Whitney Houston was blessed with an astonishing vocal range and extraordinary technical skill, but what truly made her a great singer was her ability to connect with a song and drive home its drama and emotion with incredible precision. She was a brilliant performer, and her live shows often eclipsed her studio recordings. Here are ten memorable live performances from a career overflowing with great moments.
Houston delivered this gleeful rendition of "How Will I Know" at the third MTV Video Music Awards in 1986. At the time, it was one of her first big televised performances.
Houston's performance of "The Greatest Love of All" at the 1986 Grammy Awards was a key moment in her career, where she went from a rising talent to full-fledged superstar. She nailed the song with typical grace, starting soft but sure before tugging a nation's heartstrings with the song's triumphant climax.
"So Emotional," one of Houston's most hard-edged pop songs, was a staple of her concerts. In this clip from a 1988 gig on her Moment of Truth tour, Houston and her band find the perfect balance between rock energy and synth-pop euphoria.
Houston recorded a lot of joyful pop songs early in her career, but "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" is the apex of that style. In this clip from her Welcome Home Heroes DVD, Houston opens a special gig at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia with a particularly gleeful version of the tune, clearly relishing every moment of performing for the sailors in the audience.
Houston's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 is the gold standard for all performances of the song. Houston's version was so stunning that her single release of the song, released as a fundraiser for families of Gulf War soldiers, ended up becoming a smash hit.
"I Have Nothing," one of Houston's tracks from The Bodyguard soundtrack, is one of the finest showcases of her vocal power. In this performance from the Billboard Awards in 1993, she builds to a devastating crescendo without overplaying the emotion of the song.
By the time Whitney Houston performed her signature version of the ballad “I Will Always Love You” at the Grammy Awards in 1994, the song had dominated the pop charts for an enormous chunk of the previous year. At that moment, the song was virtually omnipresent, but she sang it with such grace and power that the raw sentiment of the tune was fresh all over again.
"I'm Every Woman" closed out the majority of concerts on Houston's The Bodyguard World Tour, with the singer leading fans through a spirited singalong. In this clip from a gig in Rio de Janeiro, she whips a vast audience into a frenzy with a performance that builds from relatively subtle phrasing on the verses to vocal pyrotechnics at the climax.
Houston teamed with Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Brandy, CeCe Winans and Chaka Khan for this medley of songs from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack at the 1997 Grammys. The other stars do a fine job with their respective parts, but Houston is undoubtedly the most commanding presence on the stage.
Houston carries herself with the gravitas of royalty in this performance of "It's Not Right But It's Okay" at the 1999 Brit Awards. It's a relatively subtle performance for the singer, who emphasizes the bitter sentiment of the lyrics.