Whitney Houston’s life came to a tragic end on February 11 2012 but if she lived, today would have been her 50th birthday. So, rather than dwell on the negative aspects of her short life, let’s measure her influence on the music industry via the many singers that she inspired with her incredible voice.
Houston launched her career in 1985 with her self-titled debut album and took the charts by storm. Clearly groomed for greatness by her already famous family – mother Cissy Houston, godmother Aretha Franklin and cousin Dionne Warwick – Houston’s voice boasted a wisdom far beyond her years.
As a seasoned performer who honed her skills in the New Hope Baptist Church and by singing background for other great acts, such as Chaka Khan and Jermaine Jackson, Houston commanded the attention of audiences wherever she went. Every note was under her complete control as she licked each lyric with splendid melodrama and rocked concert halls with the enormous size of her voice.
However, beyond her vocal performances, Houston was an icon of the ever-changing visual era of music. Following in the footsteps of Prince and Michael Jackson, she was among the first black artists to enjoy airplay on MTV. In fact, the only African-American female act to have a video in heavy rotation before Houston’s “How Will I Now” was Donna Summer with “She Works Hard for the Money”.
As we continue to acknowledge Houston’s many contributions to popular culture, let’s see how her impact is reflected in the works of the artists she inspired. Check out the list below:
10. Mariah Carey
Before establishing herself as the only singer of the last 30 years to rival and in some ways surpass Houston’s impact, Carey was initially compared to her fellow diva when she burst onto music scene in 1990. Of course, their singing and music were so different that such a parallel was swiftly denounced as ludicrous by anyone with a functioning brain, but there were many obvious similarities in how they were marketed. Still, despite their gruelling chart competition, Carey never denied that she was a fan of Houston’s work and was visibly shaken by her death in 2012.
Shameless plug: Read my extensive article about the Carey and Houston comparisons here.
There were few instances of a direct Houston influence on Carey’s music but the best example is “Now That I Know” from the latter’s Music Box album of 1993. Personally, I always considered the tune as a jab at critics who claimed Carey wasn’t a weaker singer than Houston – notice how she sang the bridge of the tune exactly like Houston but in a higher key – but I sense I’ve allowed myself to be manipulated by the media fodder.
9. Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera’s singing is based on the knotty melismatic styling of Mariah Carey’s catalogue of hits, but she was undoubtedly influenced by Houston’s work as well. In fact, when she isn’t imitating Carey, Aguilera blatantly emulates Houston’s riffs and runs with far less impressive results.
In her prime, Houston had the ideal voice that was the very definition of pristine. It was clear, rich and powerful, and every note rang unwaveringly as she moved through her range. Aguilera’s voice has similar power but unlike her predecessor, she has little understanding of how to use her instrument and only sounds as though she is simply trying to copy someone great. Maybe that’s why Lance Bass once tried to compare Aguilera to Houston; he probably thought that with enough practice, she would eventually reach that level.
8. Jennifer Hudson
From the moment Jennifer Hudson first stood on the American Idol stage, she proclaimed her admiration for Houston. Yes, the mammoth-voiced singer sounds as though she is more of an Aretha Franklin or Patti LaBelle fan, but she still credits her career to Houston’s impact on her life.
Hudson’s talent eventually caught the attention Clive Davis and after her breakthrough performance in Dreamgirls, he took her under his wing as the latest addition to his pantheon of divas. Eventually, Hudson got the chance to meet Houston and paid tribute to her on several occasions, both before and after her death. She even got the Houston stamp of approval when she belted “I Will Always Love You” at the 2012 BET Honors!
7. Tiffany Evans
Some of you may not be familiar with Tiffany Evans but when you hear her sing, it is impossible to deny the similarities between her and Houston. Indeed, this 21-year old singer is so immensely talented that she expertly handled a cover of “I Have Nothing” that easily ranks among the best versions of the song, and probably only second to that of Houston herself. Just imagine the heights Evans could reach if given the right material and direction from someone of Clive Davis’ calibre (not including Mathew Knowles).
Monica has been compared to several artists, such as Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige, but her biggest influence is undoubtedly Houston. If you listen closely to her music, you will even hear the late diva’s signature sound, and Houston even joked that she stole one of her famous runs for her latest Brandy duet, “It All Belongs to Me”.
Since the 1990s, Monica has performed several of Houston’s hits in concert and repeatedly paid homage to the woman who helped to guide her career. Her favourite Houston song? Well, judging by the fact that she always finds a way to sneak it into her setlist, I put my money on “You Give Good Love”.
5. Kelly Rowland
If Kelly Rowland learned proper breath control, she would finally fulfil her destiny of becoming either the Houston or Donna Summer of this generation. Although she has right look and a good voice, she simply lacks that final ingredient to be a world-class singer. Regardless, traces of Houston can be heard every time Rowland musters enough air to support a solid belt and reminds people that beneath that timid exterior, there is an artist with real talent.
4. Celine Dion
Celine Dion started her career long before Houston but she fell madly in love with the singing her US counterpart from the moment she heard “Saving All My Love for You”. Hence, it was no surprise that after quickly memorising every one of her performances, Dion became known as the white version of Houston and yet another tool used by Columbia Records in the ongoing war against Arista.
Originality has never been Dion’s strong point and she is arguably the most successful karaoke singer in the world. Yes, she is a very talented vocalist but how are her covers ever much different from the previous versions, other than changes to the production by David Foster? Feel free to listen to any Dion take on a Houston song and you will hear her mirror the arrangement note for note.
3. Tevin Campbell
Slap a pair of testicles on Houston, shave her head and dress in an oversized shirt, and who will you get? Tevin Campbell, of course. Those of us who remember the early 1990s know how R&B fans reacted when they first heard this high tenor on the radio and wondered if Houston had a younger brother.
Indeed, Campbell’s tone was remarkably similar to that of Houston and her executed many of her runs as if she taught them to him herself. Sadly, the public fascination with him ended as the 1990s progressed and the excitement for his similarity to the diva faded. Ariana Grande’s team better take note.
2. Deborah Cox
How many people could say that they were mentored by person who made them want to sing? Luckily, Deborah Cox is one of them and thanks to Clive Davis’ knack for developing talent, she was paired with Houston as Arista’s pet project.
Cox and Houston sounded frighteningly alike, and as the latter’s voice and drive to make music began to fade, Davis groomed Cox to be the next big star. Unfortunately, her success was short-lived but she still got the chance to duet with Houston on the song “Same Script, Different Cast”.
Similar to Beyonce with Tina Turner and Mariah Carey with Aretha Franklin, Brandy proves that artists can also be extreme fanatics for their favourite singers. She has always been obsessed with everything associated with Houston and when she first met her, Brandy burst into tears and ran away screaming in disbelief.
Brandy absolutely loves Houston and even named her latest album Two Eleven to commemorate the passing of her idol. No other singer was as distraught as Brandy by Houston’s passing and for months she couldn’t even hear the latter’s music without breaking down.
Thankfully, Brandy has finally come to terms with Houston’s death and now happily performs tributes in her honor. More importantly, she sings in each song in her own way that still can be linked to Houston’s style with a special, unique twist.
Which artist was most heavily influenced by Houston? Who is missing from the list? Who should have been omitted? Vote in our poll and share your opinion!