Whitney had a childhood most little girls only dreamed of: music, lights, and performing with musical legends. But it wasn’t all roses. Her parents traveled a lot. When she wasn’t accompanying them on tour, she and her brother, Gary, lived with different family members.
During these stays, the two siblings were allegedly harmed by their cousin, singer Dee Dee Warwick. Years later, a posthumous documentary by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald titled “Whitney” (2018) revealed the scale of the early mistreatment and other shocking allegations.
A Shy but Talented Young Lady
Performing on stage came naturally to an otherwise quiet Whitney. She began singing when she was five years old, and she could also play the piano so there was no denying her exceptional musical talent.
When she turned 14, she started singing backup for her mother in several New York City cabaret clubs. In 1977, Whitney sang backup on Michael Zager Band's "Life's a Party." Michael was bowled over and even offered her a recording contract, but her mother Cissy declined, wanting Whitney to finish school first.
Born for the Spotlight
Young Whitney never wanted to be in the spotlight. She was perfectly content being a backup singer. Her only wish was to get to perform duets with her mother. Singing backup felt safe for an extremely shy Whitney, but the path she had envisioned for herself changed, slowly but surely. Thanks to her mother, she met and sang background vocals for big names in the music business.
Among them was Chaka Khan and her 1975 smash hit "I’m Every Woman." Whitney was only 15 at the time. She would later transform the song into a chart-topping number on her soundtrack album to "The Bodyguard."
A Great Voice and She's a Looker
Whitney did a brief stint in 1980 as a teen magazine model before her music career took off. When she was 16, a modeling agency discovered her at Carnegie Hall. The agent approached her, asking her if she was a model. To which Whitney replied that she had never done any of that stuff.
The guy responded with, "Well, you should." So Whitney decided to roll with it. She became the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine.
Her Modeling Career
Whitney eventually joined the prestigious Wilhelmina modeling agency. Still innocent and sweet but ever the professional, Whitney appeared on the pages of the biggest magazines at the time, including Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Glamour, and Young Miss.
The budding model wasn’t industry-savvy. She would arrive at photo shoots in the clothes she wore to school and was reportedly asked to do homework between shoots too! But what she lacked in experience, she more than made up for with hard work and the now-familiar million-dollar smile.