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Whitney Houston's life, death and musical legacy

The world of music has been left stunned and saddened by the death of American singer Whitney Houston. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at her rise to stardom in the 1980s, her fall into drug addiction, and her musical legacy.


The sudden death of Whitney Houston at the age of 48 has left the world of music mourning the loss of a true singing sensation.

Houston’s body was found in her hotel room in Beverly Hills, California on Saturday afternoon, just as the music industry gathered for Sunday’s 54th annual Grammy Awards.

The diva’s long-running troubles battling drug addiction will no doubt be analysed in the coming days, but so too must her musical legacy. Although Houston’s star may have waned in recent years, the number of tributes paid by fellow stars in the wake of the sad news is a testimony to her influence.

“She was one of the greatest singers I ever heard,” said veteran crooner Tony Bennett on the red carpet of the same Beverly Hills hotel where Houston was found dead.

“Heartbroken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend,” said fellow diva Mariah Carey on Twitter. “She will never be forgotten as one of the greatest voices ever to grace the earth.”

Inspired a generation of divas

That voice was most famous for tracks such as “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “I Will Always Love You” –the chart-topping hit from the movie “The Bodyguard”, which Houston starred in alongside Kevin Costner.

With 170 million albums sold worldwide and numerous industry awards to her name including six Grammys, Houston rightly earned the title of one of the all-time greats.

FRANCE 24’s music specialist Valli, a former singer herself, said Houston’s legacy lives on in the current generation of pop divas.

Fans react with shock to Houston's death

“Today’s singers like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Mariah Carey would have all grown up watching her on MTV. They all owe a lot to Whitney Houston,” said Valli. “It’s been almost 30 years since she started, but she is still relevant.”

“She inspired them with her voice and was one of the precursors of today’s R&B. All these young people who go on reality talent shows still want to sing like Whitney,” Valli added.

With Houston’s family steeped in musical heritage, she seemed destined to become a singing sensation. Her mother was acclaimed gospel singer Cissy Houston and her aunt was 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick. Aretha Franklin was Houston’s godmother.

Whitney’s majestic voice was spotted from an early age, and she spent her youth as a backup singer performing with artists such as Chaka Khan. At the age of 19, she was spotted performing in a Manhattan bar and was swiftly signed up by Arista Records founder Clive Davis, who went on to become her mentor.

Her first album, featuring award-winning “Saving All My Love for You”, was released in 1985 and became the biggest-selling album by a debut artist.

According to French music critic Christian Eudeline, Houston helped pave the way for future generations of black female artists.

“She was the first female in that kind of soul genre to reach those levels of success,” said Eudeline, who writes for French magazine VSD. “Others like Aretha Franklin had success, but they did not sell as many albums. Whitney Houston was the first one who proved you could really make it if you are black, and she has inspired people from Mariah Carey to Missy Elliot and Lauren Hill.”

The millions of fans across the globe left stunned and saddened by the loss of an idol.

“She was doing so well after making this beautiful comeback. We all had such high hopes for her, said Marcus Weaver, one of the fans who had gathered outside the Beverly Hilton told FRANCE 24.

“Its devastating she’s gone. She was one of the greatest singers of all time,” said Monet Mitchell, another fan.

“The biggest devil is me”

Even though the news was quickly followed by an outpouring of grief and disbelief reserved for those stars that die young, many in the music industry expressed sadness but not surprise at the artist’s death.

The reason as to why the life of another pop music star was cut short is being investigated, but many will immediately point the finger at a common cause.

In recent years Houston’s career had nose dived dramatically as she battled the familiar curse of superstars–drug addiction.

Twice admitted to rehab, Houston admitted her habit in a frank TV interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2002. In it she spoke openly about being “addicted to a few things”.

“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Houston told Sawyer.

Although Houston claimed she was free of drugs by 2010, the abuse had taken its toll on her voice. Several of her concerts had to be cancelled and fans were often left bitterly disappointed when she was unable to perform at her previous level.

Many blame Houston’s decline on her high-profile marriage to singer Bobby Brown in 1992, the same year she was considered at the height of her powers. The union, which was tarnished by accusations of domestic abuse, ended in divorce in 2007. The couple had one child, Bobbi Kris.

Speaking from outside the Beverly Hills Hilton, FRANCE 24’s Hollywood correspondent Haydé Fitzpatrick summed up the general reaction to the singer’s death.

“When people think of Whitney Houston they will think of her glory years in the 1980s, but recently she had a troubled life battling with addiction,” Fitzpatrick said. “Many industry insiders are wondering whether that played a role in her sudden death. As one insider put it, ‘If your ability to self-destruct is greater than your talent, it’s impossible to avoid a tragic end.’”

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