Rewinding the Charts: 20 Years Ago, Whitney Houston Landed Her Last No. 1

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Houston (left) and Lela Rochon in a scene from the 1995 movie Waiting to Exhale. 

Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds says Hot 100 leader 'Exhale (Shoop Shoop),' which he wrote for the singer, was inspired by a Bruce Springsteen song.

"I SAID TO MYSELF, 'OK, HE has shooped me now. He has run out of words to say,' " Whitney Houston said in 1995 about Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who wrote and produced her 11th and final No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)."

"It's true," Edmonds tells Billboard today. "I couldn't think of any lyrics at that point." He says the track, written for the 1995 film Waiting to Exhale, which starred Houston, actually was inspired by Bruce Springsteen's Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia," which Springsteen wrote for the 1993 movie Philadelphia. "There was a haunting-ness to it, [and] I thought, 'It would be great if Whitney had a haunting song ...' I started 'shoop shooping' – and then [the lyrics] started to make sense."

In 1995, Houston, then 32, was in her prime. Three years prior, the blockbuster soundtrack to The Bodyguard produced "I Will Always Love You," which topped the Hot 100 for a then-record 14 weeks. "Exhale" continued her hit streak, and on the Nov. 25, 1995 chart, it became the third single in Hot 100 history to debut at No. 1. Houston landed six more top 10 singles through 2001, but her career was eclipsed by personal struggles, often linked to her rocky marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown and drug use. The couple divorced in 2007, and Houston made her musical comeback with the 2009 LP I Look to You, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

On Feb. 11, 2012, the night before the Grammy Awards, Houston drowned in a bathtub at The Beverly Hilton Hotel. The coroner's report listed cocaine usage as one of the causes of her death at age 48. That May, she was posthumously honored at the Billboard Music Awards, where her only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown, accepted the award. In July 2015, Bobbi Kristina died almost six months after being found unresponsive in a bathtub at her Georgia home on Jan. 31. She was 22.

A version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of Billboard magazine.


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