping hit, “Saving All My Love For You,” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Written by the team of Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin, who had teamed up previously on Diana Ross’ 1975 #1 hit “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” the ballad “Saving All My Love For You” was the second single from Whitney Houston, following “You Give Good Love,” which peaked at #3 on the pop charts in July 1985. Released as a single in August 1985, “Saving All My Love” eventually earned Whitney Houston a 1986 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. When the next two singles from her debut album—”How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love Of All”—also topped the pop charts in early 1986, 23-year-old Whitney Houston established herself as one of the biggest names in popular music.
Over the course of the next decade, Whitney Houston would sell tens of millions of albums and earn eight more #1 hits—a figure eclipsed only by Mariah Carey among solo female recording artists. But only one of Houston’s albums—1992’s soundtrack to The Bodyguard, featuring the monumentally successful cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”—would match her 25 million-selling debut in terms of commercial impact. Nearly two years in the making under the personal guidance of Arista Records chief Clive Davis, Whitney Houston ranks among the 40 biggest sellers of all times, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. It also served to launch the career of a singer who became popular enough to earn a top-20 pop hit with “The Star Spangled Banner” not once, but twice—in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, and again 10 years later in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In the late 1990s, Houston’s personal struggles began to overshadow her professional achievements, amid rumors of substance abuse issues and erractic behavior. On February 11, 2012–the night before the annual Grammy Award ceremony–the 48-year-old Houston was found unconscious in the her room at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles and was later pronounced dead.