Whitney Houston: From Choir To Music Legend

Whitney Houston died on Saturday at the age of 48. Her problems with drugs have been well documented. In her lifetime, she sold 170 million albums. Houston's most famous song is her rendition of a tune written by Dolly Parton, "I Will Always Love You."

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL")

WHITNEY HOUSTON: (Singing) The greatest love of all is easy...

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Last night's Grammy Awards became an opportunity to say goodbye. Whitney Houston died in Beverly Hills on the weekend of the music awards. She was 48. Police have yet to release results of an autopsy after Houston was found in a bathtub.

As people awaited details of her death, they took time to remember a life in which Houston sold more than 170 million albums and singles. In 1991, at the start of the Persian Gulf War, she appeared at the Super Bowl and sang the National Anthem while dressed in a red, white and blue tracksuit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER")

HOUSTON: (Singing) And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air...

INSKEEP: Her performance turned "The Star-Spangled Banner" into a record-setting single. Whitney Houston grew up in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of a famous gospel singer. She went from the choir to singing backup vocals for acts like Chaka Khan. And then came an album of her own in 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVING ALL MY LOVE FOR YOU")

HOUSTON: (Singing) So, I'm saving all my love for you.

JASON KING: She had this really brilliant ability to get inside a song to the deepest place where the drama is and the emotion is.

INSKEEP: Jason King is a professor at New York University's Tisch School of Arts.

KING: You hear low notes, you hear this really bold chest building sound and then that incredible falsetto sound that's almost, like, nearly operatic but it has this sweetness, this honey to it that makes it so accessible.

INSKEEP: And the singer was also known for her style. She was among the first women of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine. She appeared on screen in "The Bodyguard" and "Waiting to Exhale." Music critic Christopher John Farley says she defined crossover artist.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY: Everybody saw themselves in her. They saw themselves singing like her or dressing like her or acting like her, having her kind of style. Whether you were black or white or some other ethnicity, she could be a stand-in icon for you.

INSKEEP: In fact, Houston's biggest hit is a rendition of a country-western tune written by Dolly Parton.

FARLEY: She found the soul in that song. She really showed America, that all of America really had soul, even if you thought the soul wasn't there. She found it with her voice, with her talent and with her performances.

INSKEEP: Performances that her fellow artists at the Grammy Awards stopped to remember last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")

HOUSTON: (Singing) And I will always love you.

INSKEEP: It's NPR News.

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