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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Whitney Houston’s Groundbreaking Legacy Has Endured
Whitney Houston

Photo: Steve Granitz

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Whitney Houston’s Groundbreaking Legacy Has Endured

For the 10th anniversary of Whitney Houston’s passing, GRAMMY.com honors the late superstar by exploring the many ways her voice and her music continue to impact artists across genres and generations

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2022 - 01:06 pm

With more than 200 million records sold worldwide, 11 No. 1 singles and six GRAMMYs, Whitney Houston was undoubtedly one of music's biggest superstars — and even in the years without her, her influence continues to sparkle.

Feb. 11 marks 10 years since Houston's untimely death at the age of 48. Though her time was cut short, the music she made and the boundaries she broke during her 27-year career keep her legacy alive. 

One of the best-selling solo artists of all time, Houston earned the moniker of "The Voice" during her heyday thanks to her powerful, gospel-rooted singing chops. Her mentor, former Arista Records President and CEO Clive Davis, said that her distinctive talent was "stunning," while Tony Bennett called her "the greatest singer I've ever heard."

She was able to cross the confines of genre during her career, releasing pop, R&B and dance-tinged tunes, and worked with various acts like Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, and Luciano Pavarotti. Without her contributions to the reshaping and hybridization of modern popular music, contemporary Black pop singers — from Janet Jackson to Lizzo to Normani — may have continued to be placed in boxes based on their race and not their music.

"So many of my life's memories are attached to a Whitney Houston song," Beyoncé said in a statement in 2012 after Houston's passing. "She is our queen and she opened doors and provided a blueprint for all of us." 

Ten years after Whitney Houston's death, GRAMMY.com is exploring how the superstar's legacy continues to endure with posthumous singles and awards, tributes from powerhouse vocalists and more.

Her Accolades

With two posthumously released greatest hits compilation albums and a wave of honors after Whitney's death, the star's achievements have been a major part of her enduring legacy.

I Will Always Love You: The Best of Whitney Houston won "Best Outstanding Album" at the NAACP Image Awards in 2013, and 2014's Her Greatest Performances debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. That year also saw Houston’s legacy further cemented with induction into three echelons of excellence: her eponymous debut album was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, and she was posthumously added to both the New Jersey Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.

In 2020, Whitney was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which her family accepted in her honor. "I'm proud of who she was," her mother, gospel legend Cissy Houston, said. "She always wanted to be something — she worked hard at it, too."

Houston's "I Will Always Love You" has continued serving up milestones as well: In 2020, it surpassed 1 billion views on YouTube, making Whitney the first solo artist from the 1990s to have a music video achieve that feat. Her spine-tingling cover of Dolly Parton's country hit was inducted into the GRAMMYs Hall of Fame that same year. 

The timeless ballad was also certified diamond by the RIAA in 2022, helping Houston become the third female artist in history to have a diamond single and a diamond album. (She actually has three of the latter: The Bodyguard soundtrack, 1985's Whitney Houston and 1987's Whitney.) 

Her Gift, Regifted

Whitney Houston's inimitable voice has been sampled across various genres long before her passing in songs from Salt-N-Pepa, Beyoncé, and French Montana. In the past decade, countless artists have paid tribute to her through samples, proving that her contributions will always be integral.

Drake features a sample of "I Have Nothing" for his song "Tuscan Leather," found on his 2013 album Nothing Was The Same. The following year, Natalie La Rose teamed up with Jeremih for her breakthrough hit "Somebody," a catchy electro-R&B take on Houston's classic "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" that landed at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015. Bebe Rexha also utilized that song for "The Way I Are (Dance With Somebody)," the lead single from her 2017 EP All Your Fault: Pt. 2.

The dance world has shown Whitney lots of love over the last 10 years. English DJ Duke Dumont interpolated "My Love Is Your Love" for his Jax Jones-accompanied song, "I Got U" in 2014. In 2021, British EDM group Clean Bandit created a dance remix of Houston's "How Will I Know," which peaked at No. 23 on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Chart.

Tropical house producer Kygo provided arguably the most popular Whitney Houston sample in the past decade, 2019's "Higher Love." The song — which features Whitney's 1990 cover of Steve Winwood's GRAMMY-winning hit of the same name — became a smash, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Clubs Songs chart and becoming Whitney's highest-charting posthumous single. 

Her Televised Tributes

As to expect with televised singing competitions, many undiscovered talents try their hand at songs that show their range. What better way to do that than by tackling a tune made popular by one of the most incomparable voices of all time?

X Factor contestant Keira Weathers literally and figuratively put her competitors to shame with her spirited performance of "I Will Always Love You" in 2015. On America's Got Talent, 2017 semi-finalist Johnny Manuel beautifully sang "I Have Nothing" early on in his season. In 2021, The Voice Season 21 runner-up Wendy Moten delivered pitch-perfect versions of "How Will I Know" and "I Will Always Love You."

Whitney has served as a posthumous voice for the LGBTQ+ community as well. The Season 9 finale of RuPaul's Drag Race in 2017 showcased drag queens "lip-syncing for their lives" to "So Emotional" and "It's Not Right (But It's Okay)." The Emmy-winning series Pose included several Houston hits throughout its three-season run, even reminding fans of her awe-inspiring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in its Season 2 finale.

Her Influence

Contemporary singers who have publicly acknowledged the impact Whitney Houston had on their artistry include Adele, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Leona Lewis — but they're certainly not alone in sharing that influence.

Several musicians have created memorable moments while paying tribute to Houston. Jennifer Hudson — who said the late star is "the ultimate artist that influenced [her] the most" — led the commemorative tribute at the 2012 GRAMMY Awards, which took place just one day after Whitney's passing. 

In 2016, Ariana Grande nailed a snippet of "I Will Always Love You" in a sketch during her Saturday Night Live hosting stint. A year later, Christina Aguilera performed a medley of hits from "The Bodyguard" during the 2017 American Music Awards. One year after that, Jessie J went viral with a cover of "I Have Nothing," which she sang on the Chinese competition show, "Singer." 

The Houston homages have continued in 2022: Kelly Clarkson performed "Saving All My Love For You" during a "Kellyoke" segment on her daytime talk show, and Katy Perry added a cover of "Greatest Love Of All" to the set list for her newly minted Las Vegas residency, PLAY.

Brandy — whose Whitney influence may be the most personal of anyone in the business — delivered the "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the AFC Championship in January, channeling the white jumpsuit Houston wore at the 1991 Super Bowl, where she performed her now-iconic rendition of the National Anthem.  

The R&B singer has been open about Houston's influence on her life and career for decades. 

Whitney and Brandy's relationship dates back to the 1990s, when they served as co-stars in ABC's made-for-TV version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella" in 1997. 

"If it wasn't for Whitney Houston, there would be no me, because she was the possibility for me," Brandy told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012. "She was the vision of my dreams actually coming true, and she meant everything to me."

After Whitney's passing, Brandy performed "I'm Your Baby" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" at the 2012 BET Awards. Later that year, the singer released her sixth studio-album, Two Eleven — partially named in honor of Houston, as she passed on Feb. 11, which happens to be Brandy's birthday.

"It's the day I was born, and each year, I evolve and change with time," she said in an interview with Features Magazine in 2012. "It also has a whole new meaning to it because I gained my angel. My icon is my angel now. It's all tied in there and I just think it best represents who I am and the responsibilities I have moving on."

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GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Jennifer Hudson

From timeless classics to infectious pop gems, GRAMMY winner Jennifer Hudson goes deep on six influential GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)

Vocal powerhouse Jennifer Hudson grew up in Chicago in the '80s and '90s, but it was a piece of classic '70s disco that first made her want to put her talents to use as a professional performer.

"When I heard 'Got To Be Real' [by Cheryl Lynn] it just grabbed me," says Hudson. "That was the song that made me think, 'Oh God — that's what I want to do.' I'd mark off a little stage on the floor and hold my hairbrush microphone and jump up and down. I'd lose it."

A solid disco beat can still move her, but Hudson also cites gospel music as a major influence, having sung often in the church in her childhood with an extended family of talented vocalists.

Hudson got the chance to make her own music career real in 2004 when she delivered several knockout performances as a contestant on "American Idol." Her breakout role in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls followed in 2006, and two years later she took home Best R&B Album honors for her self-titled debut at the 51st GRAMMY Awards [link to show page].

With plans underway for her third studio album, Hudson reigns as one of the most gifted and affecting performers of her generation. Here are six recordings from the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame that continue to make her want to reach for the microphone — hairbrush or otherwise.

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
Arista (1985)
Album
Inducted 2013

"I have a hard time remembering what I was doing the first time I heard a lot of the Whitney songs because I went crazy for everything she did. That first album really had an effect on me. 'Saving All My Love For You,' 'How Will I Know,' 'Greatest Love Of All' — just saying the names of the songs makes me want to cry all over again. I do remember that 'Greatest Love Of All' was a total game changer for me. It was a song that had a very different kind of power. It didn't make you want to dance like my other favorites had done — this one captivated you. It put you into a trance. You started listening to that song and the world around you went silent.

"Whitney had that effect right from the start. There's a time to dance, and there's a time to listen, and Whitney had a voice that you had to listen to. The thing that has always amazed me is that her music is so powerful, and yet it's so soothing. In some ways it's perfect ear candy, but it can also move you to tears."

"Lady Marmalade"
LaBelle
Epic (1975)
Single
Inducted 2003

"When it is time to dance, this is the [song]. I think everybody has the experience with music that certain songs are powerful enough to take you right back to a certain time and place. There are songs you appreciate for the music, but there are songs you just feel are like old friends — you've got some history with them. For me, hearing Patti LaBelle and the group singing 'Lady Marmalade' takes me right back to the times when I was first getting so excited about music. This is the kind of song that just made me jump up and want to be a part of what was going on.

"I also remember being impressed by the look and the image of LaBelle too, which I didn't really know about until I'd already been familiar with the song. [They were] so much fun, and so expressive. I wish things were a little more like that now. Sometimes it feels like everything's been done. You think somebody has a new look and it turns out LaBelle [were] already there.

"Oh Happy Day"
Edwin Hawkins Singers
Buddah (1969)
Single
Inducted 1999

"I started out singing in church choruses, and even before I was singing I was sitting [on] my grandmother's lap while she was singing the chorus on Sunday or at choir rehearsal. My whole family sang — my grandmother was the youngest of 11 siblings and they all sang together as a group. I remember they'd do these warm-ups where they'd go around and everybody in the family had to sing their name: 'My name is Jennifer Hudson, how do you do?'

"I always loved that feeling of being surrounded by music and family, and that's a feeling I get from 'Oh Happy Day,' which is kind of funny because for all the singing we did in church, I don't think we sang that song. Once I heard it though, I couldn't get enough of it. It's one of those great pieces of music that's a real church song, but it gets you there just like any great up-tempo pop song. It gives you that great feeling of energy and makes you smile. It does what the title tells you it does — makes your day a happier one."

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Simon & Garfunkel
Columbia (1970)
Single
Inducted 1998

"I just absolutely love this song, and have from the first time I heard it. But for a long time what I was familiar with was the Aretha Franklin version. A friend finally introduced me to the Simon & Garfunkel original. Their recording is so perfect and so heavenly — every time I hear it I either want to sing along with the whole thing, or just say, 'Hallelujah.' The sound is so pure and the arrangement is so beautiful, it just sends you away. Then, when you really listen to the words, it's beautiful on a whole different level. What does everyone want in life but a bridge over troubled water?

"This is the kind of song that makes me wonder: When it was being written and recorded, did they have a sense of how amazing and timeless this was? Did they know from the start it was a masterpiece? I think we musicians know when we've done the best we can do, and that's a great feeling. But I wonder if there's an extra awareness when you create something that's just going to last forever. This song is definitely in that category."

"People"
Barbra Streisand
Columbia (1964)
Single
Inducted 1998

"The Way We Were"
Barbra Streisand
Columbia (1974)
Single
Inducted 2008

"I don't remember my first time hearing Barbra Streisand. I just think I was always aware that she was the top — that she's as good as you can get as a singer and a performer.

"The first time I really became aware of just how special a talent she had was when I actually had to get it together to sing a couple of her songs at one of Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY [Galas]. It was a tribute for her, and two days before the show Clive asked me to sing 'People' and 'The Way We Were.' I had to take on these two gigantic signature songs — songs that aren't easy to deliver — and sing them with her sitting right in front of me. Are you kidding me? I almost lost my mind.

"She makes the first few lines of 'People' sound so easy, but melodically it's very difficult to get it just right. To this day I want to sing that over again and get it right — a little more right. I think I must have spoken to her after I sang, but I was so terrified I don't remember a thing. I think she was smiling, but I don't know. I love her. I'd sing for her again if I could — but maybe not one of her songs."

(Jennifer Hudson won her first career GRAMMY in 2008 for Best R&B Album for Jennifer Hudson. As an actress, her role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls earned her numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. A day after the death of Whitney Houston on Feb. 11, 2012, Hudson performed "I Will Always Love You" as a special tribute on the 54th GRAMMY Awards telecast.)

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)

 

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Special GRAMMY Tribute To Honor Whitney Houston

Jennifer Hudson to pay tribute to late GRAMMY-winning artist on the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

A special musical tribute to six-time GRAMMY winner Whitney Houston featuring GRAMMY-winning artist Jennifer Hudson has been added to the lineup for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

Houston died Feb. 11 at age 48. A cause of death was not disclosed.

"A light has been dimmed in our music community today, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, fans and all who have been touched by her beautiful voice," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.

Houston won her first GRAMMY Award in 1985 for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "Saving All My Love For You." She won the same award in 1987 for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." In 1993 Houston won three GRAMMYs: Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and Record Of The Year for "I Will Always Love You"; and Album Of The Year for The Bodyguard — Original Soundtrack. Houston's most recent GRAMMY win came in 1999 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "It's Not Right But It's Okay."

Hudson won her first career GRAMMY in 2008 for Best R&B Album for Jennifer Hudson.

The show is produced by John Cossette Productions and AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, Louis J. Horvitz is director, and David Wild and Ken Ehrlich are the writers.

The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards will take place live on Sunday, Feb. 12 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast in high definition and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The show also will be supported on radio worldwide via Westwood One/Dial Global, and covered online at GRAMMY.com and CBS.com, and on YouTube.

Follow GRAMMY.com for our inside look at GRAMMY news, blogs, photos, videos, and of course nominees. Stay up to the minute with GRAMMY Live. Check out the GRAMMY legacy with GRAMMY Rewind. Keep track of this year's GRAMMY Week events, and explore this year's GRAMMY Fields. Or check out the collaborations at Re:Generation, presented by Hyundai Veloster. And join the conversation at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances

Whitney Houston, 29th GRAMMY Awards

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Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances

The Recording Academy teams with Apple Music to offer historical GRAMMY performances by Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Kendrick Lamar, and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 24, 2017 - 07:00 pm

To celebrate the GRAMMY Awards' 60th anniversary and the show's return to New York for the first time in 15 years, the Recording Academy and Apple Music are bringing fans a special video collection of exclusive GRAMMY performances and playlists that represent the illustrious history of Music's Biggest Night.

Available exclusively via Apple Music in a dedicated GRAMMYs section, the celebratory collection features 60-plus memorable performances specifically curated across six genres: pop, rap, country, rock, R&B, and jazz. 

The artist performances featured in the collection include Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing" (25th GRAMMY Awards, 1983); Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love Of All" (29th GRAMMY Awards, 1987); Run DMC, "Tougher Than Leather" (30th GRAMMY Awards, 1988); Miles Davis, "Hannibal" (32nd GRAMMY Awards, 1990); Shania Twain, "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" (41st GRAMMY Awards, 1999); Dixie Chicks, "Landslide" (45th GRAMMY Awards, 2003); Bruno Mars and Sting, "Locked Out Of Heaven" and "Walking On The Moon" (55th GRAMMY Awards, 2013); and Kendrick Lamar, "The Blacker The Berry" (58th GRAMMY Awards, 2016).

The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT. 

Carrie Underwood, John Legend To Host "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"

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Remembering Whitney Houston

A look at the celebrated singer's GRAMMY history

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

One of the most celebrated pop stars of all time, Whitney Houston achieved more in her nearly three-decade career than most artists could hope to imagine. She sold more than 170 million combined albums, songs and videos, and became one of a few artists with the distinction of performing the most times on the annual GRAMMY Awards, having graced the telecast stage eight times over the years.

Like many gifted artists, Houston's success was not of the overnight variety.

Born Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, N.J., Houston grew up singing in church, taking after her gospel/R&B singing mother, Cissy Houston. As a teenager, Whitney Houston provided background vocals on recordings for Chaka Khan. In 1983 she was discovered by legendary music executive Clive Davis, with whom she forged a lifelong professional relationship and friendship. Two years later Houston's career was officially launched with the release of her self-titled debut album.

Throughout the next 25 years, Houston released nine albums that peaked in the Top 20 on the Billboard 200 (including four No. 1 albums), and charted more than 20 Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hits. Houston's unmatched talents yielded plenty of gold over the years. She garnered an impressive 25 GRAMMY nominations, winning six.

Following is a chronology detailing Houston's impressive GRAMMY legacy. Of course, the output listed below represents a brief snapshot of the career of an artist with a voice that "you wait a lifetime for," as Davis eulogized at Houston's funeral in February 2012.


1985

"Saving All My Love For You"
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female: 28th Annual GRAMMY Awards

 

Houston made her GRAMMY debut in a big way in 1985, garnering three nominations, including Album Of The Year for Whitney Houston, on which "Saving All My Love For You" appears. The song became Houston's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and was one of four songs to reach the Top 5 from this album. Co-written by Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser, the slow and seductive ballad was originally recorded by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. in 1978. At the 29th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1986 Houston garnered a nomination for the prestigious Record Of The Year honor for "Greatest Love Of All" from the Whitney Houston album. The music video for the song was filmed at New York's Apollo Theater and stars Houston's mother, Cissy Houston.


1987

"I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female: 30th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Houston garnered her second nomination for Album Of The Year in 1987 for her sophomore release, Whitney, which features this dance-ready track. Co-produced by GRAMMY winner Narada Michael Walden, it became the first album by a female artist to debut at No. 1 and sold more than 9 million copies. "I Wanna Dance…" was one of seven consecutive No. 1 hits for Houston, breaking a record previously held by the Beatles.


1993

"I Will Always Love You"
Record Of The Year; Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female: 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards

The Bodyguard — Original Soundtrack Album
Album Of The Year: 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Houston had a big year at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards, garnering two of The Academy's most prestigious honors for Album and Record Of The Year for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard. The soundtrack to the 1992 film, which starred Houston and Kevin Costner, peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton, Houston's soaring rendition of "I Will Always Love You" climbed to No. 1 and has sold 4.5 million copies to date. The album has sold 11.8 million albums, making it the best-selling soundtrack in more than 20 years. Houston teamed with an all-star cast to record the album, including GRAMMY winners Babyface, Robert Clivilles, David Foster, and BeBe Winans. The album earned Houston an additional nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for "I'm Every Woman." Among Houston's most iconic GRAMMY performances is her stunning rendition of "I Will Always Love You" at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1994, a performance clip highlighted on "We Will Always Love You: A GRAMMY Salute To Whitney Houston."


1999

"It's Not Right But It's Okay"
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: 42nd Annual GRAMMY Awards

Houston received her last GRAMMY in 1999 for "It's Not Right But It's Okay," taken from her 1998 album My Love Is Your Love, which peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and garnered a nomination for Best R&B Album. The album garnered Houston additional nominations for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals for "When You Believe" featuring Mariah Carey, and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for "Heartbreak Hotel" featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price.