Whitney Houston Did Her First Studio Session With Another Legend When She Was 14
There’s a reason Whitney Houston’s nickname is “The Voice.” Her powerhouse vocals serve as the inspiration for many singers of today, including Brandy. Houston trained professionally for her impeccable sound, beginning as a teenager. In fact, her first studio session was with fellow great, Chaka Khan.
Chaka Khan recalls Whitney Houston singing background for her when Houston was 14
Houston grew up singing under the tutelage of her mother, gospel legend Cissy Houston. She spent much time attending recording sessions with Cissy and also performing under Cissy’s direction in her local church choir where Cissy worked as the choir director. Cissy also sang background for a number of artists in her day, including Elvis Presley, as a member of the group The Sweet Inspirations.
Cissy insisted that her daughter could not begin auditioning for record contracts until she graduated high school but she promised to guide her and prepare her for show business. Houston began singing background for her mother at a young age, which gave her access to her mother’s network of musical contacts.
In a new interview with Vlad TV, Khan recounts Houston singing for her during what was her first studio session. Houston was just 14-years-old at the time.
“Her mother Cissy was my main background woman when I did studio work,” Khan says. “Cissy sang background on all of my 80s stuff. So one day she said to me, ‘I got a daughter’ and I asked if she could sing and she [Cissy] said, ‘She can really sing.’ I told Cissy to bring her down [to the session] and her and Luther [Vandross], on this one album [of mine] together, and Cissy, they sang background for me.”
Interestingly, Houston would remake Khan’s 1978 version of “I’m Every Woman” in 1992 for The Bodyguard soundtrack. Khan made an appearance with Houston in the official music video for the single. The song is an iconic female anthem.
Whitney Houston landed her first record deal when she was 19
Houston continued singing with her mother. During Cissy’s live shows, Cissy would have Houston perform solos as a means to have Houston show off her vocal chops with the hopes of getting attention from labels.
In 1982, Houston auditioned for Bruce Lundvall, President of Elektra Records. At the time, Elektra was home to mainly rock artists but were looking to expand their roster to include more soulful acts under their newly formed jazz division. Lundvall wanted to sign Houston immediately, but she preferred to explore all of her options.
She also had interest from Epic Records, home to Michael Jackson at the time. But, Houston ultimately signed with Arista Records because of her connection with Clive Davis. Davis explains in a forward of Houston’s 35th anniversary of her debut album that Houston signing with him came down to a specific clause in her contract.
“Whitney would only sign with us if she was given a key man clause that stated she would only work with me: if I were to leave the company for any reason, she could leave as well,” he writes. “At that time, Arista was part of RCA Records. We had never given that clause to any artist (and never would again), but in view of my passion, the RCA board approved it…and our lifetime musical adventure began.”
Houston remained with Arista and Davis for the remainder of her career until her death in 2012.