Born August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey, Whitney Houston almost seemed destined from birth to become a singer. Her mother Cissy Houston, cousin Dionne Warwick and godmother Aretha Franklin were all legendary figures in American gospel and soul music. Cissy Houston was the choir minister at New Hope Baptist Church, and it was there that a young Whitney got her start. Even as a child, Whitney was able to wow audiences; she later told interviewer Diane Sawyer that a rapturous response from the congregation at New Hope had a powerful effect upon her: “I think I knew then that [my singing ability] was an infectious thing that God had given me.”
By the time she turned 15, Whitney was performing often with her mother and trying to get a record deal of her own. Around the same time, she was discovered by a photographer who was awed by her natural beauty. She soon became an extremely sought-after teenage model, one of the first African American women to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine. But music remained her true love.
When she was 19, Whitney Houston was discovered in a nightclub by the renowned Clive Davis of Arista Records, who signed her immediately and took the helm of her career as she navigated from gospel to pop stardom. In 1983, Houston made her debut on national television, appearing on The Merv Griffin Show to sing “Home” from the musical The Wiz. She and Davis spent the next two years working on her debut album, finding the best producers and songwriters available to showcase her amazing vocal talent.
In 1985, she released her debut album Whitney Houston and almost immediately became a smash pop sensation. Over the next year, her hit singles “Saving All My Love for You” and “How Will I Know” helped the album reach the top of the charts, where it stayed for fourteen non-consecutive weeks. Houston won a Grammy in 1986 for “Saving All My Love for You”; the award was presented to the singer by her cousin Dionne Warwick. Houston followed the monumental success of her first album with a second release, Whitney, in 1987. That record, too, went platinum many times over and won more Grammy Awards, leading to a successful world tour. During this time, the singer also appeared at a concert for Nelson Mandela‘s birthday and founded the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children, a nonprofit organization that funds projects to help needy children over the world.
By 1992, Whitney Houston was on top of the world, but her life was about to get very complicated very quickly. That year she married the R&B singer Bobby Brown, formerly of New Edition, after a three-year engagement.