John Houston

Father of Whitney

Tuesday 11 February 2003 01:00
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John Russell Houston, entertainment manager: born Trenton, New Jersey 13 September 1920; thrice married (three sons, two daughters); died New York 2 February 2003.

John Houston helped his pop diva daughter Whitney achieve superstar status and sales of 120 million albums around the world. However, following Whitney Houston's drug problems and increasing unreliability, he took the step last year of suing his daughter for $100m on behalf of his company John Houston Entertainment. On American television in December, he appealed to Whitney from his hospital bed, saying:

You get your act together, honey, and you pay me the money that you owe me. If you do that, you haven't got a lawsuit.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1920, John Houston was a self-made man who served in the Second World War and went from driving trucks to working for Kenneth Gibson, the first black mayor elected in Newark in 1970. Throughout the Sixties, he managed the Sweet Inspirations, the vocal group led by his wife Cissy which had evolved from the Drinkard Sisters, a gospel ensemble also featuring Cissy's niece, the singer Dionne Warwick.

Cissy Houston eventually left to start a solo career in 1970. By then, the Houstons had two sons, Gary and Michael, and one daughter, Whitney, who was born in 1963 and nicknamed "Nippy" by her father after a cartoon character. John Houston sometimes stayed at home to look after the children and became "Mr Mom" while his wife played club dates and promoted her own singles.

When he heard his daughter sing "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" in church at the age of 11, John Houston was moved by her vocal range. Soon, Whitney was joining her mother on stage and also modelling. In 1983, she signed to Arista Records and, two years later, her career took off with the release of Whitney Houston, her début album.

While the president of Arista, Clive Davis, took care of the artistic side of her career, Whitney needed someone to look after her business interests. In 1986, John Houston became Whitney's business manager and the CEO of her company, Nippy Incorporated. He set about reorganising her affairs and signed her to the prestigious William Morris Agency. Mostly he kept a low profile, although he occasionally "went bananas" when staff acted on their own initiative rather than consulting him or his daughter. "I come across to some people as the devil incarnate," he told Ebony magazine in 1990:

I am smart, I learn fast and I'm dedicated to Whitney Houston. It is her career, her money and nobody makes decisions but her.

Throughout the Nineties, even after his divorce from Cissy, John Houston provided advice and guidance but, after Whitney's marriage to the singer Bobby Brown in 1992, the relationship between father and daughter became more fraught. However, when she was arrested in 2000 in Hawaii for carrying cannabis, Whitney turned to her father. He helped get the charge dismissed and subsequently negotiated a lucrative new record contract for her.

Whitney Houston admitted they had occasional tensions and disagreements. She told interviewers:

We've hollered and screamed at each other. But it was always over business. If it were anything else, I would not be screaming at my father . . . I'll never find anyone to love me like my daddy does. I will always be daddy's girl.

Pierre Perrone

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