"Whitney Houston was the greatest singer I've ever heard," said Tony Bennett.
R&B singer, model, and actress Whitney Houston died Saturday at 3:55 p.m. at the Beverly Hills hotel in Los Angeles. She was supposed to perform at the pre-Grammy party held annually by Clive Davis, her mentor and founder of Arista Records (the 54th annual Grammy Awards will be held February 12 at L.A.’s Staple Center). No details were given on cause of death, but L.A. authorities stated there were no signs of foul play. She's survived by her 18-year-old daughter and her mother.
The Beverly Hills Police Department released the following statement:
"At approximately 3:43 p.m. the Beverly Hills Police Department received a 911 call to respond to the Beverly Hilton hotel regarding a medical emergency. Police and fire personnel were immediately dispatched. Fire Department personnel were already on scene at the hotel due a pre-Grammy event taking place later this evening.
Fire Department personnel, accompanied by hotel security, responded to the hotel room occupied by entertainer Whitney Houston. Upon arrival, first responders discovered Whitney Houston unresponsive. They initiated CPR, but were unable to revive her. At approximately 3:55 pm. Whitney Houston, age 48, was pronounced dead at the scene. Whitney Houston was positively identified at the scene by members of her entourage, which included friends, co-workers and family. Ms. Houston’s daughter and mother were notified of her death."
Besides being a singer with unusual range who sold more than 170 million copies of her albums, an actress, and a model, she was also the most awarded female singer of all time: 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, six Grammys, and two Emmys (she won a total of 415 awards in her career). She was the first female artist in history to enter the Billboard 200 chart at number one, and the first artist to simultaneously enter the U.S. and British charts at number one. Even when she was past her prime due to drug abuse and other personal problems, her comeback album (2009’s I Look To You, which was mostly well-received by critics) debuted at number one and went platinum for selling more than a million copies, 305,000 of them in the first week (beating her own record and solidifying her position as the female artist in history with most cumulative weeks in the number one spot in the charts).
But she had more than a voice and looks: she had principles. For all her early conservative, neat, well-packaged image, as a model she refused to work for agencies who had ties with South Africa during the apartheid years, something those who accused her of not being “black enough” for leaning towards pop rather than her gospel roots seem to have forgotten.
In her era, she was the vocal standard other up and coming singers aspired to, even those with radically different styles.
“Whitney was the reason many of us do what we do,” said Pink, one of many celebrities who inundated the social network remembering Houston.
“I just can’t talk about it now,” said godmother and “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen.” (Houston was also the cousin of singer Dionne Warwick)
“Hurting so bad,” said friend and fellow singer and actress Queen Latifah, from New Jersey. “My sister Whitney!!!!!!! Newark please pray!!! World please pray!”
“I’ve known Whitney since she was a little girl and I have always loved her,” said Motown legend Smokey Robinson. “She was like family to me and I will miss her dearly.”
“Fly Whitney Fly,” wrote Ricky Martin.
“So devastating,” wrote Katy Perry.
“Que descanses en paz” [rest in peace], wrote Miami rapper Pitbull.
“One of the greatest voices ever,” wrote producer Timbaland.
India.Arie remembered when, in 2011, she and Houston traveled on the same plane in route to the BET awards. “She talked to me the whole way and made [me] LAUGH and smile.”
“Heartbroken and in tears over the shocking death of my friend, the incomparable Ms. Whitney Houston,” wrote Mariah Carey, perhaps the artist most influenced by Houston.
But the ultimate tribute to her talent came from Tony Bennett.
“It’s a tragedy,” Bennett wrote. “Whitney Houston was the greatest singer I’ve ever heard and she will be truly missed.”
She's best remembered for "I Will Always Love You" and the soundtrack for The Bodyguard, but my favorite Whitney moment is when she won her first Grammy for "Saving All My Love For You." Her performance of the song, minutes before she received the award, would later earn her an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.
That's how I'd like to remember her. When she was fresh, healthy, and before her career and life were destroyed by cocaine, an abusive marriage to Bobby Brown, and the insensitivity of those who found humor on her erratic behavior and diminished vocal abilities of her later years. — Enrique Lopetegui
Scroll to read more Music Stories & Interviews articles