Inspired by several prominent soul singers in her extended family, including mother Cissy Houston and cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, as well as her godmother, Aretha Franklin, Houston began singing with New Jersey church's junior gospel choir at age 11. After she began performing alongside her mother in night clubs in the New York City area, she was discovered by Arista Records label head Clive Davis. As of 2011, Houston has released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold certification.
Houston is the only artist to chart seven consecutive #1 Billboard Hot 100 hits ("Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know," "Greatest Love Of All," "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"). Houston's 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, became the best-selling debut album by a female act at the time of its release. The album was also named Rolling Stone's Best Album of 1986, as well as ranking at number 254 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Her second studio album, Whitney (1987), became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Houston's crossover appeal on the popular music charts as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for "How Will I Know", influenced several African-American female artists to follow in her footsteps.
Houston's first acting role was as the star of the feature film The Bodyguard (1992). The movie's original soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Its lead single, "I Will Always Love You", became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. With this album, Houston became the first act (solo or group, male or female) to sell more than a million copies of an album within a single week period. The album also makes her the only female act ranked in the top-10 list of the best-selling albums of all time, at number four. Houston continued to star in movies and contribute to their adjoining soundtracks, including the films Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher's Wife (1996). The Preacher's Wife soundtrack would go on to become the best-selling gospel album in history. Three years after the release of her fourth studio album, My Love Is Your Love (1998), she renewed her recording contract with Arista Records. She released her fifth studio album, Just Whitney, in 2002, and the Christmas-themed One Wish: The Holiday Album in 2003. Amid widespread media coverage of personal and professional turmoil, Houston ended her 14 year-long marriage to singer Bobby Brown in 2006. In 2009, Houston released her seventh studio album, I Look To You.