When Whitney Houston met Clive Davis in 1983, it was truly the start of something special. As a legendary business relationship that saw the soul diva become one of the biggest-selling artists of all time, to this day, she remains the most-awarded female vocalist in history.
Houston sold 200 million records worldwide and her seven studio albums and two soundtrack albums all achieved diamond, platinum or gold status.
She’s the only singer to have seven consecutive number one singles in the American Billboard Hot 100 chart, while her debut album in 1985, Whitney Houston, became the biggest-selling debut album by a female artist in history.
The Guinness World Records confirms Houston is the most awarded female artist of all time. She won six Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards, 22 American Music Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards and a total of 415 career awards. She shared the record with the king of pop, Michael Jackson, for the most AMAs won in one year, scooping eight in 1994.
At the Billboard Music Awards 1993, Houston won a record 11 awards. In 1994, she also won a record five World Music Awards in a single year.
Whitney’s early years
Houston was born on 9th August 1963 in Newark, New Jersey. Her father, John Russell Houston, was an Army serviceman and entertainment executive, while her mother, singer Emily “Cissy” Houston, is a soul and gospel singer, who has sung backing vocals for stars such as Dionne Warwick – Houston’s first cousin on her mother’s side.
Music is in the family, as Whitney’s older brother Michael is also a singer. Her mother took her to the recording studio as a child, where the young Whitney met soul legend Aretha Franklin, who became her honorary aunt. Whitney began singing with the New Hope Baptist Church’s junior gospel choir in Newark, becoming a soloist when she was 11.
Cissy taught Whitney to sing and she grew up with the music of Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack, influencing her as a singer for the rest of her life. She spent a good deal of her teenage years touring nightclubs with her mother – and sometimes, Whitney would get up on stage and perform with Cissy.
Her professional singing career started when she was just 14, when she sang backing vocals on the Michael Zager Band hit, Life’s a Party. By 15, she was singing backing vocals for Lou Rawls and soul diva Chaka Khan.
Clive Davis’ career
Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York, in April 1932. He was orphaned in his teens after his mother died aged 47 and his electrician father died the following year. He completed a degree in political science at the New York University College of Arts and Science and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1956.
Practicing law in New York, he had record company CBS as one of his clients. When the company reorganised in 1965, Davis was appointed general manager and administrative vice president, beginning his long career in the music business.
He signed a number of famous clients, including singer Janis Joplin, whom he had seen play live in 1967. This was followed by the British folk musician Donovan, Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Chicago, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and Earth Wind and Fire.
Davis went on to become the president of Arista Records and in 1983, the 51-year-old was persuaded by A&R man, Gerry Griffith, to watch the young Whitney Houston perform on stage with her mother in New York.
Davis was immediately struck by how incredibly talented the 20-year-old singer was and he signed her right away – to make sure nobody else could snap her up!
Her first single was a duet with Teddy Pendergrass in 1984, entitled Hold Me – from his album, Love Language. It was a top five hit in the US R&B chart and appeared on Houston’s debut album a year later.
This was the beginning of Houston’s massive rise to global superstardom under Davis’ guidance. Between 1985 and 1998, she released 11 number one albums on the Billboard chart, selling more than 50 million copies in the States alone.
Davis was more than just the head of the record company. He took a personal interest in Houston’s career and matched her with the best records. These included her number one hit singles, Saving All My Love For You and How Will I Know in 1985, Greatest Love of All in 1986, I Wanna Dance with Somebody in 1987 and I’m Your Baby Tonight in 1990.
Their business relationship thrived, and Houston became the biggest female star of all time – right up until the iconic singer’s untimely death in February 2012, at the age of 48.
Despite her megastar status, Houston never forgot her own upbringing and she continued to care about people less fortunate than herself, forming the Whitney Houston Foundation For Children in 1989. The non-profit organisation cares for the needy all over the world, including homeless children and youngsters who have cancer or AIDS. She has also left the legacy of her wonderful music, which has inspired generations of singers.
Davis, now aged 86, lives in Brooklyn and is still a record producer and music executive. The father-of-four has had the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music named in his honour at New York University.
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