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20 People Who Changed Black Music: Pop Darling Whitney Houston, Queen of the Ballad

Despite possessing a beauty that enabled her to land coveted covers of magazines and commercials for popular soft drinks barely out of her teens, Whitney Houston couldn't run from her destiny.

Her mother is a gospel and soul artist whose mighty vocals have backed up, among others, Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Otis Redding and Elvis Presley. Her first cousin is a solo star whose career has spanned five decades. And her godmother is the bona fide queen of soul.

With relationships like these, it's no wonder Houston became one of the music industry's brightest stars. Her songs have been more than just key pieces in radio stations' playlist mosaics. They've made history.

Houston is the first artist to ever have seven consecutive singles hit No. 1, and her 1993 cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" spent 14 weeks at No. 1 -- a Houston record. As the biggest selling pop single in history, the song helped the Houston-laden "The Bodyguard" soundtrack become the second best-selling soundtrack of all time behind "Saturday Night Fever."

With an upbringing rich in gospel, Houston is probably best known as a songstress who sings a ballad like no one else.

"Of course there was Gladys (Knight) and Diana (Ross) before her, but Whitney made history," Al Payne, operations manager for Radio One in Richmond, Va., told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "The proof is in the pudding."

Houston's 1985 debut album "Whitney Houston" featured the Grammy Award-winning "Saving All My Love for You" and "The Greatest Love of All," still a favorite selection for junior high talent shows and amateur nights nationwide. The album, which also included the ultra-pop, "How Will I Know," sold more than 13 million copies and was the best-selling debut ever by a female artist.

Like Michael and Janet Jackson, Houston was one of a few black artists to have regular airplay on MTV, helping the network define a generation and assist artists is becoming household names.

Many people were surprised that such a strong voice could come from a young lady who seemed perfect for the runway.

"She wasn't your typical singer," Niecy Davis, assistant programs director for Radio One in St. Louis, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "When you think of big voices, you think of the big woman, but she wasn't one of those big women. Here you had a small-framed person with a huge, powerful voice."

Houston has been nominated for 26 Grammy Awards, and her most successful year came in 1994 when she won three - Album of the Year for "The Bodyguard," Record of the Year for "I Will Always Love You," and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Will Always Love You." She holds the record for most American Music Award wins by a solo artist with 23, and she's also earned two Emmy Awards. "When You Believe," the duet she recorded with Mariah Carey for "The Prince of Egypt," received the 1998 Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 2006, Guinness World Records named Houston the most awarded/popular female artist of all time, citing a total of 411 accolades.

By the 1990s, Houston was a true music superstar, thus earning the right to make a foray into acting. In 1992, Houston made her film debut in "The Bodyguard" playing a singer and love interest of actor Kevin Costner. The movie was a box-office hit and laid the groundwork for Houston to shine on the big screen in "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife."

Like another diva, Ross, Houston was able to go from the recording studio to the soundstage with ease. However, Houston was interested in more than being before the camera - she wanted to call the shots from behind the camera. She co-produced the 1997 made-for-television remake of "Cinderella," featuring Brandy and Whoopi Goldberg. She's also been involved with production of several Disney successes, including 2001's "The Princes Diaries" and the wildly popular "Cheetah Girls" movies, which have grossed more than $100 million in U.S. box office sales.

Although Houston's shine diminished somewhat in recent years, due to rumors of alleged drug use and a controversial marriage to Bobby Brown, many people still believe she has the ability to be a hit-maker.

"I think she is a super talent. Her voice is there, and she's still got it," Davis told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "If you look at her talent and not the personal things that surround her, it's hard to deny her greatness. When she comes back out with some new music, it will be awesome."

Radio One Richmond's Al Payne agreed.

"Whitney Houston represents the true class of R&B, from the 1980s and beyond," Payne told BlackAmericaWeb.com, adding that true fans are pulling for a strong comeback in Houston's long-anticipated new LP - slated for a fall 2007 release - similar to what helped Mariah Carey's "The Emancipation of Mimi," which helped her emerge from a professional slump in 2005.

"As an award-winning singer and actress," Payne said. "Whitney has paved the way for Mariah, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson and every other star that's 'multi-tasking' to grab the stage and screen spotlight today."

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