Houston's modern soul music revolutionized radio, creating common ground with pop hooks, dance flourishes, and R&B grooves. Her music also seemed to be post-racial, attracting legions of fans worldwide. This common ground can be best attributed to her pristine soprano--a voice that could save even mediocre material. Take for example, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," a run-of-the-mill track about wanting to find love on the club floor. In lesser hands, dance tracks feel lifeless. In Houston's, the song is an anthem for the love-scorned, brimming with passion, heartache, and determination.
The singer's defining moment--her recording of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You"--also benefits from her ability to ring emotion from each lyric. A song about about failed love, the track hovers in by-then familiar Houston territory. However, the overwhelming power of her voice makes the simple material transcendent. That Houston could ever pull off such a performance, which fluctuates between the hushed verses and a shattering chorus, is nothing short of masterful. Houston was a singer who could transform covers into tracks that seemed penned exclusively for her.
Perhaps the most moving moment in Houston's career came with her last album, I Look to You. Released in 2009, it is her most cohesive collection of songs, as well as one of her most compelling. Following years of personal trials, the album finds the singer in huskier voice, and that voice adds weight to songs like "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" and the title track. The revelation on the album is the singer's take on "A Song For You," which appears directed at Houston's daughter. Produced as a dance song, the track presents Houston's best qualities: emotional depth and perseverance. It is clear Houston had weathered emotional storms by this point in her career, but "A Song For You" finds her both humbled and undeterred. Houston always kept fighting to move forward, despite disappointments, losses, and personal demons.
Today, we can hear Houston's influence all over pop radio, from R&B divas-in-the-making like Jennifer Hudson to pop acts like Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Kelly Clarkson. Whitney Houston brought soul (and emotional gravity) to mainstream radio, and it is unimaginable to think what pop music would be like--especially for female vocalists--without her contributions.