The long-overdue induction of Whitney Houston into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took place on Nov. 7, in a virtual ceremony broadcast on HBO. Alicia Keys made an introductory speech, and the late Houston’s mother Cissy Houston and sister-in-law Pat Houston accepted the award on her behalf. In between, the Hall took a look at her career, with comments, both new and old, by Whitney Houston, Cissy Houston, Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, Kelly Price, record company executive Clive Davis and others.
Here is a transcript of the entire segment, with a video of the acceptance speech embedded below.
The entire ceremony can be streamed now, at HBO Max. Others inducted were The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G., Depeche Mode, T. Rex and, as non-performers, Jon Landau and Irving Azoff.
KEYS: Whitney Houston is one of one. There is no one like her, and there never will be.
I remember growing up, listening to her music and dancing around the house and jumping on my bed, singing her songs into my hairbrush. This golden voice with range and runs and power like none, with a face and a presence like royalty. She was every little girl’s admiration.
When I first met her, she sought me out at one of Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy parties. I was still in awe of this crazy world I was newly welcomed into, and she marched right up to me and she said, “You are gonna write a song for me.” I couldn’t believe it! Had the greatest voice of all time just demanded that of little ol’ me? I was shocked, and completely overjoyed, and slightly scared, and thus began a beautiful friendship that was so genuine and sincere. We were kindred spirits and instant sisters.
We did work together on “Million Dollar Bill,” a song I wrote for her album, I Look to You. We laughed so much that I thought we’d never be able to finish the song. We called each other “mima.” And I cherish every moment that I got to talk to her, be in her beautiful company, and love her.
I still can’t believe that was Whitney’s last album and that she’s no longer with us. We all know what a miraculous singer Whitney was. Perhaps the greatest voice of our time. We all know how her unprecedented success brought black women into the absolute highest reaches of the music industry’s pantheon. We all know that her music will live forever. That music, that everlasting voice, is her final, generous gift to us. And she will now be one of the brightest lights ever to shine in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Congratulations, mima! We miss you.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: The first song I sang in church was a song called (sings) “Guide me, O Thou, Great Jehovah.” Yeah.
CISSY HOUSTON: Well, I had been to the hospital the day before, with false labor. She was fresh even in my stomach (laughs). Then the next day, she was born. She was the most delightful little girl.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I grew up in the ghetto. I mean, that’s where I grew up. We lived in Newark, and then the riots took place, of the ’60s. I remember lying on the floor and eating off the floor, where the bullets, you know, the bullets were flying. I was scared to death.
CISSY HOUSTON: She didn’t have a lot of girlfriends. You know, because they picked on her. I think most of them didn’t like her because I dressed her like a little angel. She had pigtails with bows, and bangs, like I thought a girl should be. We belonged to the New Hope Baptist Church. Whitney grew up there.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: In my church, you went to church to hear the singing. You cannot sing gospel without feeling it. And what I learned from that is that not only is it gospel, but it’s pop, and it’s R&B, and it’s, you know, anything that she (Cissy Houston) was singing.
I grew up in a family that was dominated by singers. My cousin (Dionne Warwick), my mother, my mother’s sisters all sang. They were a gospel group called The Drinkard Singers. Years later, my mother formed the Sweet Inspirations, sang with Elvis.
My mother is my greatest inspiration. Beside my mom would be Aretha.
FRANKLIN: Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston, she has done a lot of background work with me. She used to bring Whitney to my recording sessions.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: Aretha is something special. Her voice could do anything that it wanted to do, and that’s the kind of singing that I liked.
CISSY HOUSTON: When she was, like, 17, she started singing background with me.
DAVIS: The first time I heard Whitney sing was at a club called Sweetwater, and she did the song, “The Greatest Love of All.” I knew, really, right then and there, that this was a very special talent. And so I signed her. And I brought her on “The Merv Griffin Show.” And began the challenge of finding the right material. I decided that I would have a showcase. Gradually word spread, and I started attracting the kind of material that both she and I felt would be right.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I did not go into the studio wanting to make a pop album. I went into the studio wanting to make good music.
It was about 6 o’clock in the morning and Robyn (Crawford), she comes running in my room. “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! You gotta hear it. It’s on! It’s on!” She turned the music up, and it was “You Give Good Love.” And I’ll never forget that feeling, you know. It’s like, “Wow, I got a record out. How cool.”
DAVIS: I thought we had a great album. But until it’s out there, there’s always that moment of doubt.
MARTHA QUINN: Next, a singer who seemed to be everywhere this past year, especially on top of the video and record charts.
MARK GOODMAN: She’s responsible for the biggest-selling debut album ever, who else but Whitney Houston!
DON JOHNSON: The winner for Best Female Video is … Whitney Houston.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: Thank you!
I’m not an overnight success. I’ve been in the business for 10 years.
I made my decision a long time ago that this is what I was going to do. Being that my mom was in the business, I was prepared for all the things that might come, you know. There were a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for, but I dealt with anyway.
DAVIS: The eruption of that debut album really took us by more than surprise. It was a shock.
HUDSON: Being a little girl, seeing this goddess command the stage with her presence, then her voice, and thinking, like, “Who is this? I want to be like that one day.”
WHITNEY HOUSTON: Each year, it gets kind of bigger, because as you get bigger, people want to see bigger things, you know what I mean? So you give the people what they want.
Clive called me and said, “This is your seventh consecutive No. 1 song,” that I had actually surpassed Elvis and The Beatles. “Ah, that’s history.” (laughs)
ARSENIO HALL: What is the deal when you’ve had the friction at the Soul Train Awards?
WHITNEY HOUSTON: They booed me at the Soul Train Awards.
HALL: What was that about?
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I’ve got a lot of flak, you know, about I sing too white, or I sing … I don’t know, maybe it’s …
HALL: I don’t think there is more soul to be offered than what you give.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I don’t know.
HALL: I don’t get it.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I don’t, either. But I do sing the way God intended for me to sing. And I’m using what he gave me, and I’m using it to the best of my ability.
I had my own distinct sound. It is not the music that people knew me by. It is by my voice that people knew me.
HUDSON: She could stand flat-foot and sing. No running from the notes, but completely executing them, purely, from the softest tone to the ultimate power.
LADY GAGA: I used to stand at the top of that staircase and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” … her version. But I thanked her at the Grammys when I won that award, because she, for me, is the greatest of all time.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: It wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking about music. I was just thinking of other things beside music. You know, life.
UNIDENTIFIED PASTOR: Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?
BOBBY BROWN: I do.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: This is Bobbi Kristina Brown.
I don’t think I will ever do anything greater than have a baby. I mean, it is the most incredible thing I have experienced in my life.
I was pretty tired of touring, and traveling, and hopping off and on planes, and all that kind of stuff. And it was time, you know, just to break for a minute and then come back at it.
After the second album, I started thinking, “Maybe I’ll do a movie.” You know, that kind of thing. But it was never something that I said, “Yeah, I’m gonna do a movie because I want to act.”
I had done, basically, all the rest of the music for the movie, except for that one song. So one day Kevin (Costner) came to me and he said, “Whitney, I got this song. It’s called ‘I Will Always Love You.’ Dolly Parton wrote it. I mean, it’s a country and western song but I think you’re going to love it.” And I said, “He’s absolutely right. This is the song.”
DOLLY PARTON: And the Grammy goes to … Whitney Houston!
WHITNEY HOUSTON: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for this. Thank you Mommy and Daddy, I love you. Oh, just thank everybody. Bobbi Kristina, I love you, baby. It’s time to go to bed. Thank you, Clive!
OPRAH WINFREY: When did it start to go wrong?
WHITNEY HOUSTON: After “The Bodyguard,” I was on a whirlwind by that point in time. I was going everywhere but that record was so huge. I think somewhere inside, something happened. It was too much. Too much to try to live up to, to try to be.
You realize that the applause is over, people aren’t there anymore, and it’s just you.
PRICE: It was Grammy week, and a lot of parties going on in Hollywood. I had a pre-Grammy party at Tru Hollywood, the nightclub, and Whitney came to celebrate. She gave me a big hug and she started to sing, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” which by now, if anybody doesn’t know, it was her favorite song.
None of us could ever have known that it would be the last time that we would see her.
DAVIS: I remember that shattering phone call. That not-to-be-believed phone call that she had passed away.
CISSY HOUSTON: I said, “I’ll talk to you later.” She says, “All right, Mama. I promise you I’m coming down.” She never did make it.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I feel so blessed to be able to just use what God has given me. It’s an indescribable feeling, you know, it’s like a surge of energy. It’s like just taking off and just flying.
CISSY HOUSTON: I’m so very, very proud that Whitney’s being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She wanted to be something, not anything. She worked hard at it, too.
PAT HOUSTON: This is something that Whitney always wanted. I remember, in 2009, we were in London, and Whitney looked at me, and she said, “This is really special, but there’s only one thing missing. I’ve got to get the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
CISSY HOUSTON: Yeah, she did it.
PAT HOUSTON: This moment right now proves it all, that there’s only one matchless Whitney Houston. And tonight, she would be very proud and honored to receive this award.
CISSY HOUSTON: I’m proud of who she was. I’m proud that you took it in and did what you were supposed to do. What can I say now? If I talk too long, I’ll cry. I don’t want to cry (laughs). So, thank you.
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