Cissy Houston has helped to give the world a gift of some of the finest pop and soul music this side of Heaven during the last three decades.
She was the premiere background vocalist for a number of musical legends. She sang on most of the classic hits recorded by her legendary niece, Dionne Warwick, as well as hits by the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and others.
She also contributed backup vocals for her superstar daughter Whitney Houston's How Will I Know and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). Cissy enjoyed success as the lead singer of the '60s group The Sweet Inspirations with the Grammy-nominated hit Sweet Inspiration. Cissy later, as a solo artist, recorded such hits as Tomorrow and Think It Over.
Last year, she picked up a Grammy Award for her gospel album Face To Face.
While Cissy Houston has certainly added to some of the world's most loved music, she has given her superstar daughter Whitney two special gifts-a love for God and a gospel music foundation.
In her new book, How Sweet The Sound: My Life With God And Gospel, written with Jonathan Singer (Doubleday, $22.95), Cissy recalls the role God and gospel plays in her family's life.
"I'm not a preacher, I'm not any of that," she tells JET during a visit to Chicago to promote her new book. "I trust in God. I have things that I live by. I don't try to throw my religion or push my religion off on anybody. If I'm asked about certain things, then I'll tell them. I am willing to tell you the Word. I am willing to tell you what God wants us to do. We all fall short of that mark, and I know that. But this is why I am so glad I serve a forgiving and a merciful God. He gave His life for us. He's wonderful," she states.
She recalls how she was approached by Doubleday to write her memoirs. "It wasn't anything that I sought after. I was asked if I would be interested in writing a book. And I thought, `Book? Me?' Then I said, 'I might if I could write what I want to write about."'
[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: A Cissy Houston celebrates her family's gospel roots in new book, How Sweet The Sound: My Life With God And Gospel, written with Jonathan Singer.
She continues, "I know people are so interested to
know what you did on the road with this one and that one. I didn't want to write that
because whatever I did on the road, I've forgotten," she laughs. "I'm not
interested in that. I think it's lousy that people write about people who they worked
with. I think it's horrible. I did not want to do that. I said if I can
In the book she says she is so pleased that she taught Whitney and her two sons, Gary and Michael, a love for God.
She is particularly pleased that Whitney is "walking
close to God." She explains, "I've been on the road with her, in the same hotel
room and have awakened to the sound of her praying out on the balcony. She knows Him for
herself. When her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was born... I told Whitney what I've told all
my children: Unless you love God and yourself, you can't love anyone. I'm sorry that
sounds so strong but its true," she writes.
Cissy also gave daughter Whitney the gift of song, the ministry of music. Whitney began singing at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, where her mother led, and still leads, the choir. She taught her that if you can praise and worship God effectively through gospel music, you can sing any kind of music. Gospel is the foundation of Whitney's top-selling music today.
Whitney writes in the book's forward: "By taking me to church, my mother gave me two wonderful gifts: my foundation in gospel music and a godly heritage. This is what this book is all about gospel and God."
Whitney adds, "Between the covers of this book, you will also encounter my mother's irresistible wisdom and advice, most of which I took: pray and act (`Faith without works is dead') ..don't change your standards for anybody...and her constant theme song: `To thine own self be true."'
Cissy recalls in the book how Whitney's love for gospel moved her during the 1985 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Awards ceremony.
During her speech as she inducted Cissy, Whitney began to sing His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a song taught to her years ago in her mother's choir.
In the book, Cissy recalls Whitney's speech: "And something else my mother taught me, most importantly, Whitney ad-libbed, and broke into song: I sing because I'm happy. I sing because Jesus set me free...His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches over me.
Cissy writes, "She was starting to sing something she'd learned in my choir...I always associated it with my mother. But now that song spoke to me.
In the book, Cissy, who was born Emily Drinkard in Newark, NJ, details her life of growing up singing in church. She began her career at the age of 5 with the family group, The Drinkard Singers.
She also describes the pain of her parents' death and her divorce from Whitney's father, John Houston, after a 35-year marriage.
Cissy also talks about the downside of fame and how she feels the tabloids and other media outlets have mistreated and lied about her famous daughter throughout her career.
She tells JET: "You go through a lot of pain with all of the things that people say about my daughter. I get angry, and I want to go and smash them up a little bit," she laughs. "I'd love to have a press conference and tell them off, but I know that's a nono. I don't think that would be the thing to do. It's not even worth the retaliation. In the final analysis, I would still tell her to call upon her Power, and that is where we stand. As long as you call upon your Power, as long as you know that God is always there, they can't hurt you."
She adds, "This is a business where they build you up to tear you down. They figure, `You're getting too big" or whatever, or `Oh, something's got to be wrong here.' And then if it's not true, then they make it up. They go looking for something."
She states in the book that Whitney is also the target of such unfair and even racist scrutiny because "she is rich, young, beautiful and...Black."
Looking back over her life and the resurgence of her career, Cissy knows she has been blessed. She is proud of the gifts she has given her famous daughter: a love of God and a gospel music foundation.
"A lot of things I've done have come late in my life, and it's like a whole new career starting up," she notes. " I don't have any regrets about the way I planned and lived my life. I am very satisfied with the way I've lived my life and what I have done in my life. I am very proud of what I've become."
She adds, "I just look at God and how He does things. I'm not fretting about anything, just moving along."
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