Born in Newark, N.J., on Aug. 9, 1963, Whitney Houston grew up to become one of the most successful and admired singers of the 20th century. Houston grew up surrounded by music. She was the third and youngest child of U.S. Army veteran and entertainment executive John Russell Houston, Jr., and gospel singer Cissy Houston. Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, along with cousins Dionne and Dee Warwick, as well as her godmother, Aretha Franklin, were all notable musical figures.
Raised Baptist and exposed to gospel music at an early age, Houston first started singing as an 11-year-old, joining her mother in the gospel choir. At the same time, she was influenced by popular singers of the time, including Chaka Khan (for whom she would go on to sing back-up vocals), Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack. Houston would later draw from these two musical worlds to bridge the gap between gospel and pop and bring the sound of her church into the mainstream.
She broke onto the scene in the 1980s, first travelling from nightclub to nightclub to watch her mother perform and occasionally joining her on stage. In the early '80s she was spotted by a fashion photographer while singing with her mother at Carnegie Hall in New York and began modeling while still in high school. She eventually signed with Arista records in 1983, recording "Hold Me," a duet with Teddy Pendergrass that reached the number five spot on the R&B billboard chart, giving the young singer her first taste of success.
Houston's career took her into the screen as well. In 1992 she starred in "The Bodyguard," also performing the soundtrack, including a cover of the song "I Will Always Love You," a performance that went on to embody the super star. Following the release of the soundtrack, Houston became the first musical act to sell more than a million copies of an album in a single week.
Her career was full of world records. Houston was cited in 2009 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most awarded female act of all time, and was one of the best selling music artist of the 20th century, selling over 170 million albums, singles and videos during her lifetime. Houston released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack during her career, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification. She was the only performing artist to release seven consecutive number one Billboard his: "Saving My Love for You," "How Will I know," "Greatest Love of All", "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional" and "Where Hearts Go Broken By"
Following the end of her professional career she remained in the public eye, a victim of the tabloids and a cautionary tale of the dangers of addiction. In 2009 when she appeared on Oprah following her divorce from R&B bad-boy Boby Brown she appeared shaken but self-aware. During the 2000s she checked into rehabilitation centers twice, and once more in 2011.
On February 11, 2012, Houston was found dead in a suite of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in California, submerged in the bathtub. The cause of death has been attributed to the abuse of prescirption drugs and alcohol. Following her death many singers have performed her most popular song, "I Will Always Love You." The day afterwards she was honored at the Grammy music awards, and again last night at the NAACP.
Her music swelled in popularity in the days after her death as old fans revisited her work and new fans flocked to her hit singles, discovering her incomparable voice. Her body was transported back to Newark, NJ, where she was born so that her friends and family could gather for a private funeral service, which is also being broadcast on TV and online.