Photographer Bette Marshall was in the audience at one of Cissy Houston’s shows in New York, one night when the gospel singer gave way to a young backup singer. After the girl finished her sexy solo, Houston introduced the singer to the crowd: her daughter, a Whitney Houston before fame.
Marshall realized that the young Houston was on the verge of a successful career, and after the show told the Houston family that she was interested in capturing her moment. The photographer went to the Houston family home in New Jersey and took her first portraits of the singer.
In February, Marshall will release a collection of those early photographs in her book “Young Whitney,” an intimate portrait of the pop icon who passed away nearly 10 years ago on the 11th. February 2012. Marshall pays tribute to the singer through personal photos and essays – in the excerpt below, she recounts being invited to photograph Houston in the background of the music video “The Greatest Love of All” at the Apollo Theater in New York.
VERSION: “The best love of all videos” footage, 1986:
The Whitney that I photographed as a teenager was taking her first steps into the music industry, becoming a full-fledged superstar in three short years. When she signed a contract with Arista, the entire star generator was in full effect.
In 1985, Whitney burst onto the music scene. Her self-titled debut album “Whitney Houston” spent 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts and spawned three number-one hits: “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” and “Greatest Love.” of all.”
I was invited to be the image on the set of the video “The Greatest Love of All” which was filming at the Apollo Theatre. This will be my first chance to photograph superstar Whitney.
There’s something very fitting about the Apollo as the backdrop to Whitney’s video at this stage in her career, as other greats — Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday among them — have also enjoyed the stage. the Apollo segment early in their careers. From the outside, the Apollo Theater in Harlem looks like an ordinary building with a movie theater. But inside, its sacred halls and grandeur enthrall you.
When I entered, I noticed that the house was almost empty except for the bustling activity around the stage. I started to walk down the aisle, marveling at the plush red velvet chairs and gold trim, when Cissy spotted me and waved me out to the stage area.
Cissy appears in the video, playing — someone else — Whitney’s mother. I think the video, with its semi-biographical, life-imitating elements, is an appropriate tribute to Cissy. After all, she was instrumental in honing her daughter’s immense talent and was also the one who helped her rise to fame.
The previous scenes were filmed. These vignettes show Whitney recalling herself as a schoolgirl with her mother; then strolled backstage in a hip black leather jacket and gold tassel gloves; then put on makeup and sing in the mirror. Almost every frame takes full advantage of Whitney’s very young beauty.
Cissy showed me where to stand on one side of the stage to maximize the vantage point for the photos I was about to take. Then, Whitney appeared on stage for the performance of the shoot. Just like in the finished video, she wears a white beaded dress and sings “The Greatest Love of All”. And as in the video, the light seems to be coming from her.
Her look when she stepped out that day remains one of the looks most associated with Whitney Houston. I had trouble reconciling the woman in front of me with the Whitney I knew and photographed as a teenager. With her hair flowing and bouncy, Whitney exuded a new flair and sensuality, thanks to the striking slit in a dress that showed off one of her long legs. She still has that bright smile and amazing voice, but the incredible charm she exudes now is something new.
The pictures I took that afternoon show a young woman at the height of her beauty, power, and talent. Whitney’s transformation from a shy teenager to a great singer before my eyes was astounding.
Whitney spotted me, and her knowing smile created a fleeting moment of the girl I knew. She came up to me and hugged me, like always. We chatted briefly before she returned to the set, saying, “Now I have to be Whitney Houston.”
What a ride he’s had, I think, since that fateful night at Sweetwater’s. I got my first glimpse of this new world – Whitney’s World – but I missed the personal connection that made my earlier sessions with her so memorable. Whitney is now a full-fledged star. I will never be able to recall the intimacy of our first sessions—whether at home or at church, in auditions or in the recording studio. That was the last time I took a picture of her.
Excerpted from “Young Whitney” by Bette Marshall. The book published by Cinergistik will be sold exclusively at the Grammy Museum Store.
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https://wwd.com/eye/lifestyle/young-whitney-houston-photography-book-excerpt-bette-marshall-1235040201/ Read an Excerpt From “Young Whitney” by Bette Marshall – WWD