Exclusive: Clive Davis and More Weigh In on Whitney Houston's First-Ever Live Album

Whitney Houston sings the National Anthem at Super Bowl
George Rose/Getty Images

Whitney Houston sings the National Anthem before a game with the New York Giants taking on the Buffalo Bills prior to Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium on January 27, 1991 in Tampa, Florida. 

From "You Give Good Love" to "I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston's studio recordings are legendary. But her first-ever live album, Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances (released as a CD and CD/DVD on Nov. 10 via Legacy) proves that the late pop superstar -- who died in 2012 at age 48 in a bathtub drowning as a result of cocaine use and heart disease -- was an equally transcendent live performer. Her mentor, Sony chief creative officer Clive Davis, who produced the LP; her longtime musical director, Rickey Minor; and her sister-in-law Pat Houston (president of the Whitney Houston Estate) give exclusive details regarding the album's highlights.

Whitney Houston's 20 Biggest Billboard Hits: A Look at Her Legendary Chart Career

"Home," The Merv Griffin Show, June 23, 1983
"It was two weeks after I signed her," recalls Davis, 82, of the singer's national TV debut. "It was as an opportunity to signal her special talent. But Cissy [Houston, Whitney's mother] was unhappy with the way the band leader was conducting. If you watch [the DVD] closely you will see Cissy come in and start leading the band behind the curtain, picking up the tempo so that it would be a stronger backing musical track for her."

"One Moment in Time," Grammy Awards, Feb. 22, 1989
Davis recalls feeling "incredibly proud" when Houston brought the house down opening the show: "She was lifting the audience out of their seats in an environment [where] people don't have to do a roaring, standing ovation. But they did."

"The Star-Spangled Banner," Super Bowl XXV, Jan. 27, 1991
Many consider this to be the best ever televised performance of the national anthem, but Minor's gospel-influenced arrangement didn't win over executives. "It was sacrilegious to change the anthem -- I was almost fired," recalls Minor, 55. But there was no drama with Houston laying down the required prerecorded track: "What the world heard and will always remember is basically her first take."

"I Will Always Love You," Concert for a New South Africa, Nov. 12, 1994
Houston was the first global star to perform in post-apartheid South Africa, playing three concerts to celebrate Nelson Mandela's election. "She was honored," says Minor. "She had a private meeting with Mandela, and that kind of thing really alters your life. She thought about her ancestors and the freedom she now enjoyed, which was just coming to this country. To see her bow after this song was really emotional."

"I Believe in You and Me," World Music Awards, Sept. 15, 2004
Two days before Davis was to receive the outstanding contribution to the music industry award, Houston called him and asked to perform at the event. They hadn't seen each other since the 2001 Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special concerts at Madison Square Garden, "where she was skin and bones," says Davis. "I said, 'Whitney, I'm touched, but I'm scared. What do you look like? What do you sound like?' "As a test, he set up a secret rehearsal for her. "She's looking and sounding good, so I said, 'We're not going to tell anybody this: As part of my speech, I'm going to say, "The only way I know how to thank you properly for this award ..." and then I'm going to bring her on.' " Houston's comeback performance left attendees [including Chaka Khan and Celine Dion] in tears.

"I Didn't Know My Own Strength," The Oprah Winfrey Show, Sept. 15, 2009
"It was a major moment," says Pat, 54, of Houston's performance after opening up to Winfrey on-air about her substance-abuse troubles. "There was a little trepidation because there are always the naysayers out there. But she had grown from that young girl on The Merv Griffin Show to that woman on Oprah. Life happened to her." Davis, who was in the audience, had felt optimistic. "I was hopeful that [her life] would not turn out the way it ended."

This article first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of Billboard.

 

THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.