The sudden death of legendary singer Whitney Houston has left the music industry in a state of shock.
Although her passing came far too soon, the most-awarded female entertainer of our times has left an inspiring legacy, particularly in the Christian world.
Whitney’s roots, early influences, and musical training overflowed with faith-filled melody. Gospel singer Cissy Houston was her mother and first music teacher. Other singers in the family included her godmother Aretha Franklin and cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, all of whom shared gospel music as a fundamental component of their artistry.
An 11-year-old Whitney first sang in public as a performer in the choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. It did not take long for the little girl with the big voice to be featured in church services.
Whitney’s first solo performance in the church was “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” She later told Jet magazine that the hymn is “a song that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Cissy continued to give her daughter singing lessons during her teenage years, a time in which she attended Mount Saint Dominic Academy, a Caldwell, New Jersey Roman Catholic high school for girls.
During her extraordinary career, Whitney won two Emmys, six Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. She experienced worldwide sales of more than 170 million albums, singles, and videos.
With regard to the Christian world, Whitney’s most significant contribution took place in the mid-1990s at the height of her career. In 1996, she co-starred with Denzel Washington in a film called “The Preacher’s Wife” in which she played the role of a pastor’s spouse who happened to sing gospel music.
Whitney recorded and co-produced the movie’s soundtrack, which included six gospel songs performed with the Georgia Mass Choir. The performances were recorded at the Great Star Rising Baptist Church in Atlanta. Two of the tunes from the album became hit singles, “I Believe in You and Me” and “Step by Step.”
The soundtrack of “The Preachers Wife” would ultimately go on to become the largest selling gospel album of all time, with six million copies in worldwide sales.
At a Hollywood nightclub two days prior to her passing, Whitney would give what would end up being her last performance. She was at a pre-Grammy party for singer Kelly Price, who called Whitney up to the stage to sing a duet.
It is fitting, given the inspiration she provided to all, that Whitney’s last song before leaving this earthly stage would be the gospel classic, “Yes Jesus Loves Me.”