Emily "Cissy" Houston (née Drinkard; born September 30, 1933)[1] is an American soul and gospel singer. After a successful career singingBACKUP for such artists as Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin she embarked on a solo career, winning two Grammy Awards for her work. She is the mother of Whitney Houston, grandmother of Whitney's daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, aunt of Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and a cousin ofOPERA singer Leontyne Price.

Family and childhoodEdit

Early lifeEdit

Born Emily Drinkard in Newark, New Jersey,[1] to Nitcholas and Delia Mae Drinkard (née McCaskill), she was the eighth child; older siblings were brothers William, Hansom, Nicky, and Larry, and sisters Lee, Marie, and Anne.[2] Houston's father Nitcholas Drinkard was born to Susan Bell (called Delia) Drinkard (née Fuller), ofDutch and African-American descent.[3] His father John Drinkard, Jr., was of Native American descent.[3] The Drinkards had owned a substantial amount of farmlandin Blakely, Georgia, during a time when it was unusual for blacks to own large portions of land. The asset was gradually depleted as they sold small portions of the land over time, to resolve the continued legal troubles of a close relative.[3]

After Houston's three oldest siblings were born, the family relocated to New Jersey during the Second Great Migration.[3] Her parents emphasized the children getting educated and being involved in the church, and her father encouraged Houston and her siblings to sing.[3] In 1938, five-year-old Cissy's mother Delia suffered a stroke and died of cerebral hemorrhage three years later.[4]

Her father died of stomach cancer in 1951 when Houston was 18.[3][5] Cissy went to live with her older sister Lee and her husband Mancel Warrick.[6] The Warricks had three children: a son, Mancel,Jr. and two daughters Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick.[7] Renowned soprano Leontyne Price is a Drinkard cousin.[8][9]

Marriage and childrenEdit

In 1955, Houston married Freddie Garland and had a son, Gary Garland, an NBA basketball player and DePaul University Athletic Hall of Famer.[10][11][12] The Garlands divorced soon after.

In 1959, she married John Russell Houston, Jr., a Newark City administrator and entertainment executive.[11][13]The couple had a son Michael Houston, who became a songwriter, and a daughter, Whitney Houston, who became an R&B/pop singer .[14][15][16Aretha Franklin was an honorary aunt of Houston's daughter.[17]

In the 1990s, Houston's daughter Whitney began to struggle with drug addiction. Houston staged several interventions to get her daughter into rehabilitation andRECOVERY programs. On one occasion she obtained a court order and the assistance of two sheriffs to intervene, persuading her daughter to undertake treatment at Hope For Women Residential & Therapeutic Services in Atlanta, Georgia.[18] Her daughter cycled throughRECOVERY, relapse and rehabilitation programs.[19] On February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston died at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.[20] After her daughter's death, in an interview with the New Jersey TV station WWOR, Houston expressed her distaste of the media's coverage of related events: "The media are awful. People have come from here and there, [and they] don't know what they're talking about," she said. "People I haven't seen in 20 years … Here they come, [they] think they know everything, but that's not true. But God has his way of taking care of all of it, and I'm glad I know that. They really chopped on her, chopped on her … kept, kept, kept." [21] Houston has six grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren,[11] which included granddaughter Bobbi Kristina Brown (d. July 26, 2015), daughter of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston.


The Drinkard SingersEdit

Houston's singing career began in 1938 when she joined her sister Anne and brothers Larry and Nicky in the gospel singing group the Drinkard Four. Lee (who would later become the mother of singers Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick), later joined the group along with Ann Moss and Marie Epps, and the group was renamed The Drinkard Singers. Houston and the Drinkard Singers regularly performed at New Hope Baptist Church and later recorded a live album forRCA called A Joyful Noise.[22]

Sweet InspirationsEdit

In 1963, then about to give birth to daughter Whitney Houston, she formed the Sweet Inspirations with Doris Troy and niece Dee Dee Warwick. Later, under contract to Atlantic Records, Sylvia Shemwell, Estelle Brown and Myrna Smith form the line-up.

During the mid-1960s, the Sweet Inspirations provided backup vocals for a variety of artists, including Otis ReddingWilson PickettLou RawlsThe Drifters,Dusty Springfield and Houston's niece Dionne Warwick. They appeared on Van Morrison's single Brown Eyed Girl. Houston performed the operatic soprano melody on the Aretha Franklin hit, Ain't No Way.[23]

In 1967, The Sweet Inspirations sang background vocals for The Jimi Hendrix Experience on the track "Burning of the Midnight Lamp".[24]

In 1969, they were hired to sing backing vocals for Elvis Presley in Las Vegas on his return to live performances during July and August 1969. Presley often introduced them at shows by saying, "They really live up to their name ladies & gentleman, The Sweet Inspirations!" [25] Many of these performances can be heard on the All Shook Up and Live In Las Vegas live records.[25]

Performing with Elvis Presley was Houston's final gig with The Sweet Inspirations. As her children were growing bigger, she decided to stop touring and focus on her career as a recording artist.[25]

Solo careerEdit

In 1969, Houston signed a recording contract with Commonwealth United Records and recorded her solo debut Presenting Cissy Houston which was released in 1970.[25] It contained several well received singles, including covers of "I'll Be There" and "Be My Baby", both of which made the R&B charts.[26]

Following the release of her debut album, Houston's contract was sold to Janus Records in 1970.[26] She recorded another album and several more singles in the early 1970s, which included the original recording of Jim Weatherly's "Midnight Train to Georgia" in 1972, later a number one hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips.[26][27] She continued to record with Janus Records until 1975.[28]

In 1977, Houston was signed by Private Stock Records, working with arranger/producer Michael Zager on three albums. The second included her big discohit "Think It Over", which climbed to #32 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1979. She represented USA at the World Popular Song Festival in 1979 with a track called "You're the Fire", landing second place and winning the "Most Outstanding Performance Award". This also appeared on her 1980 disco-flavored album,Step Aside for a Lady, again produced by Zager, but released on Columbia Records (on EMI in the United Kingdom).

Session musicianEdit

Houston's cross-genre singing style has kept her highly in demand as a session musician with some of the world's most successful recording artists.

Houston, along with Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, sang the background vocals on the original recording of Time Is On My Side by Kai Winding, released by Verve Records in October 1963.

She sang back-up on Bette Midler's 1972 debut album, The Divine Miss M. In 1974, Houston sang back-up on Linda Ronstadt's multi-Platinum Heart Like A Wheel, a seminal album that topped Billboard′s Pop and Country Album Charts in early 1975.

In 1971, Houston was featured on three tracks of Burt Bacharach's self-titled solo album: "Mexican Divorce", "All Kinds of People" and "One Less Bell to Answer".

During 1975 and 1976, she worked with jazz flautist Herbie Mann on three Atlantic albums, DiscothèqueWaterbed and Surprises, featuring on three tracks, "Violet Don't Be Blue", JJ Cale's "Cajun Moon" and "Easter Rising".

In addition to her work as choirmaster at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, Cissy performed frequently at clubs in NYC including Mikell's, Sweetwaters, Seventh Avenue South, and Fat Tuesday from the late 1970s through the 1980s.

Whitney Houston, her daughter and backup singer, increasingly sang solos with Cissy's band, including the Barbra Streisand hit "Evergreen". They would collaborate on Ain't No Way (originally a Cissy Houston and Aretha Franklin vehicle), on which Cissy sang "Cissy" and Whitney "Aretha".

Whitney's "coming-out" performance took place at Sweetwaters,[29] whereupon she was signed by Clive Davis for Arista Records.

In 1985, the small UK independent label Glitter released a single, "With You I Could Have It All" and "Whatcha Gonna Do About Our Love". The 12-inch single featured both a ballad and a dance version of the song.

Gospel soloist and duetsEdit

In 1996, Houston received the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Face to Face, an album that contained a Gospel version of "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)".

The same year she contributed one song to the gospel soundtrack album for the film The Preacher's Wife, which starred her daughter Whitney Houston.

In 1998, she won her second Grammy for her album He Leadeth Me.

She has also continued to record infrequent secular material and in 1987, Houston and her daughter Whitney recorded a duet titled "I Know Him So Well", a cover of the original by Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige from the Broadway show, Chess. This song also became a single in early 1989 as the 6th and last single release (in selected European countries) from Whitney's album Whitney. In 1992 she teamed up with Chuck Jackson for an album of solo and duet recordings entitled I'll Take Care of You.

In 2006, she recorded the song "Family First" with niece Dionne Warwick and daughter Whitney Houston for the soundtrack to the movie Daddy's Little Girls.

In 2010, Cissy attended the third annualBET Honors with her daughter Whitney, who received the entertainment award.

In 2012, Cissy performed "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at the tribute for her daughter at the BET Music Awards.

On September 29, 2014, at 81 years old, Cissy sangBACKUP to a standing-ovation performance with Aretha Franklin of Adele's - "Rolling in the Deep' and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on the Late Show with David Letterman.[30]

New Hope Baptist Church Youth Inspirational ChoirEdit

For more than fifty years, Houston has led the 200-member Youth Inspirational Choir at the New Hope Baptist Church.[11] She is driving force behind and performs annually at the McDonald's Gospelfest.


With the Drinkard SingersEdit

Year Album Record label
1958 A Joyful Noise RCA Records/Victor

With the Sweet InspirationsEdit

See Sweet Inspirations Discography


Year Album Record label
1970 Presenting Cissy Houston Major Minor Records
1977 Cissy Houston Private Stock Records
1978 Think It Over PrivateSTOCK Records
1979 Warning-Danger Columbia Records
1980 Step Aside For A Lady Columbia Records
1992 I'll Take Care of You Shanachie Records
1996 Face To Face House of Blues
1997 He Leadeth Me A&M Records
2001 Love Is Holding You Neon
2012 Walk on By Faith Harlem Records


Year Album Record label
1995 Midnight Train to Georgia: Janus Years Ichiban Records
1999 Cissy Houston & Whitney Houston Delta Music
2000 The Definitive Collection Connoisseur Records
2005 Cissy Houston Collection Intersound


Year Title Artist
1975 Discothèque Herbie Mann
1975 Waterbed Herbie Mann
1976 Surprises Herbie Mann, featuring Cissy Houston
1992 I'll Take Care of You Chuck Jackson & Cissy Houston


Year Film/Show Song
1996 A Time to Kill "Take My Hand, Precious Lord"
1996 The Preacher's Wife: Original Soundtrack Album "The Lord Is My Shepherd"
1998 Late Show with David Letterman, December 23 episode "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
2007 Daddy's Little Girls Original Movie Soundtrack "Family First"

Backing vocalsEdit

Year Album Artist Track (only)
1965 The Exciting Wilson Pickett Wilson Pickett "In the Midnight Hour"
1967 Electric Ladyland The Jimi Hendrix Experience "Burning of the Midnight Lamp"
1968 Lady Soul Aretha Franklin "Ain't No Way", "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone"
1970 The Source Jimmy Scott
1970 Brook Benton Today Brook Benton
1970 Doin' What We Wanna Clarence Wheeler
1970 Moondance Van Morrison
1970 Taking Care of Business James Cotton
1970 Right On Wilson Pickett
1971 Blacknuss Rahsaan Roland Kirk
1971 Donny Hathaway Donnie Hathaway
1971 Burt Bacharach Burt Bacharach
1971 Homeless Brother Don McLean
1971 Paul Simon Paul Simon "Mother and Child Reunion"
1971 Quiet Fire Roberta Flack
1971 Second Movement Eddie Harris and Les McCann
1971 Movin' On Oscar Brown, Jr.
1971 Story Teller Brook Benton
1972 Salome Bey Sings Songs From Dude Galt MacDermot and Gerome Ragni and Salome Bey
1972 The Divine Miss M Bette Midler "Do You Wanna Dance?"
1972 Jackie Jackie DeShannon
1972 Zulema Zulema
1972 Sweet Revenge John Prine "Sweet Revenge", "Mexican Home"
1973 Laid Back Gregg Allman
1974 Heart Like a Wheel Linda Ronstadt
1974 I've Got the Music in Me Kiki Dee "I've Got Music in Me"
1974 The Doctor Is In... and Out Yusuf Lateef "Technological Homosapien"[31]
1974 Young Americans David Bowie "Young Americans"
1976 Boys in the Trees Carly Simon
1976 Locked In Wishbone Ash
1976 We're Children of Coincidence and Harpo Marx Dory Previn
1977 Garden of Love Light Narada Michael Walden
1977 Monkey Island The J. Geils Band
1978 Chaka Chaka Khan "I'm Every Woman"
1979 Movin' On Vicki Sue Robinson
1979 Take All Of Me Barbara Law
1980 Aretha Aretha Franklin
1980 Naughty Chaka Khan


1980 Naughty Chaka Khan[33] "Papillion (Hot Butterfly)"
1981 Freeze Frame The J. Geils Band "Angel in Blue"
1982 Forever, for Always, for Love Luther Vandross
1982 Silk Electric Diana Ross
1985 The Night I Fell in Love Luther Vandross
1985 Whitney Houston Whitney Houston
1987 Whitney Whitney Houston
1990 Some People's Lives Bette Midler "From a Distance"
1991 Power of Love Luther Vandross
1995 This Is Christmas Luther Vandross "This is Christmas"
2003 Dangerously In Love Beyoncé "Dangerously In Love 2"

Musical arrangementsEdit

Year Track Album
1976 "Angels" Cissy Houston
1996 "The Lord Is My Shepherd" The Preacher's Wife: Original Soundtrack Album

Musical compositionsEdit

Year Title Collaborator
1997 "Count Your Blessings"
1996 "Deep River/Campground" Donny Harper
1976 "Endless Waters" David Forman



  • 1978: The Wiz (uncredited voice) – The Wiz Singers Adult Choir
  • 1984: Taking My Turn (TV)
  • 1994: TheVERNON Johns Story (TV) as Rose
    • aka Freedom Road: TheVERNON Johns Story (UK)
    • aka The Road to Freedom: TheVERNON Johns Story (USA: alternative title)
  • 1996: The Preacher's Wife as Mrs. Havergal


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