The congregation applauded and answered him with shouts of “Amen” and “Tell it!”
“A lot of artists can hit notes but they don’t hit us. Say words but they have no meaning. Have gifts and talent but no anointing. Something about Whitney that would reach in you and make you feel,” Sharpton said.
A sensation from her very first album, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. She awed millions with soaring, but disciplined vocals rooted in gospel and polished for the masses, a bridge between the earthy passion of her godmother, Aretha Franklin, and the bouncy pop of her cousin, Dionne Warwick.
Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she became a rare black actress with box office appeal, starring in such hits as “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale.” Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Texas minister and producer on Houston’s final film project, a re-make of the 1970s release “Sparkle,” said he saw no signs she was having any substance issues. He said Houston was a complete professional and moved the cast and crew to tears two months ago when she sang the gospel hymn “Her Eyes on the Sparrow” for a scene shot in Detroit.
“There was no evidence in working with her on `Sparkle’ that there was any struggle in her life,” Jakes said Sunday. “She just left a deep impression on everybody.”
She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: gorgeous, but wholesome; grounded, but fun-loving. And she influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey, who when she first came out, sounded so much like Houston that many couldn’t tell the difference.
But by the end of her career, Houston had become a stunning and heartbreaking cautionary tale. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanor and bizarre public appearances.
She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her precious voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes of her prime.
“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.
In her teens, Houston sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modeling. Clive Davis, who as head of Arista Records had already signed up Warwick and Franklin, was instantly smitten by the statuesque young singer.
“The time that I first saw her singing in her mother’s act in a club … it was such a stunning impact,” Davis told “Good Morning America.”
“To hear this young girl breathe such fire into this song. I mean, it really sent the proverbial tingles up my spine,” he added.
Before long, the rest of the country would feel it, too. Houston made her album debut in 1985 with “Whitney Houston,” which sold millions and spawned hit after hit. “Saving All My Love for You” brought the singer her first Grammy, for best female pop vocal. “How Will I Know,” “You Give Good Love” and “The Greatest Love of All” also became hit singles.
Another multiplatinum album, “Whitney,” came out in 1987 and included “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Some saw her 1992 marriage to Brown, the former New Edition member and soul crooner, as an attempt to toughen her image. It seemed to be an odd union; she was seen as pop’s pure princess while he had a bad-boy image and already had children of his own. (The couple had one daughter, Bobbi Kristina, born in 1993.) Over the years, he would be arrested several times, on charges including DUI and failure to pay child support.