MUSIC MAKERS — Whitney Houston

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“Whitney  Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances” (Legacy Recordings)

While a biopic of Whitney Houston’s last years is in the works on Lifetime (slated for a 2015 air date),  you can take a look back at the evolution of her entire music career via “Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances” (Legacy Recordings), a digitally remastered CD or CD/DVD collection of some of her most memorable live performances in concert and on television.

The DVD features 14 performances, beginning with her 1983 network TV debut as a teenager on “The Merv Griffin Show” (could she even imagine the superstardom that awaited her?) to her 2009 performance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” where Houston performs the haunting “If I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” Two years later, the troubled singer would be found dead from accidental drowning complicated by heart disease and drug use, at age 48.

Listening and watching each of the selections, it’s easy to recall the powerhouse that was Houston — from a voice that seamlessly traversed seemingly endless octaves to a stage presence that held concertgoers and TV viewers captive from first note to last. Watch (or listen to) “The Merv Griffin Show” clip and you’re introduced to a wide-eyed ingenue, an 18-year-old Houston on the cusp of success (her debut album is but two years away); but even at this earliest stage in her career, you can’t help but be entranced by the artist.

Her gorgeous, soulful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the 1991 Super Bowl remains the benchmark and should serve as a wake-up call to those singers who are called to deliver the anthem and a teachable moment to those who’ve since faltered in its delivery.

The medley of “I Loves You, Porgy/And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going/I Have Nothing” from the 1994 American Music Awards is easily one of the most powerful musical moments on television in the past 20 years. Just savor the moments where Houston lingers on various notes for what seems like an eternity only to move on to the song’s next passage with breathtaking ease). Houston brought down the house following her 10-minute performance.

There are many ways an iconic artist’s career can be celebrated: a televised tribute concert; a repackaged greatest hits album; a made-for-TV biopic. “Whitney Houston Live” smartly lets the singer do all the work  — live and unencumbered by studio effects, engineering wizardry and outside influences. Houston’s career had its ups and downs, her voice knew perfection and ultimately flaws, and her personal life its triumphs and tragedies. This CD/DVD is a time capsule of all that was good and rock-solid and incomparable about Whitney Houston the artist. To paraphrase 0ne of her greatest hits, bittersweet memories indeed.


Clive Davis shares insights on music, voices of Whitney, Aretha, J-Hud

Here’s an annotated look at the music/performances featured on “Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances”:

“Home” (Live on “The Merv Griffin Show” – June 23, 1983): A song originally written for the Broadway musical “The Wiz,” Houston makes it her own. Just two years away from her self-titled debut album, you can see the genesis of her star power in this performance.

“You Give Good Love” (Live on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” – April 5, 1985): On the heels of her just-released debut album, Houston is catapulted to the national consciousness with this electrifying performance.

“How Will I Know” (The BRIT Awards, Feb, 9, 1987): A performance of No. 1 single  at the final industry-only BRIT Awards, broadcast in 1987 to an audience of 6.7 million viewers on the BBC.

“One Moment In Time” (Grammy Awards, Feb. 22, 1989): Chosen as the theme of the 1988 Summer Olympics, the song became her third U.K. No. 1 hit and a Top 5 single in the U.S.

“Greatest Love Of All” (Live at Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert, Radio City Music Hall, New York – March 7, 1990): Houston’s stunning version became her fourth single (and third pop No. 1) from her self-titled debut album.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY – March 7, 1990): The 1987 dance anthem topped the charts in 13 countries and became Houston’s biggest-selling single in the U.S. at the time.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” (Super Bowl XXV, Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Jan. 27, 1991): It was the Giants vs. the Bills, but it was Houston’s impossibly stirring rendition of “The National Anthem” that stole the show. It became one of the only renditions of the National Anthem to place on the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 20.

“All The Man That I Need/I’m Your Baby Tonight/A Song For You” (“Welcome Home Heroes,” with Whitney Houston, Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA – March 31, 1991): Houston welcomed home troops from the Persian Gulf War with this special aired on HBO .

“Medley: I Loves You, Porgy/And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going/I Have Nothing: (The American Music Awards – February 7, 1994): Houston stopped the show with this powerful trio — and ultimately walked off with eight AMAs, the most awarded to a female performer in a single night.

“I Will Always Love You/I’m Every Woman” (The Concert For A New South Africa, November 1994): Hot on the heels of “The Bodyguard” (the movie and the soundtrack, which had already won three Grammys), this trio of concerts recorded in South Africa following the election of Nelson Mandela as president and made Houston the first international musician to perform in South Africa after the end of apartheid.

“My Love Is Your Love” (“The Late Show With David Letterman,” Dec. 10, 1998): The release of this album in 1998 ended an eight-year gap between traditional studio albums. This unique performance of the title cut features guest contributions from the song’s co-writer and co-producer, Wyclef Jean of the Fugees.

“When You Believe” (duet With Mariah Carey) (Live at The 71st Academy Awards, March 21, 1999): Houston’s first live performance on the Oscars telecast. She and Carey performed a masterful version of the song from the animated film “The Prince Of Egypt.”

“I Believe In You and Me “(Clive Davis’ Pre-Grammy Party, June 15, 2000): The relationship between Houston and mentor/producer Clive Davis was one of the strongest in the music business. She celebrated that friendship with this all-out performance.

“I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” (“The Oprah Winfrey Show,” airdate Sept. 5, 2009): Houston ended a six-year gap between albums with a full-length appearance on the show, which included a two-part, two-day interview (taped on Sept. 3).

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