Who Was Whitney Houston's Mother?

To older generations, Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney Houston, is just as iconic as her daughter. Born into a musical family, Houston became a sought-after soul singer, whose versatile career stretched from the 1930s to the 2010s (via AllMusic). At the age of 80, she was still up on stage, singing backup for Aretha Franklin in 2014. At the time of this writing, the elder Houston is still with us, at the age of 89, having sadly outlived her daughter.

Born Emily Drinkard in 1933 (per Smooth Radio), Cissy Houston grew up in a musical household, and many of her family members also had high-profile singing careers. Her parents encouraged their eight children to sing at home, and as a small child in 1938, Houston had already come together with two of her sisters and two of her brothers to form a gospel group, calling themselves The Drinkard Singers (via Early County News).

The family choir had a long run singing together. They recorded a live album, titled "A Joyful Noise" (their cover of "Wade in the Water" is among the cuts posted on YouTube), a humble start to an incredible career that would see Houston win two Grammys. Two of Cissy's nieces, Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick, would also become very famous.

Music legend

By the 1960s, Houston had helped to form a new group, the Sweet Inspirations (via WBSS Media). While you may not have heard of them, you probably have heard their voices, because they worked as backup singers for some of the biggest stars of the 1960s, including Elvis, Van Morrison, Otis Redding, and Dusty Springfield. You can hear the Inspirations singing in the background of Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" (via Early County News).

Although Houston has recounted that she had a great time touring as a backing singer and joking around with the likes of Elvis Presley, her family demands eventually led her to stop traveling for live gigs (via Elvis Australia, posted on YouTube). Her solo career, on the other hand, gradually gained steam, and although she has sometimes been overshadowed by the Warwick sisters and her own daughter, Houston dropped some hot records in the 1970s.

After embracing the wave of disco-mania sweeping the land, she achieved a smash hit with "Think it Over" (on YouTube), which climbed to No. 32 on the Billboard 100. Houston also continued to produce gospel albums into the 2010s and won two Grammys for her recordings (per Grammy Awards), in 1996 and 1998 (via Smooth Radio).

Cissy and Whitney

Although Cissy Houston has had a stellar career, her personal life has often been difficult. In 2012, when her daughter, Whitney (above), was found dead in the bathtub, Cissy's world was shattered. Whitney, who was found with cocaine and other narcotics in her system, had struggled with drug addiction for a long time. Her concerned mother had repeatedly tried to help Whitney and even staged an intervention for her, to get her to go to rehab in 2005 (via Independent.ie). Her attempts to help her daughter created a strained relationship, and were ultimately unsuccessful.

To make matters worse, in the years following Whitney's death, Cissy Houston's relationship with her daughter was put under the microscope, as many people sought an explanation for the singer's tragic downfall. In Kevin Macdonald's 2018 documentary "Whitney," the filmmaker brought to light Cissy's extramarital affairs, as well as the affairs of her husband, and blamed both parents for grooming their daughter for the stage (via Vanity Fair).

Perhaps most shocking of all, the film alleged that Cissy's niece, Dee Dee Warwick, had molested both Whitney and Whitney's brother Gary as children. In a statement published in The Guardian, Cissy commented that "Dee Dee may have had her personal challenges, but the idea that she would have molested my children is overwhelming and, for us, unfathomable." Whitney never told her mother she was assaulted, but the story was reported by both her half-brother and personal assistant. In 2013, Cissy Houston released her own account of Whitney's life and death, "Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).