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Emily Cissy Drinkard Houston (born September 30, 1933), better known as Cissy Houston, is a Grammy Award winning American soul and gospel singer. She led a very successful career as a backup singer for such artists as Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin, and is now primarily a solo artist. She is the mother of singer and actress Whitney Houston and aunt of Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick.

Born in Newarkmarker, New Jerseymarker, Houston was the youngest of eight children of parents Nicholas (aka Nitch) and Delia Drinkard. In 1938 when Houston was 5 years old her mother, Delia, suffered a stroke and died of cerebral hemorrhage three years later. Her father, Nitch, later died of stomach cancer in 1951 when Houston was 18.

As a child, Houston joined her sister Anne and brothers Larry and Nicky in the gospel singing group the Drinkard Four in 1938. Houston's sister, Lee (who would later become the mother of singers Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick), later joined the group along with Ann Moss and Marie Epps, and the group was renamed The Drinkard Singers. Houston and the Drinkard Singers regularly performed at New Hope Baptist Church and later recorded a live album for RCA called A Joyful Noise.

Shortly after her father's death, Houston married her first husband in 1954 at the age of 21. The two were divorced two years later while Houston was pregnant with her first son, Gary. Still pregnant, Houston met Army serviceman John Houston, and the two were married in 1959.

In 1963, then about to give birth to daughter Whitney Houston, she formed the Sweet Inspirations with Doris Troy and niece Dee Dee Warwick. Later members (and the ones she recorded with on the Atlantic label) were Sylvia Shemwell, Estelle Brown and Myrna Smith. Throughout the mid-1960s, the group provided backup vocals for several artists, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, Otis Redding, The Drifters, Jimi Hendrix, and Van Morrison (for "Brown Eyed Girl"). Houston is the operatic soprano in the background on Franklin's hit, "Ain't No Way". The group also sang backup for Elvis Presley in Las Vegasmarker on his return to live performances during July and August 1969, and for Cissy's niece Dionne Warwick.

Houston left the Sweet Inspirations in 1969 to pursue a solo career although she continued to be in demand as a session singer. She was signed by Commonwealth United and recorded a well-received album in 1970 and several hit singles shortly thereafter, including covers of "I'll Be There" and "Be My Baby". After her contract was sold to Janus Records in the early 1970s, Houston recorded several more singles in the mid-1970s, including the disco hit "Think It Over", produced by Michael Zager (Let's All Chant) in 1979, and still more under the Private Stock label years later. She also represented USA at the World Popular Song Festival in 1979, with a track called "You're The Fire" from her disco-album "Step Aside For A Lady", landing at the, winning the "Most Outstanding Performance Award".

She has remained in demand as singer and has the ability to sing in several genres. She is featured on three tracks "Mexican Divorce", "All Kinds of People" & "One Less Bell to Answer" on Burt Bacharach's 1971 solo album. She worked with jazz flute-player Herbie Mann on two Atlantic albums Waterbed & Surprise (1975-76) featuring on three tracks "Violet Don't Be Blue", "Cajun Moon" and "Easter Rising".

In addition to her work as choirmaster at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, Cissy performed frequently at clubs in NYC including Mikell's, Sweetwaters, Seventh Avenue South, and Fat Tuesday from the late 1970s through the 1980s. Among the many fine musicians who played with her (it was always clear that Cissy herself led the band) were many fantastic backup singers. One backup "constant" was her daughter, Whitney. As time went on, Cissy allowed Whitney a solo. At one point "Evergreen", the Streisand hit, was the preferred solo. To the surprise of the uninitiated, this slight, beautiful young woman would tear it up, bringing down the house: it was clear that Cissy was passing the torch. More than once they collaborated on "Ain't No Way" (originally a Cissy/Aretha masterpiece), wherein Cissy sang "Cissy" and Whitney sang "Aretha". Whitney's "coming out" performance took place at Sweetwaters (Amsterdam Avenue between 67th & 68th Streets - defunct as are the other cited venues), whereupon Whitney was signed by Clive Davis /Arista Records.

In the mid 1980s, she released a 12" single in the UK, With You I Could Have It All. The single featured both a ballad and a dance version of the title song, and was released on the Glitter label.

She returned to her gospel roots in the 1990s with substantial acclaim. In 1996 she received the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Face to Face an album that contained a gospelised version of ""How Sweet It Is "" and she won the award again in 1998 for her album He Leadeth Me. In 1996 she also contributed one song to the gospel soundtrack album for the film "The Preacher's Wife" which was starring her daughter Whitney Houston.

She has also continued to record infrequent secular material and in 1987, Houston and her daughter Whitney recorded a duet titled "I Know Him So Well", a cover of the original by Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige from the Broadway show, Chess. This song also became a single in early 1989 as the 6th and last single release (in selected European countries) from Whitney's album "Whitney". In 1992 she teamed up with Chuck Jackson for an album of solo and duet recordings entitled I'll Take Care of You.

In 2006, she recorded the song "Family First" with niece Dionne Warwick and daughter Whitney Houston for the soundtrack to the movie Daddy's Little Girls.

Cissy Houston broke her ankle in 2009. She was seen walking with a cane on whilst she attended the pre-Grammy party to watch her daughter Whitney Houston perform.

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