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Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits Live On 11 Years After Her Death — Here Are The Little-Known Stories Behind Them

Whitney may be gone, but her legacy lives on.


It’s impossible to hear the opening chords of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and stay seated; the song makes you want to move. It’s impossible to hear the opening chords of “I Will Always Love You” and not assume karaoke position; the voice wants to sing along. And it’s impossible to go to any event where there’s a DJ present — weddings, office holiday parties – and not hear a Whitney Houston hit.

This month marked eleven years since the beloved songbird died, the music and legacy she left behind live on. Here are eight of her most iconic tracks, and the stories behind them that you may not have heard.

1. “Saving All My Love For You” (1985)

Originally released in 1978 by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., “Saving All My Love for You” wasn’t a song that struck gold when first recorded. However, Clive Davis had a vision for the song’s success — and he knew just the person to bring it to life. Not only did he think Whitney Houston would do the song justice; he believed it would resonate with both white and Black listeners.

Michael Masser, one of the original writers of the song, handled production. (Masser, who had seen Whitney sing another of his compositions, “Greatest Love of All,” at the Sweetwater in Manhattan, was already familiar with her talent.)

In “Saving All My Love For You,” Whitney pines for a married man with palpable yearning and nuance. Her voice coasts over each note so smoothly, you almost forget she’s singing about an affair. Her mother, Cissy Houston, worried that a song about adultery would cast her daughter in a negative light. Whitney, however, was unconcerned.

“I was going through a terrible love affair,” she later recalled. “He was married, and that will never work out for anybody. Never, no way.” Luckily, her reputation took no hit. The song landed Whitney her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1985.

2. “How Will I Know” (1985)

As Whitney put the finishing touches on her debut album, producers realized something was missing: a pop hit. Enter “How Will I Know,” a song written by husband and wife duo George Merill and Shannon Rubicam, and originally intended for Janet Jackson. When Jackson’s management turned it down, Arista Records A&R director Gerry Griffith and Clive Davis pounced, with one person in mind.

At first, Merrill and Rubicam resisted. They’d never heard of Whitney, and they didn’t love the changes to the song that producer Narada Michael Walden was proposing. Walden changed keys, upped the tempo, and rewrote several lyrics. The result was Whitney’s second No. 2 pop hit and first truly dynamo vocal piece. The bubbly dance groove shows Whitney at her most dexterous and effervescent, and the lively beat contradicts the lyrics that convey the uncertainty of youthful love and adoration.

3. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (1987)

Pleased with the results of “How Will I Know,” Davis once again recruited Merrill and Rubicam to write a song that Walden would produce. After a rejected first attempt, they came up with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

As Rubicam told biographer Richard Seal in One Moment in Time: Whitney Houston, “I pictured somebody single wishing they could find that special person for themselves. It wasn’t, ‘I wanna go down to the disco and dance,’ really. It was, ‘I wanna do that dance of life with somebody.’”

Narada Michael Walden relied on the the synth and drum machine-heavy formula that worked so well before, and Whitney did the rest. Belting out a giddy, flirtatious vocal that crackles with emotion over the computer-programmed horns, the song was a mega hit, landing at No. 1 in 17 countries.

4. “I Will Always Love You” (1992)

The first recording of “I Will Always Love You,” was in 1973. Country music icon Dolly Parton wrote and sang the song, which shot to No. 1 on the country charts. In a rare feat, Parton claimed the top spot again when she rerecorded the song for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack.

Twenty years after its original release, it became the signature track for the film The Bodyguard, after leading actor Kevin Costner played Whitney a cover by Linda Ronstadt. Prior plans to use Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” had fallen through. Despite protests from Clive Davis and producer David Foster, Costner and Whitney insisted on the a cappella intro. It was a stroke of genius that made the song one of the most instantaneously recognizable.

5. “I’m Every Woman” (1992)

“I’m Every Woman” is another Whitney song that was originally sung by someone else; in this case, Chaka Khan, for whom it was the debut solo single in 1978.

Though Whitney’s version didn’t top the pop charts — reaching No. 4 in the midst of “I Will Always Love You” dominating the scene — it became a girl-power anthem, even becoming the theme song for The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1993.

6. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)

Sometimes the most profound emotions can’t be expressed by words. Just ask Babyface, who penned “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. The producer had worked with Whitney on “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” but the pair felt considerable pressure this time around because the song came on the heels of The Bodyguard. On top of that, the book that the film was based on was a huge success. Whitney, however, delivers one of her easiest, most relaxed vocals on “Exhale,” which was her 11th and last No. 1 on the pop chart.

7. “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” (1998)

It was a remix of “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” by production duo Thunderpuss that gave this song a life beyond its initial release. The original, produced by Robert Jerkins, was a No. 4 hit on the pop chart. When Thunderpuss was commissioned to contribute to the remix version of “My Love Is Your Love,” the song was reworked into a full-throttle, nine-minute dance track that became a gay club anthem.

It spent three weeks atop the dance charts and became a drag queen staple, performed on the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Whitney approved. “I like when my remixes surprise my fans…. With the remixes, the world can experience me in all my various colors,” she said.

8. “My Love Is Your Love” (1998)

Drawing on the star power of Wyclef Jean of the Fugees, the title track to My Love Is Your Love was a song of milestones. Whitney’s first reggae track, as well as the recorded debut of daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, who exclaims “Sing Mommy!” early on. “Do you know how hard it is to be recording and your daughter’s there?” Jean wrote in a Rolling Stone tribute to the late singer. “But when it came to her daughter, the rest of the world didn’t exist.”

The breezy track was Whitney’s final to crack the Top 5 of the Hot 100, peaking at No. 4. Most memorable for Jean, however, was a moment when he felt the star hit a flat note. “She goes, ‘Baby, the note is not flat, I just bent the note’ — and that’s the highest level of swag of diva that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Jean marveled to NPR in 2017. Listening back to the recording, he realized Whitney was right. “She was so in tune that she could take the note out of pitch and bring it back.”

Whitney’s talent, confidence, and skill was a once in a generation gift that continues to be celebrated today. From musicians covering her greatest hits to biopics recounting her life, Whitney left a mark like no other.

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