(ADDS MOURNERS IN BAPTIST CHURCH, MORE DETAILS)
By BosNewsLife America Service
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (BosNewsLife)– American singer and actress Whitney Houston, who began performing in a church choir at age 11 to become the best soul singer of all times, has died, her publisher Kristen Foster said Sunday, February 12. She was 48.
The cause of her death was not immediately announced, but the singer was known to have a history of drugs abuse. Six police cars were spotted in front of the Beverly Hilton hotel Saturday, February 11, where Houston was reportedly found dead by friends.
Houston’s death came still as a shock for fans, who remember the woman with the golden voice. She won two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 415 career prizes.
She was also one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 170 million albums and singles worldwide, according to industry estimates. Her talent took her from music to movies, where she starred in hits like The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale.
In recent years, she struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.
She was married to singer Bobby Brown from 1992 to 2007. They have a daughter. Houston often blamed her rocky marriage on her husband, which included a charge of domestic abuse against him in 1993.
But Houston said their true personalities were not as far apart as people may have believed. “When you love, you love. I mean, do you stop loving somebody because you have different images? You know, Bobby and I basically come from the same place,” she told Rolling Stone magazine in 1993. “You see somebody, and you deal with their image, that’s their image. It’s part of them, it’s not the whole picture. I am not always in a sequined gown. I am nobody’s angel. I can get down and dirty. I can get raunchy.”
Yet it took years before the public started to see that side of Houston. Commentators praised her moving 1991 rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl, amid the first Gulf War, set a new standard and once again reaffirmed her as America’s sweetheart.
The next year, she became a star in the acting world with “The Bodyguard.” Despite mixed reviews, the story of a singer (Houston) guarded by a former Secret Service agent (Kevin Costner) was an international success.
It also gave her perhaps her most memorable hit: a searing, stunning rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which sat atop the charts for weeks. It was Grammy’s record of the year and best female pop vocal, and the “Bodyguard” soundtrack was named album of the year.
She returned to the big screen in 1995-96 with “Waiting to Exhale” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” Both spawned soundtrack albums, and another hit studio album, “My Love Is Your Love,” in 1998, brought her a Grammy for best female R&B vocal for the cut “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay.”
But during these career and personal highs, Houston was using drugs. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2010, she said by the time “The Preacher’s Wife” was released, “(doing drugs) was an everyday thing. … I would do my work, but after I did my work, for a whole year or two, it was every day. … I wasn’t happy by that point in time. I was losing myself.”
Soon world media reported about her missed concerts, troubles with her voice and disappointed fans, an arrest at an airport for drugs…
As late as Friday, February 11, reporters said the star was pictured looking dishevelled and worse for wear as she attended a pre-Grammy Award party in Hollywood.
Yet there was another, perhaps less reported side of Houston as well.
Amid reported drugs abuse and setbacks, she also returned, at least in her songs, to the Christian faith of her youth.
Her stunning performance of Gospel songs included: “Yes, Jesus loves me, For the bible tells me so (so), Jesus loves me this I know, For the bible tells me so, Little ones to him belong, They are weak but he is strong…”
And on the original soundtrack album for the film ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ she sang “I love the Lord, He heard my cry” with the dedication and vocal cords of someone who lived, and walked, the talk.
At the New Jersey church where her singing career began fans and admirers gathered later Sunday, February 12, to celebrate and remember her life. Cards and flowers were tied to the railings of the New Hope Baptist Church, and congregants hugged and cried at the entrance, Reuters news agency reported. Among those paying their respects was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights activist.
“The suddenness of it all leaves us traumatized,” said Jackson, who watched Houston grow up and sing at New Hope. It was this large but modest looking, red-brick house of worship on a quiet backstreet near downtown Newark where Houston’s career began as a soloist in a gospel choir in the 1970s. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)