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Whitney Houston Biography

In the span of 27 years, Whitney Houston became an international superstar in the worlds of both music and motion pictures, amassing global music and video sales of over 170 million copies, and a film box office total of over a half billion dollars.

Through her mother, R&B/gospel singer Cissy Houston, and her legendary cousin Dionne Warwick, Whitney was exposed to music since birth. As a member of the New Hope Baptist Junior Choir in Newark, NJ, Whitney developed into a soloist by the age of 11. Cissy Houston's career helped provide Whitney with invaluable vocal training. Whitney was singing backup for artists like Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls while in her mid-teens, frequently appearing with Cissy in concert and local New York clubs.

While she also began pursuing a career in modeling (appearing in magazines such as Glamour and Young Miss, and gracing the cover of Seventeen), her musical ambitions received a boost when she teamed with singer Teddy Pendergrass for his 1984 hit, "Hold Me." Clive Davis, legendary former president of Arista Records, signed Whitney to the label, and her debut album, WHITNEY HOUSTON, released in 1985, boasted a string of hits including a song that became virtually Whitney's anthem, "Greatest Love of All." The album went on to sell over 22 million copies worldwide, becoming the biggest-selling debut album by a solo artist in history.

With the anticipated 1987 release of WHITNEY, Houston made history again when she became the first female artist to enter the album charts at number one. WHITNEY included a stream of chart-toppers including "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "So Emotional," "Love Will Save The Day" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," which established Houston as the only artist to have seven consecutive number-one hits, surpassing a record previously held by The Beatles and the Bee Gees.

Her third album, I'M YOUR BABY TONIGHT, released in 1990, displayed Whitney's versatility, spanning tough rhythmic grooves, soulful ballads and up-tempo dance tracks, again setting sales records as a multiplatinum seller internationally. The following year, Whitney's Superbowl rendition of the U.S. national anthem became the most successful recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in history, with all profits donated to benefit veterans of the Gulf War.

Whitney's next project was her first motion-picture role in THE BODYGUARD, costarring with Oscar-winning actor/director Kevin Costner. The film broke box-office records worldwide, opening new horizons for her. Six Houston songs highlighted the 1992 soundtrack, which became the biggest-selling album of the 1990s and the most successful soundtrack of all time, selling over 42 million copies worldwide. "I Will Always Love You," the first single from the movie, became the largest-selling commercial single in history.

Whitney's second movie, WAITING TO EXHALE, was released in December 1995. The critically acclaimed film, starring Whitney and Angela Bassett, went on to gross about $70 million at the box office, earning far more than the film's original budget and laying the groundwork for a multitude of all-Black ensemble films that followed. The soundtrack for WAITING TO EXHALE, featuring three tracks from Whitney, quickly became a number-one album, which to date has sold about 10 million copies worldwide.

In 1996, Whitney's third movie, THE PREACHER'S WIFE, was released costarring Denzel Washington and directed by Penny Marshall. The soundtrack, which included the singles "I Believe In You And Me" and "Step By Step," became the biggest-selling gospel album of all time, and in some part, fulfilled Whitney's dream to record a gospel album.

After a long wait that included successful international tours, Whitney returned to recording and released her first non-soundtrack album in eight years -- MY LOVE IS YOUR LOVE. The album went on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide despite little advance word, and earned Whitney her sixth Grammy -- Best Female R&B Vocal Performance -- for the single "It's Not Right But It's Okay" in February 2000.

The success of MY LOVE IS YOUR LOVE was followed quickly with the release of WHITNEY: THE GREATEST HITS in May 2000. The double-album, which features Whitney's biggest hits, as well as remixes and a few rarities, has sold about eight million copies worldwide to date.

The GREATEST HITS album was followed by the charity re-release of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 2001 after the terrorist attacks of September 11 that year. The single was certified Platinum and raised over $1 million for the New York Firefighters Disaster Fund and the New York Fraternal Order Of Police Fund. Whitney's rendition has sold over 1.1 million copies to date, and still resided on the Billboard Hot 100 Sales chart two years later.

Whitney released the album JUST WHITNEY in December 2002, at that time achieving the biggest opening of her career in the SoundScan era while amidst a range of admitted personal problems. During a highly-rated television interview on news magazine show Primetime, Whitney said, "I'm not the strongest everyday, but I'm not the weakest, either. And I won't break."

Whitney's first studio album in six years, I LOOK TO YOU, debuted at #1 in the United States following its release on August 31, 2009, generating her all-time highest first-week sales of her career in the SoundScan era. The album's personal theme of overcoming adversity was embraced by fans and music critics alike, pushing it to easily achieve double Platinum status. The album featured mostly mid- and up-tempo songs by contemporary writers and producers, including the singles "I Look To You" and "Million Dollar Bill."

Whitney returned to her hugely successful movie career in 2011, starring as the mother in the remake of the 1976 classic film, SPARKLE. She also served as an executive producer of the remake, which was released on August 17, 2012 in the United States. SPARKLE: THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK was released on July 31, 2012 and included two new recordings by Whitney -- a moving solo of the gospel classic, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow," and a duet with Sparkle co-star Jordin Sparks entitled, "Celebrate." Both songs were released as the first two singles from the album.

Whitney garnered a slew of international awards, including six Grammys, 22 American Music Awards, 16 NAACP Image Awards, six People's Choice Awards, two Emmys, and eight Soul Train Awards. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, she is the most awarded female artist of all time with more than 400 career awards.

In 1989, Whitney formed The Whitney Houston Foundation For Children, a nonprofit organization whose work assists with a variety of children's issues: homeless children and children with cancer and AIDS, as well as youth self-empowerment. Houston also helped other worthwhile causes, including the United Negro College Fund, the Children's Diabetes Fund, St. Jude's Children's Hospital and several noted AIDS-related organizations.

On July 18, 1992, Whitney was married to singer Bobby Brown at her estate in New Jersey. In March 1993, Whitney gave a birth to a daughter, named Bobbi Kristina, who can be heard with her mother on the title track to MY LOVE IS YOUR LOVE and on "Little Drummer Boy" from ONE WISH - THE HOLIDAY ALBUM. Whitney filed for divorce from Brown in October 2006. The divorce was finalized in April 2007, and Whitney was awarded custody of her daughter, with Brown given visitation rights.

For Whitney, her idea of happiness was being with her daughter and trying to live something close to a normal life: "When I gave birth to her and when they put her in my arms, I thought 'This has got to be it. This is the ultimate.' I haven't experienced anything greater."

Whitney Houston passed away on February 11, 2012. She touched the lives of more people than she could ever know, and her passing leaves a terrible void for her family, friends and fans.

--Biographical summary updated and re-edited by Lisa D. for