Ms. Houston was scheduled to attend a gala at the hotel on the eve of Sunday’s Grammy Awards program. The party had been organized by Clive Davis, the record executive who discovered her in the mid-1980s.
With a choir-trained voice of vast power and brilliant tone, Ms. Houston, the winner of six Grammys, was widely recognized as one of the greatest pop vocalists. She was cited as a major influence on such top-selling artists as Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Boyz II Men and Beyonce, as well as the many “American Idol” contestants who tried to mimic her seemingly infinite vocal range.
Ms. Houston was 22 when her debut album, “Whitney Houston,” was released in 1985. By 1986, it had sold more than 5 million copies, topping sales records set by Tina Turner and Donna Summer.
With her “fire-and-steel voice,” Ms. Houston made “commercial ballads . . . transcend romantic cliches to become hymns of faith in a love that goes beyond the secular,” New York Times music critic Stephen Holden wrote of the album.
She was quickly recognized as the obvious and rightful successor to pop-gospel stars such as Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.
To many observers of the entertainment industry, it was only fitting, if not foreordained, that Ms. Houston should attain such stature. She was born into musical aristocracy. Gospel singer Cissy Houston was her mother, Franklin was her godmother and Warwick was a first cousin.
Cissy Houston was the choirmaster at the Baptist church in New Jersey where Ms. Houston made her earliest public appearances. Cissy Houston also had sung backup to Franklin and other prominent soul artists of the time.
For Ms. Houston, Franklin was a role model. The older singer “brought such great emotion to her music,” Ms. Houston once told an interviewer. “I wanted to make people feel the same way about my music.”
At the outset of her career, Ms. Houston distinguished herself from pop stars whose renown seemed to spring, at least in part, from their wild-child behavior. She achieved her greatest popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s with inspirational and sometimes sentimental selections about overcoming adversity and undying romantic loyalty.
One of the songs on her debut album, “Greatest Love of All,” by Michael Masser and Linda Creed, remained a staple throughout her career. “No matter what they take from me,” goes the song’s memorable lyric, “they can’t take away my dignity.’’