Cissy Houston on Her Daughter, Whitney: She ‘Gives Me Chills’

The pop star, who died Saturday at age 48, was born into a musical dynasty. Steve North recalls an interview with Cissy Houston in which she describes her daughter’s early signs of greatness. Plus, Allison Samuels reports from the hotel where Houston died.

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The tragic death of Whitney Houston brought to mind a conversation I had with her mom twenty years ago. Cissy Houston, a music legend in her own right, was reminiscing about her long and eclectic career, but she knew that any interview would include questions about her superstar daughter.

It was clear that Cissy never tired of talking about Whitney, and she did so without the slightest hint of jealousy. Instead, she spoke with the quiet intensity of a mother’s love and pride, often chuckling at memories of her little girl.

I asked Cissy if she could pinpoint when Whitney’s interest in music began.

Well, she grew up in a musical family, in a musical house, and music was playing all the time. So it was always an intricate part of our lives. Music was no stranger to her.

When she was 3 or 4, I took her on the TV program Soul! with The Sweet Inspirations, and she was dancing up there with us.

Did you give her formal training?

Oh, yes. And then, when I took her with me to different places and whatnot, she was always very interested. She would always be dancing.

Was there a moment when you were watching her perform and realized there was something exceptional there?

Well, I thought she was a very special kid from Jump Street, not just because she was mine. She was beautiful and talented and very smart. And she was very observant, interested in the things around her. Most children are, I guess, up to a point. But she was exceptional in that area. She would listen very closely to music, and she was always very alert musically.

And then she started to sing herself. I called it screaming at the time—well, my husband did. But I said, “Hey, one day, maybe she’ll be a singer.”

And Whitney used to tell me she would. She would look at Michael Jackson and say, “Mommy, I’m going to be a star. I’m going to take care of you, and you’re never going to have to work again!”

What was your reaction to that?

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I said, “Sure!” But, it’s funny how profound children’s statements can be sometimes.

These days, do you hear your influence in her voice, in the music she chooses?

Oh, sure. It’s like déjà vu sometimes, certain licks that she does. It’s uncanny … even scary. Whitney’s so much like me when I was younger. Same size, same mannerisms, that kind of stuff.

I’m actually amazed sometimes. She just goes, she soars. And hearing her sometimes just gives me chills.