(RNS) — Whitney Houston, one of the most famous names in pop music, will be posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this weekend.
Though she’s perhaps best known for such hits as “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know,” Houston continues to have another claim to fame: Her 1996 “The Preacher’s Wife” soundtrack remains the bestselling gospel album by a Black woman, even eight years after Houston’s death at age 48.
She will be inducted officially into the hall of fame in a ceremony premiering at 8 p.m. Eastern on Saturday (Nov. 7) on HBO and HBO Max, featuring several performers, including Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and T. Rex.
In a video on its website, the hall of fame notes that religious music is part of the amalgam of songs Houston performed to the delight of fans for years.
“Houston’s voice was as versatile as it was powerful,” said the narrator in the short tribute video. “And her catalog shows a unique ability to incorporate a range of stylistic elements, spanning pop, rock, gospel, R&B, funk, soul and hip hop.”
Here are five faith-related facets of the woman often just known as “Whitney”:
She started singing in church.
Houston, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and cousin of pop singer Dionne Warwick, grew up on gospel music in her childhood church.
“Gospel taught me to know what I was singing about and to be able to feel everything that you’re singing,” she said in a 1997 video tribute at the Essence Awards. “My mother always told me you can’t sing anything that you don’t feel.”
Longtime friend BeBe Winans described how much Houston’s hometown church, New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, meant to her in an interview with Religion News Service after he published his 2012 book, “The Whitney I Knew.”
“It was her foundation, where she learned how to sing,” he said. “It’s where she learned how to trust God. It meant everything to her.”
He said that as her star rose, she may have “lost her way” to the church but not her religious beliefs.
“She didn’t lose her understanding of who God was and his existence. She held on to faith and grace even in the midst of being far away sometimes,” Winans said during that 2012 RNS interview.
She brought outsized celebrity to the 1998 Dove Awards.
Houston attended the Gospel Music Association’s awards ceremony in person and closed it out with a performance with the Georgia Mass Choir of “I Go to the Rock,” which was featured on “The Preacher’s Wife” soundtrack. She and composer Dottie Rambo also won the award in the traditional gospel recorded song of the year category.
“On any stage that I stand on I praise the Lord; I claim him everywhere I go,” Houston said during her acceptance speech. “I have to thank my husband and my daughter for giving me up for all that time I had to spend on ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ because they shared me tremendously.”
Bil Carpenter, author of “Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia,” was in attendance and remembers her celebrity status lighting up the Dove Awards, which were less well-known at that time.
“It was electric,” said Carpenter, who was there as CeCe Winans’ publicist. “There was all this excitement that Whitney was in the building.”
She pushed for a gospel album.
“It’s obvious she loved it,” said Carpenter of Houston’s view of gospel music. “‘The Preacher’s Wife’ could have been an album of love songs. She was looking for an angle, an opportunity to sing gospel songs.”
The album — the soundtrack to the movie in which she played the title role and Denzel Washington played an angel — features songs Houston wanted to sing and popular tunes she knew in the 1970s such as “I Love the Lord” by Richard Smallwood.
Carpenter, also a music historian, said it was unusual for her to succeed in accomplishing that goal with Arista Records.
“Back then, particularly, record labels were always scared of their major artists doing gospel records,” he said. “The feeling was you’d lose your career.”
But, as with Aretha Franklin, a gospel album proved to be a huge success for Houston.
She still plays on gospel radio.
“Gospel radio depends on Black people who go to church but also listen to R&B music,” said Carpenter. “And Whitney, because of her fame, was able to give gospel radio a name to draw the audience in.”
Tune in to stations playing gospel music and you’ll still hear tracks from “The Preacher’s Wife” such as “Hold on, Help Is on the Way,” “I Love the Lord,” and occasionally “I Believe in You and Me” and “Somebody Bigger than You and I” (which includes then-husband Bobby Brown).
And as happens with some songs, “I Believe in You and Me” has been interpreted as a love song to God, even if that’s not the way it was always imagined.
“That’s a Four Tops’ song,” said Carpenter. “When the Four Tops did it, they did it as a love song to their mates.”
She performed with gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans.
She also relished less-public performances with members of the Winans family and other musical luminaries. In his book, BeBe Winans recalled how his friend showed up to support him at a Bahamas event — along with his brother Marvin Winans and Stevie Wonder — and they all took the stage and sang together.
“Stevie played and led us; Whitney, Marvin, and I sang backup. This was Whitney at her raw best. We sang songs we didn’t even know, telling each other the lyrics right before we had to sing them!” he wrote.
In 1997, when Houston was honored with the Essence Awards’ Triumphant Spirit Award for her charity work, CeCe Winans sang “You Were Loved” in a tribute to her friend, who was unexpectedly unable to attend the ceremony.
“I think that may be something that maybe Whitney didn’t really realize: is how loved she was,” said Carpenter. “And for all the negative that followed her the last few years of her life, with marital problems and the drugs and all that stuff, the way people talk about her now shows that deep down they really loved her.”
Source: Religion News Service