I’ve been sitting here for hours contemplating the right words to honor Whitney Houston’s enormous contributions to the screen, and express my deep admiration and love. Gifted, gorgeous and graceful are the first words that come to mind for the music icon who graced millions of fans around the world with her beauty and talent.
The first time we saw Whitney Houston on the big screen was in THE BODYGUARD with Kevin Costner. Costner’s intuition as producer, to combine his global box office success with Whitney’s universal music appeal, paid off big time when the film grossed over $400 million worldwide. In a commanding marriage between song and screen, the film’s soundtrack remained on the Billboard 200 chart for 20 non-consecutive weeks, spawning several chart topping hits, including its signature song “I’ll Always Love You” (previously recorded by Dolly Parton) and “I’m Every Woman” a funked-up version of Chaka Kahn’s beloved anthem. According to Billboard, it has sold over 45 million copies, and is the best selling soundtrack of all time.
Whitney’s next screen endeavor, WAITING TO EXHALE, based on Terry McMillian’s best-selling novel, would also be an enormous success. Co-starring Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon, the film told the story of four African-American women dealing with relationships, single parenthood, divorce, and career choices. The number one film at the box office on its opening weekend, the film went on to earn over $80 million dollars, as one of the first African-American films to “crossover” to a global audience.
Starring with Denzel Washington in THE PREACHER’S WIFE, a remake of THE BISHOP’S WIFE, Whitney plays the wife of a minister (played by Courtney B. Vance) who receives an unlikely answer to a prayer, in the form of an angel (played by Washington) for help to save his fledgling church. Released theatrically during the 1996 Christmas season, the film has become a perennial holiday favorite. Its soundtrack is the biggest selling Gospel album of all time, featuring the hits “I Believe in You and Me” and “Step by Step”, and performances by gospel legend Shirley Caesar.
Establishing herself as a force behind the scenes, Whitney partnered with producer Debra Martin Chase to form BrownHouse Productions. Their first outing was a multi-racial re-imaging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA starring Brandy, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander and Bernadette Peters. Viewed by almost 60 million people on its broadcast debut, the film was the highest rated program for ABC in over 15 years, and went on to garner 7 Emmy nominations.
Whitney’s duet with Mariah Carey of “When You Believe” for Dreamworks’ PRINCE OF EGYPT soundtrack proved Whitney was a major influence of films even when she wasn’t on the screen.
Her final venture for the screen as Executive Producer and co-star was a remake of the beloved classic SPARKLE. Though she and, then partner, Chase began developing the film with Aaliyah before her untimely death, the film finally made it to the big screen in 2012, with Jordin Sparks in the title role.
Like that of Michael Jackson, Whitney’s ascension into global superstardom provided a definitive role model for African-Americans. Their magnificent gifts and acts of kindness evidenced that one’s universal voice can be embraced universally.
Though I only crossed paths with Whitney Houston twice in person, her anointed voice and beauty made an indelible image on my soul. Needless to say, I am one of a multitude who celebrates what would have been her 50th ‘earth’ birthday today, and will infinitely adore her.
Time is priceless… Voice is a gift… Show your love!
Watch the “I’m Every Woman” Music Video: