Photo: Steve Granitz
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
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.
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.
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."
Photo: Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
8 Ways Whitney Houston Made An Iconic '90s Comeback With 'My Love Is Your Love'
After several years of made-for-movies music, Whitney Houston delivered her first studio album in nearly a decade — and reestablished herself as one of pop's all-time greats.
By 1998, the late Whitney Houston was a good 15 years into her colossally successful music career— and yet, by this point, she'd only ever released three studio albums. But as the millennium approached, the legendary diva finally decided to follow up her two eponymous 1980s efforts and 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight. And the wait proved to be worth it.
My Love Is Your Love may have only peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 (it had the misfortune to be released alongside nine other major new releases on a retail battlefield coined Super Tuesday). But the record-buying public gradually recognized that Houston was no longer just the power ballad expert; she had finally embraced the kind of innovative R&B sound they'd always wanted, and known she was capable of. And after several years away from the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, she suddenly scored three consecutive top five hits, guiding the slow-burner to platinum status four times over – and proving that Whitney Houston was back in full force.
With the contemporary R&B classic now celebrating its 25th anniversary on Nov. 17, here's a look at how Houston reasserted her status as a superstar with one of the greatest comebacks of the decade.
She Tapped The Era's Hottest Producer
Rodney Jerkins ruled the R&B scene at the turn of the century, producing monster hits for the likes of Destiny's Child ("Say My Name"), Jennifer Lopez ("If You Had My Love"), and Toni Braxton ("He Wasn't Man Enough for Me"), to name a few. But Houston was one of the first artists to recognize that his trademark staccato beats and alluring harpsichords equaled musical gold.<em></em>
Shortly after Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" put him on the map in 1998, Jerkins was tapped to work his magic on three My Love Is Your Love tracks: "Get It Back," "If I Told You That" (which also received a 2000 remix with another 1980s favorite, George Michael), and, perhaps most notably, "It's Not Right But It's Okay." Houston's work with Jenkins both helped her move away from mainstream pop and show that she still had her finger on the pulse.
She Rediscovered Her Soulfulness
Houston had famously been accused of abandoning her gospel and soul roots in favor of chasing a white pop crowd during her first imperial phase, even memorably getting booed at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989. No one could label her a sellout with My Love Is Your Love, though.
Not only did Houston put her own spin on an all-time Motown classic, Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her," she also roped in R&B talents both established (Babyface, Lauryn Hill) and emerging (Missy Elliott, Kelly Price) to help hone a fresh, forward-thinking sound that was far removed from the adult contemporary ballads she'd made her name with. It was a move validated when the same ceremony she'd been heckled at handed her two nominations and an Artist of the Decade Award.
She Didn't Forget Her Beloved Original Sound
Houston didn't entirely eschew the blockbuster ballads that established her place alongside Celine Dion and Mariah Carey in the holy trinity of powerhouse divas. In fact, she and the latter essentially engage in a sing-off on The Prince of Egypt Oscar-winning theme "When You Believe" (which served as the lead single for the film's soundtrack, My Love Is Your Love and Carey's compilation album #1's).
Elsewhere, songwriting maestro Diane Warren delivers not just one, but two epic love songs in the shape of "I Learned from the Best," and "You'll Never Stand Alone." And Faith Evans and Kelly Price collab "Heartbreak Hotel" (despite its title, not an Elvis Presley cover) proved Houston could still out-warble those who were still in school when "Greatest Love of All" and "Saving All My Love for You" topped the Hot 100. It was a move that helped to perfectly bridge the gap between the old and the new.
She Won Her First R&B Grammy
Although Houston had previously been nominated six times in the R&B GRAMMY categories, she'd never converted any of them into wins: three of her five awards had been for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, while The Bodyguard's success helped her scoop both the Record and Album Of The Year categories of 1993. That all changed with My Love Is Your Love.
The star picked up three R&B nods, and while Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals went to TLC, Houston did take home her sixth and final GRAMMY when "It's Not Right But It's Okay" was crowned Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
She Snagged Two Fugees At The Top Of Their Game
Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill might now be better known for controversial presidential campaigns and a staggering aversion to punctuality. But back in the late '90s, they were very much R&B royalty. Both had made the transitions from chart-topping trio Fugees to solo success look effortless, particularly Hill who, a year later, would clean up at the GRAMMYs with her debut LP, The Miseducation of... And so, they proved to be an astute choice of collaborators from an artist whose street cred had long been questioned.
Wyclef gave Houston the best Bob Marley-esque jam of his career with My Love Is Your Love's title track, while his former bandmate produced the gorgeous, and hidden, closing number "I Was Made to Love Him."
She Delivered Her Most Iconic Video
From the patriotic jumpsuit she sported while belting out the National Anthem at the Super Bowl to that "accidental" fashion clash with Carey at the MTV VMAs, Houston constantly delivered as a fashion icon. But it was the video for My Love Is Your Love's third single that spawned her most iconic look.
Directed by regular cohort Kevin Bray, the "It's Not Right But It's Okay" promo sees Houston hold court in a black skin-tight corset complete with matching choker and razor-sharp bob. It was a style she replicated for one of her finest stage performances – her show-stealing display at the 1999 BRITs – and one that was also faithfully recreated in both Glee and the recent biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody.
She Became A Club Favorite
Back in the '90s, you weren't a bona fide diva unless you got the thumping dance mix treatment: see Frankie Knuckles' take on Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart," for example, or David Morales' reworking of Carey's "My All." My Love Is Your Love undoubtedly spawned Houston's biggest club banger. In fact, for many, Thunderpuss' epic nine-minute retooling of "It's Not Right But It's Okay" is the definitive version.
But there was plenty more where that came from, with remixes from the likes of Hex Hector ("Heartbreak Hotel") and Junior Vasquez ("I Learned from the Best") giving Houston four No. 1s on the US Dance Club Songs chart within the space of just 13 months.
She Reminded Everyone Of Her Ultimate Talent
For a good six years, the only singles Houston released were movie tie-ins, a clear sign that she was focusing more on her acting career than her recording during most of the 1990s. And while she acquitted herself well in Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher's Wife, and, of course, the phenomenon that was The Bodyguard, she never quite reached the same heights on the big screen as she previously had in the studio. And My Love Is Your Love reminded everyone that her voice could still blow everyone away.
On the Missy Elliott-penned "In My Business," she's the fearsome R&B diva, warning those skeptical about her bad boy lover to mind their own. On "I Learned from the Best," she's the powerhouse balladeer, drawing upon her trademark melisma while pleading with the one who got away. And on the spiritual title track, she has a new trick up her sleeve: subtlety. This is Houston at her most expressive and most versatile — and arguably, her best.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Black Sounds Beautiful: How Lil Nas X Turned The Industry On Its Head With "Old Town Road" And Beyond
In this episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, relive Lil Nas X's massive debut, "Old Town Road," and learn how he's since been an advocate for Black and LGBTQIA+ communities through his music and his platform.
Lil Nas X became a global sensation practically overnight, but it wasn't an accident.
The American singer and rapper — born Montero Lamar Hill — became fluent in music and pop culture at an early age, becoming a meme aficionado. His love for internet culture cultivated the perfect recipe for his debut single, "Old Town Road," to become one of the most viral hits in music history; the song also prompted a necessary conversation about the bounds of genre.
"Old Town Road" rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and still holds the record for most time spent at No. 1 at 19 weeks. The single later helped Lil Nas X snag two GRAMMY Awards for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance and Best Music Video. (To date, he's won 2 GRAMMYs and has received 11 nominations overall.)
Aside from his immense musical talent, Lil Nas X — who came out as gay on social media during his Hot 100 reign — has been a fierce champion for LGBTQIA+ and Black communities.
At just 24 years old, Lil Nas X has plenty more history-making and game-changing moves in store. As he revealed during his March 2023 campaign with Coach, "My next big chapter is coming."
Photo: Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images
GRAMMY Rewind: Whitney Houston Admires Dolly Parton After "I Will Always Love You" Wins In 1994
Whitney Houston had the chance to thank Dolly Parton — who wrote "I Will Always Love You" — for "writing beautiful songs" during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance.
Nearly 50 years after its initial release, Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" has been covered by thousands of musicians. But no other rendition compares to Whitney Houston's iconic 1992 cover for the Bodyguard soundtrack — and in 1994, the two shared a full-circle celebration of the song's massive success.
In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive Houston's Best Female Pop Vocal Performance win for her version of "I Will Always Love You" at the 1994 GRAMMY Awards.
"Dolly, of course, coming from you, this is truly an honor. You wrote a beautiful song. Thank you so much for writing such beautiful songs," Houston said to Parton, who presented the award and originally released the recording (which she wrote herself) in 1974.
Houston praised Rickey Minor, her band, and David Foster, who helped Houston arrange the ballad. "All the songwriters and producers on The Bodyguard, BeBe [Winans], I love you," she added before performing an impromptu song to thank her team members at Arista Records.
"I love you, Mommy and Daddy — I wouldn't be here without you. And always first in my life, I thank my Father, Jesus Christ. Without them, I am nothing," Houston said. Before leaving the stage, Houston took a second to uplift her supporters. "To all the fans, I love you! Thank you, and God bless you!"
"I Will Always Love You" also took home Record Of The Year that night, and The Bodyguard won Album Of The Year — one of only four soundtracks to date to win the coveted award.
Press play on the video above to watch Whitney Houston accept her award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.