It isn’t that unusual a thing: a young singer is introduced, on a television talk show, as an exciting young talent. Many of these singers are hardly ever heard from again. But one imagines that anyone watching Whitney Houston make her TV debut on “The Merv Griffin Show” on April 29, 1983 surely felt that, yes, this was a momentous moment.
Houston — born in Newark, raised in East Orange and the daughter of Cissy Houston, a renowned singer in her own right — was 19 at the time. After a gushing introduction by one of her mentors, record industry executive Clive Davis, she sang the ballad “Home” from the musical “The Wiz” and absolutely nailed it. it wasn’t just her immaculate musicianship; it was the poise and confidence she exuded, particularly in the song’s dramatic closing moments.
Houston didn’t release her self-titled debut album — on Davis’ Arista label — until nearly two years later (Feb. 14, 1985). Davis wrote in his 2012 memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” that it took so long because he know how special Houston was, and that he had to “pull out all the stops” in his search for the best songs. “My A&R staff and I listened to and evaluated literally hundreds of songs,” he wrote. “The process was truly exhaustive, but you know it was worth every minute of that time and attention.”
We all know how quickly Houston became a bona fide star after the album was released. Anyone who had seen “Merv,” on the day she debuted, could not have been surprised.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.