Whitney Houston! The Spectacular Rise and Tragic Fall of the Woman Whose Voice Inspired a Generation by Mark Bego

It’s hard to believe that over a month ago news broke of Whitney Houston’s death. When an opportunity came that I could get to know Whitney a little more through this book, I jumped at the chance. We all know the mainstream story, she came from a very musical family, got her start as a teen model, was discovered and mentored by Clive Davis, became the biggest and most influential star, married a “bad boy”, had a daughter, abused drugs, bounced back, and unfortunately her light went out too soon. So if you think you knew the story of Whitney Houston, you just have no idea. The book fills in all the spaces between the stories we all know, and includes family photos.
It opens with Grammy weekend 2012. It’s a story we know too well and wish we didn’t know the ending. It details Whitney’s final weekend in LA, and how she wanted a suite at The Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel so she can be right on site for Clive’s party. We’ve seen the brief video of what would be Whitney’s final performance, as she got on stage with R&B singer Kelly Price and sang part of the song, “Jesus Loves Me” on February 9th. On February 11th, 2012, Whitney was pronounced dead at 3:55pm. Didn’t She Used to Have it All? is the introduction chapter of the book. It highlights her career from 1992 with “I Will Always Love You” to her 2009 album I Look to You, which hit number 1 on the charts. Chapter One begins with “Whitney’s Famous Family”. We get a better glimpse into the musical start of Cissy Houston (mother) and Dionne Warwick (cousin)…and how Whitney came to call Aretha Franklin ‘aunt Ree’(Cissy was always singing background vocals for Aretha in the studio). Cissy got her start singing in church in Newark, New Jersey at the age of 5 in 1937. She had 3 sisters and 2 brothers and a father who were always singing, so she had to sing, even though she never wanted to. Dionne got her start in the early 60’s from her family being in a local gospel group, and then she started her own trio called The Gospelaires. “What I got from Dionne was the class and elegance and the radiance, how she commands an audience,” said Whitney of the influence her famous cousin Dionne had on her. An interesting music fact, in the 1970s, Cissy signed with a small record label called Janus Records. With them, she recorded a song that everyone thought would be a huge hit for her. It was a country song that Cissy had slightly changed the lyrics and it was originally called “The Midnight Train to Houston,” but she decided to make it “The Midnight Train to Georgia.” However, despite radio stations making it a huge hit, her record label didn’t put enough money in to really promote it, and of course it became a number 1 for Gladys Knight & The Pips in 1973. Who knew? Cissy Houston was the first to have that song.
Chapter 2 deals with Whitney’s childhood. We learn that Cissy got Whitney’s name from a Shirley Booth sitcom called Hazel. In it, Booth played a maid for a rich family and the character “Mrs. B” was played by an actress, Whitney Blake. Whitney Houston was born on August 3, 1963 as the youngest of three children (an older brother Michael – 2 yrs older, 6 yrs older half brother Gary Garland). Her father gave her the nickname Nippy, but never understood why. She had her first church solo at 12. Growing up, she was picked on because her mother would dress her in frilly dresses and put bows in her hair, the other girls would tease her. As a result, young Whitney developed her own toughness and it helped her to stand up and fight for herself. In 1980, when she was 16, she was discovered in NYC, as her and her mother was walking near the intersection of Seventh Ave and West 57th Street, by a scout for Click Models. She was signed to the agency and ended up on the pages of Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Young Miss, and Glamour. Always singing, she sang backup for Chaka Khan, Nona Hendryx, and Cissy Houston. The record deals were pouring in, and in April 1983, Whitney Houston signed with Arista Records. Having the midas touch, Clive was looking to launch the career of major female star. In the beginning, this was going to be Phyllis Hyman. Unfortunately, she never broke international status, and she committed suicide in the mid-90’s…which opened the door for Whitney. The same blueprint Clive had in mind for Phyllis Hyman, was the plan he was now going to use for Whitney. He spent an unprecedented $250,000 planning and recording her first album. She was positioned and marketed as the perfect, poised, charming, delightful, church-raised girl next door. It was this image that made Whitney a huge success. From endorsement deals to record-breaking albums to movies, Whitney had it all. And in 1989 while attending The Soul Train Awards, it was then that her life would change forever. It was the night she met Bobby Brown. “It was like love at first sight. Her birthday was coming up, and she was having a party, and she invited me. After that we started dating,” Bobby Brown said of how he and Whitney met. Chapter 9 is all about the entrance of Bobby in Whitney’s life and right around the time of Whitney’s role in The Bodyguard. Whitney and Bobby married on July 18, 1992 and both signed prenups before the wedding could take place. Whitney walked down the aisle in a custom Marc Bouwer gown, reportedly $40,000. On March 4th, 1993 Whitney became a mom to Bobbi Kristina.
Amidst rumors that Whitney was a diva (fueling with Diana Ross) and a lesbian (as a result of her friendship with a childhood friend Robyn), the problems that she started having with Bobby Brown, her drug addiction, losing her voice, finding her voice, Whitney was always loved by her fans who just wanted to genuinely see her succeed. It’s interesting how around 1986, when she won an MTV award for “Best Female Video” for “How Will I Know?,” Whitney quoted, “Some of my friends even did drugs, but I avoided it because I don’t need it; I’m already high. I just don’t want drugs to be a part of my life, because I know that eventually they will ruin you. Drugs kill you mentally and physically. You’ll die one way or another.” Unfortunately, the very thing she didn’t want to be a part of life, is the very thing that contributed to taking her life. From chapters one to sixteen, the book is filled with stories, quotes, behind the scenes facts that you never knew, details, and love. The author takes you on a journey to Houston complete with the rollercoaster ride. The final chapter, “Heartbreak Hotel”, says how it’s funny how time changes people’s memories of their heroes. When you think of Elvis Presley, you remember a young rock & roller…Marilyn Monroe, a blonde bombshell in a white dress standing over a subway grating…Billie Holiday, a white gardenia in her hair singing in a smoky nightclub…Michael Jackson, maybe his Billie Jean video (or Bad, or him as a child in Jackson 5). But now we are faced with how we will remember Whitney. Whitney Houston will always be known to me as THE VOICE, one that can never be silenced.

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