One of the greatest pop voices in music history fell silent today as Whitney Houston passed away in her hotel room in Beverly Hills, in L.A. She was scheduled to appear at the Grammys in a tribute to her mentor Clive Davis on Sunday. News reports have not said anything about a cause of death, but foul play appears to have been ruled out. (AP):

[P]olice received a 911 call from hotel security about Houston at 3:43 p.m. Saturday. Paramedics who were already at the hotel because of a Grammy party unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the singer, he said.

Houston’s end came on the eve of music’s biggest night — the Grammy Awards. It’s a showcase where she once reigned, and her death was sure to cast a heavy pall on Sunday’s ceremony.

Her longtime mentor Clive Davis was to hold his annual concert and dinner Saturday, and a representative of the show said it would proceed.

Producer Jimmy Jam, who had worked with Houston, said he anticipated the evening would become a tribute to her, and he expected there to be one at the Grammys as well.

She was such a troubled woman — and it played out in the tabloids — as drug abuse, a tumultuous marriage to bad boy Bobby Brown, and erratic behavior in interviews took their toll on her image. It was sad to see how all of that also took her gift from her — her marvelous voice was irreparably damaged.

But that was the Whitney that made the news in more recent times. The Whitney to remember was the fresh-faced voice who broke through the very segmented music scene in the mid 80s to conquer the airwaves as a crossover artist. Young people today probably have no sense of how massive and difficult the success was that Houston achieved at that time (topped only by Michael Jackson and probably Prince). And it happened without AutoTune.

My favorite Whitney tune (and video) is her remake of I’m Every Woman (featuring Chaka Khan). Her voice was rich, and she was very pregnant at the time…and so luminous. R.I.P Whitney.

Bonus: Anyone who has had to listen to vocals that needed an Auto-Tune massage, take a listen to the real deal, a gift unvarnished — Whitney Houston’s isolated vocal track on “How Will I Know.”

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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