The Grammy Queen
It's strange, but somehow fitting, that Whitney Houston died the day before the Grammy Awards. Houston was, for many years, a Grammy queen. In February 1986, when Houston was just 22, she sang her #1 hit "Saving All My Love For You" on the telecast, and moments later won her first Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. (The presenter was her cousin Dionne Warwick, which undoubtedly made the moment all the sweeter for her.)
Seven months later, that brief performance on the Grammys brought Houston an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. It was the first time that someone had won an Emmy for a performance on a Grammy telecast. It was an indication of what a huge impact Houston had made in a very short time, that even the TV community wanted to show its support.
Houston had other big nights at the Grammys. In 1988, when she was 24, she performed her #1 smash "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," which brought her a second Grammy in the pop female category. The following year, she was chosen to open the telecast with "One Moment In Time," her song from the previous year's Summer Olympics.
In 1994, she was again chosen to open the telecast with her biggest hit, "I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard soundtrack. She won three Grammys that night: Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Houston won her sixth (and last) Grammy in February 2000, when "It's Not Right But It's Okay" was voted Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Houston first hit the Hot 100 in June 1984 as a featured artist on Teddy Pendergrass' "Hold Me." She first charted on her own in May 1985 with "You Give Good Love," which rose to #3. Her next seven Hot 100 singles all reached #1, breaking a record of six which was shared by the Beatles and the Bee Gees.
Houston had 39 Hot 100 hits, including 23 that made the top 10. Eleven went all the way to #1. In February 1993, her power ballad rendition of "I Will Always Love You" became the first single to top Billboard's pop chart for 14 weeks since 1947.
Another of Houston's most memorable hits was "The Star Spangled Banner," which she sang at the Super Bowl on Jan. 27, 1991. The song made the top 20 that year and zoomed into the top 10 when it was re-released in the wake of 9/11. Houston's is the only rendition of the national anthem to make the top 40 since Billboard introduced weekly national pop charts in 1940.
Houston headed The Billboard 200 album chart for a total of 46 weeks in her lifetime, which is more than any other female artist since 1955. Her debut album, Whitney Houston, topped the chart for 14 weeks in 1986. Her sophomore album, Whitney (which was the first album by a female artist to enter The Billboard 200 at #1) held the top spot for 11 weeks in 1987. The Bodyguard soundtrack stayed on top for 20 weeks in 1992-1993. Houston's most recent album I Look To You spent one week on top in 2009.
Houston is the only female artist to release three albums that each logged 10 or more weeks at #1. The only other artists to achieve this feat are the Beatles and Elvis Presley (each of whom has four) and the Kingston Trio.
The Bodyguard soundtrack is, as of this moment, the only album to spend 20 weeks at #1 since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard in 1991. (If Adele's 21, which is all but certain to win Album of the Year tonight, is #1 on the chart that is released on Wednesday, it will tie The Bodyguard.)
The Bodyguard has sold 11,830,000 copies, which is more than any other soundtrack since 1991. (Only five albums have sold more copies in this period.) Houston's next two movie soundtracks were also smash hits: Waiting To Exhale (5,119,000 in U.S. sales) and The Preacher's Wife (2,491,000).
Several of Houston's hits had been recorded by other artists before Houston made them her own. These include "Saving All My Love For You" (first recorded by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.), "Greatest Love Of All" (George Benson), "All The Man That I Need" (Sister Sledge), "I Will Always Love You" (Dolly Parton), "I'm Every Woman" (Chaka Khan), "I Believe In You And Me" (The Four Tops) and "The Star Spangled Banner (numerous artists, including Jimi Hendrix and Jose Feliciano).
Houston made the Hot 100 with seven collaborations. The most successful was "Heartbreak Hotel," a 1998 single which featured R&B stars Faith Evans and Kelly Price. It logged three weeks at #2. Houston also had top 20 hits with gospel star CeCe Winans ("Count On Me") and fellow pop diva Mariah Carey ("When You Believe").
The latter song, from 1998's animated The Prince Of Egypt, won an Oscar for Best Song. Two songs from The Bodyguard, "I Have Nothing" and "Run To You," were nominated for that award.
Houston's first two albums both received Grammy nominations for Album of the Year. The first album also yielded a Record of the Year finalist, "Greatest Love Of All." Houston won both awards with The Bodyguard and "I Will Always Love You."
Just as the Grammys charted Houston's phenomenal rise, they also reflected her struggles in later years. Her 2009 album I Look To You didn't receive a single nomination.
While that album didn't put her back on top, it sold respectably (978,000 copies in the U.S.). That was substantially more than her previous studio album, 2002's Just Whitney… (760,000). The hope was that I Look To You might have laid the groundwork for a more substantial comeback down the line. Sadly, that was not to be.