Whitney Houston couldn’t speak when she met Elvis – Family connection

I Wanna Dance with Somebody: Trailer for Whitney Houston film

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The new Whitney biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody, starring Naomi Ackie, is out today, reminding us that she wasn’t just one of the greatest pop stars of all time, she was all one of the greatest natural vocalists. And yet, even she was struck dumb when she met The King. She recalled: “You don’t say anything, you just look.” The unique moment actually came about thanks to Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston, who also recalled her own very precious relationship with Elvis.

Whitney recalled meeting the rock and roll icon in 1969: “You don’t really meet Elvis. You actually just look at Elvis Ok?

“My mother sang with Elvis for years. She and her group were called The Sweet Inspirations. They also sang for Aretha (Franklin) for many, many years. In most of the Sixties they were on all Aretha songs. Elvis took a liking to them and my mum sang with him for many years and they were very close.

“I just remember at one point being in a room… We were all in this room, my mother, the singers, the usual backstage thing. He just walked into the room with his mink on, with his glasses on.”

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Whitney was only seven at the time, but this wasn’t the reason she was reduced to stunned silence.

She added: “He said something but you don’t say anything, you just look. It was one of those moments I won’t forget as a kid. It wasn’t like, ‘Hi Mr Elvis nice to meet you.’ We didn’t do that. We just sat back and looked at him.

“He was amazing to look at, amazing. Just to be in his presence was awesome.”

Whitney’s own fame and commercial success would far exceed her mother’s, but just before that incredible meeting she just remembered being extraordinarily proud of what Cissy was about to do with Elvis.

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On July 31, 1969, Elvis made his return to live performance after eight years, at the International Hotel, Las Vegas. The show would launch an electrifying new phase in his career and he wanted Cissy there with him.

While she was promoting The Bodyguard in 1992, Whitney recalled the moment Elvis asked her mother to sing with him.

She said: “I don’t remember how old I was but I remember my mother received a phone call saying he wanted the Sweets to come back for his 1969 comeback shows in Vegas. I remember my mother being very enthusiastic to do with it but very concerned that she would have to leave her children for a month.”

Cissy explained that “mummy and daddy had to go” to be able to provide for Whitney. Her father John Houston was her mother’s manager at the time. 

Whitney added: “I remember she really didn’t want to leave us but she had to go. I remember all the hoopla about Elvis in Vegas and I remember that I was very proud that my mother was there with him because it was a very big event.”

Cissy herself said: “We went to work for Elvis. It was wonderful, he was wonderful. I loved him. He was such a gentleman.

“When we got there it was nothing like we might have thought. It was just wonderful, really wonderful He was really into gospel, so every once in a while after rehearsal we’d just sing gospel and we had a good time. Good money and a nice atmosphere…”

She added: “Elvis loved gospel music. He was raised on it. And he really did know what he was talking about. He was singing Gospel all the time – almost anything he did had that flavour. You can’t get away from what your roots are.”

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Cissy said: “He was a wonderful person, so good-looking, so handsome, but he was fun, he cracked jokes. When you were singing he’d make you laugh.”

That first run in Vegas stretched to 57 shows and Elvis would tour nationwide as well as returning frequently to Las Vegas for the rest of his life.

Cissy, however, would leave the Sweet Temptations with Elvis for something even more important: “My children were getting bigger and I felt they really needed me home.”

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