Aretha’s connection to the “I Will Always Love You” singer began through Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston, who was part of a sessions group called the Sweet Inspirations in the 1960s. Dionne Warwick was in the group during its original lineup, but her cousin Cissy took over for her once Warwick’s solo career began to take off. The Sweet Inspirations sang backup on Dionne’s classic “Don’t Make Me Over”.
The Sweet Inspirations did backup vocal work with Franklin (among others, including Van Morrison on his hit “Brown Eyed Girl”) in the ’60s, and Cissy and Aretha struck up a lifelong friendship during this time. (Interesting side note: a later incarnation of the group sang the gospel choir parts on The Killers’ Hot Fuss single “All These Things That I’ve Done” and album track “Andy, You’re A Star”.)
Franklin eventually became godmother to Whitney, and after the latter’s career took off in the ’80s, the pair teamed up on the 1989 single “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”. Unfortunately, the Albert Hammond- and Diane Warren-co-written tune stalled just outside the Top 40 (at #41) on the Hot 100 chart.
Aretha Franklin & Whitney Houston — “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”
Franklin later joined Houston on stage — along with Brandy, CeCe Winans, Mary J. Blige and Chaka Khan — at the 1997 Grammy Awards during a memorable medley of songs from the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack.
This past Monday, Aretha paid tribute to her late goddaughter by performing “I Will Always Love You” during a private concert at Charlotte, North Carolina’s McGlohon Theater. Part of the way into the song, Franklin began to improvise and sing emotional, impromptu lyrics about Houston.
Aretha sings “I Will Always Love You” at a private concert earlier this week
“Pray for her family, for her mother,” Franklin said at the concert. “She was a daughter, a wife, a Christian, a singer… a dear family friend.”
Whitney Houston’s funeral, which is to be streamed live online, will be held at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark on Saturday, and will be a private, invitation-only event.