In the twenty-five years since she recorded her history-making debut album,
Whitney Houston has become a superstar, a legend, an icon. One of the bestselling
female artists of all time, she has sold over 140 million albums
worldwide. She has been cited as an influence by the likes of Mariah Carey,
Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, and Leona Lewis, and last year, Rolling
Stone listed Houston as one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
But when her longtime mentor Clive Davis, currently Chief Creative Officer of
Sony Music Entertainment Worldwide, first approached her about recording
her first album since 2002’s Just Whitney, Houston didn’t think that she
wanted to get back in the game.

When Clive called me and said, ‘Are you ready?,’ I said, ‘Ready for what?,'” she
recalls. ”

Fortunately, though, Davis was persistent—and the result, almost three years
later, is the remarkable new album I Look to You. The disc matches Houston
with some of the hottest writers and producers in pop and R&B (including R.
Kelly, David Foster, Akon, Stargate, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz
) for a set of
songs full of her signature vocal power and passion. The album is built on a
strong message of survival and perseverance, and reflects the hard-earned
lessons of the high-profile personal challenges Houston has encountered in
recent years.

A key song for the project was “Nothin’ But Love,” a propulsive dance groove
co-produced by Fernando Garibay (Britney Spears, Lady GaGa). “If there was
anything I wanted to say after some of the things I had gone through
,” Houston
says, “it was that I had nothing but love, regardless of the situation. Maybe
that’s just the way I was raised, or maybe I had just gotten to the point of, it’s
all behind me now and I’m moving forward

Davis, the album’s Co-Producer, brought R. Kelly’s composition “I Look to You
to Houston, and her reaction was instant—though she hadn’t been given all the
information. “I heard the song, and I loved that it was so short and sweet,” she
says. “And then I got to Chicago, and Robert told me there was still another
verse to write and a bridge! So he stood there with me in the studio and wrote
the second verse right off the top of his head. He closed his eyes, we kinda
leaned on each other. As he was singing, I was praying, and the words just
came out

The song (one of two Kelly contributed; he also delivered the defiantly funky
“) would go on to give the album its title, and she credits Davis with
understanding what the lyrics would mean to her. “When Clive heard ‘I Look to
You,’ because he knows my background in gospel, he knew that song would
put it all in check for me
,” she says.

The relationship between Houston and Davis goes all the way back to 1983,
when he signed the young artist to Arista Records. He oversaw the development
and marketing of her thirteen-million-selling debut, Whitney Houston. After all
these years, he remains so close to the singer that she refers to him as “my
father in the industry

Clive and I are partners,” says Houston. “He still loves music, still loves lyrics
and melodies. He’s one of the few people who still has that gift of knowing what
song fits with what voice. Clive is able to go beyond the personality and see
what’s inside a person, what really motivates them.

To be reunited with Whitney is so fulfilling,” adds Davis. “The album provides
the most exciting challenge I’ve ever had and whatever happens, I know it’s
very special. Its music and her voice will once again impact millions all over the
world for many years to come

Even with a few strong songs in motion, though, Houston still wasn’t sure that
she had found the direction she was looking for. Surprisingly, it’s the most
light-hearted moment on I Look to You—the disco-flavored roller-skating jam
Million Dollar Bill“—which she considers the turning point.

I worked with Alicia Keys on that one,” she says, “and it was probably the
most fun, but it also felt like I was working with someone who understood me,
who could relate to me, singer to singer. At that point, I knew that it was
coming together, that this was the album that I wanted, and that it was going
to get done after two-and-a-half years in the making

Akon, another 21st-century hitmaker joined forces with Houston for “Like I
Never Left
.” She notes that the singer was a favorite among the friends of her
daughter, Bobbi Kristina; “they all had his songs as their ring tones,” she says.
Houston praises the “island feel” of Akon’s work, and adds that when she heard
Like I Never Left,” she thought, “that sounds like it could be an album title for

Perhaps the most memorable recording session came on the powerhouse ballad
I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” written by Diane Warren. The song reunited
Houston with producer David Foster, who worked with her on the
incomparable soundtrack to the 1992 film The Bodyguard, one of the biggestselling
albums in history. Foster’s home was damaged in the Malibu fires of
2007, and when Houston came in to record her vocal, he was working out of a
small apartment.

Basically, I recorded in an office, next to the bathroom, with some sheets up
near the microphone
,” she says. “It was totally different from doing ‘I Will
Always Love You’ in a beautiful studio, or ‘I Learned From the Best’ in David’s
beautiful home. But when I listened to my vocal, it was real, it was
passionate—which is most unusual when you’re singing next to a bathroom!
“I wasn’t thinking only in terms of myself
,” she continues. “I was thinking
about other people and other struggles. I thought about becoming a single
mother, I thought about my mother, my cousin Dionne, my sisters-in-law. I
thought about people with sicknesses, people who triumph in the face of
adversity. The simplicity and strength that came out in my singing made me
know how strong that song could be for a lot of people

One of the most welcome elements of I Look to You is hearing Houston
reconnecting with the dance floor and delivering uptempo songs with finesse
and joy. Even the album’s lone cover—Leon Russell’s immortal “A Song For
,” which has been recorded by greats from Ray Charles to the Carpenters to
Donny Hathaway—begins at its traditional, stately pace but then breaks out
into a celebratory, irresistible club beat.

Houston says that she enjoyed bringing that side of her singing out again, but
that her heart will always be with the slower, more emotional numbers. “I love
the uptempo songs, but I’m a balladeer
,” she says. “I can take a ballad and it
gets in my heart, and I can understand where it’s coming from

Most of all, Whitney Houston believes that she is a link in a chain of vocal
tradition, and that I Look to You is one more extension of the sounds she was
raised with. “I hope that the gospel tradition in my voice—which is just my
soul—that it comes out, and that it is heard and felt by those who come after

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