TimelineGet InvolvedNominate a History Maker
Home | MusicMakers | Cissy Houston
Color: Purple
Food: None
Quote: Are You Sure You Want My Answers?
Season: Summer
Vacation Destination: Home
Newark, New Jersey United States
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 12/15/2016

Singer Cissy Houston was born Emily Drinkard on September 30, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey. She grew up in a poor, but racially integrated, neighborhood. When Houston was eight years old, her mother passed away, leaving her father to care for their eight children. He encouraged Houston to sing quartet and jubilee music, and she formed the gospel singing group The Drinkard Four with her sister, Anne, and her brothers, Larry and Nicky. The group regularly performed at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. When Marie Epps, Ann Moss, and Houston’s sister Lee Drinkard joined them, the group was renamed The Drinkard Singers.

In 1957, Houston performed with The Drinkard Singers at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. Two years later, their live album A Joyful Noise was released on RCA Records. It was the first gospel record to appear on a major label. In 1963, Houston cut her first solo record This Is My Vow on M&M Records under the name Cecily Blair. That same year, she formed The Sweet Inspirations with Doris Troy and nieces Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick. Houston released several solo singles until 1967, when The Sweet Inspirations, now composed of Sylvia Shemwell, Estelle Brown, and Myrna Smith, released their self-titled debut album on Atlantic Records, and sang backup for Aretha Franklin and Van Morrison. In the coming years, the group recorded Songs of Faith & Inspiration (1968), What the World Needs Now is Love (1968), Sweets for My Sweet (1969) and Sweet Sweet Soul (1970), as well as accompanying Yusef Lateef, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield, Brook Benton, Dee Dee Warwick and Carmen McRae. After working with Elvis Presley in 1970, Houston decided to leave the group to spend time with her three children and to focus on her solo career. That year, she released her debut solo LP, Presenting Cissy Houston on Janus Records. Houston remained with Janus Records until 1975, when she left to work with jazz flutist Herbie Mann. In the late 1970s, Houston appeared in The Wiz (1978) and recorded Cissy Houston (1977), Think It Over (1978), and Step Aside for a Lady (1980). In 1985, Houston’s daughter, Whitney Houston, won a Grammy for her self-titled debut album. Houston was appointed the founding president and CEO of the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children in 1988.

There were several successful singers in Houston’s family, including Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick, who were Houston’s nieces, and renowned soprano Leontyne Price, who was a cousin of the Drinkard family. Houston received two honorary doctorates, as well as the Medal for Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership, and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award.

In 1997 and 1998, Houston won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Gospel Album for Face to Face (1996) and He Leadeth Me (1997).

Houston lived with her husband, John Russell Houston, Jr., in Newark, New Jersey.

Cissy Houston was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 13, 2016.

Speaker Bureau Notes: