Cissy Houston
National Visionary

Born September 30, 1933
in Newark, New Jersey

Grammy award-winning vocalist who mentored Dionne Warwick and her own daughter Whitney Houston

Grammy award-winning singer Cissy Houston is perhaps most well-known as the matriarch of a singing dynasty that includes her niece Dionne Warwick and her daughter Whitney Houston. Both got their starts in the junior choir of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey which Cissy has directed for decades and where she serves as the Minister of Music. But Cissy Houston achieved fame in her own right, performing for over fifty years with some of the most well-known and renown musicians in the world, including Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley.

A young Cissy Drinkard

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Houston, the youngest of eight children, was born Emily Drinkard on September 30, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey to Nitcholas ‘Nitch’ and Delia Mae (McCaskill) Drinkard. The Drinkard children attended revival-style weekday services where they discovered gospel music. At the age of five, Houston began singing with her sister Anne and two brothers Larry and Nicky. They formed the gospel singing group, the Drinkard Four, performing regularly at the New Hope Baptist Church. After graduating from Newark’s South Side High School, she and her group, now The Drinkard Singers, continued performing and were featured on a 1951 program at Carnegie Hall starring Mahalia Jackson.

Following her father’s death in 1955, Houston married her first husband, Freddie Garland and the couple had one child, Gary. Two years later, the two divorced and she met John Houston. Later that year, The Drinkard Singers breakthrough performance at the Newport Folk Festival led to the album A Joyful Noise on the RCA Victor label. The group included Houston’s nieces and their adopted sister Judy Guions (Clay). In 1959, Cissy and John Houston were married. Then, in 1963, while pregnant with her daughter Whitney Houston, she formed the Sweet Inspirations with Doria Troy and Dee Dee Warwick (Dionne’s sister), and over the course of the next few years they provided back up vocals to prominent artists including Aretha Franklin (Natural Woman) and Van Morrison (Brown Eyed Girl). The group released their debut album in 1967 and toured the country with Aretha Franklin and sang back up in Las Vegas with Elvis Presley.

Cissy & John Houston
Houston left the Sweet Inspirations in 1969 to pursue a solo career. She signed with Common United and produced several hit singles. Houston continued recording music throughout the 1970s and appeared as a choir singer in the 1978 film, The Wiz.

In the early 1980s, Whitney joined her mother while Cissy performed regular club dates in New York. In 1985, Whitney Houston’s first album won a Grammy Award and catapulted her to pop super stardom. In 1987, Whitney Houston’s second album, Whitney, was released, including the duet “I Know Him So Well,” recorded by Whitney and Cissy. In 1988, the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children was established, and Cissy was appointed president and CEO.

In 1992, Cissy was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Two years later, she was honored again, receiving two honorary doctorates, and on March 2, 1995, she received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. Houston won her first Grammy for “Face to Face” in 1996 and her second in 1998 for the all-gospel release, He Leadeth Me.

The proud grandmother of six, Houston remains active in both her community and the music industry. In 2005, she released a compilation CD, The Cissy Houston Collection, and in 2006, she recorded the song "Family First" with Dionne Warwick and Whitney Houston for the soundtrack to the movie Daddy's Little Girls. Additionally, she still leads the New Hope Baptist Church 200-plus member Youth Inspirational Choir and in 2004 she was honored by the church for 50 years of service.


Cissy Houston's Wikipedia page
Cissy Houston on Amazon

Eartha Kitt's Visionary Page

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