Nippy is 60: Whitney Houston’s Greatest Live Performances

Jordan Listenbee
22 Min Read
"Whitney Houston's Greatest Live Performances" graphic designed by @blvck_picasso

Whitney Elizabeth Houston lived a life that was akin to a Greek tragedy.

The world watched her reach dizzying heights and stunning lows. In admiration, the public saw Whitney Houston morph from a church girl from Newark, N.J. into an otherworldly Pop deity beloved by massive throngs of fans and peers alike. That audience soon balked at the slightest indication of Houston’s imperfections, fiercely rebuking her overly-documented history with ex-husband Bobby Brown, her long-rumored queerness, and admitted issues with substance use disorder. The public, abetted by the constant intrusion of the press, callously mocked her struggles, claiming in one breath to be concerned for her well-being while simultaneously waiting for her next misstep.

When the protagonist of this Greek tragedy perished at just 48 years old, the public mourned, though they did not attempt to hide their disdain for choices made in her private life. Though she retains the record for the most consecutive number-one hits on the Billboard charts, is the third best-selling recording artist of all time, and is one of the most highly decorated artists of all time, her legacy serves as more of a cautionary tale than that of the musical titan she rightfully was, and remains.

It’s time for the narrative to change.

Whitney Houston’s death is not the end of her story, nor is it the embodiment of her life. The unshakable truth is that Houston was one of the greatest entertainers that ever graced the earth. With joyful noise, the instrument that emanated from her very being was indeed an act of the divine. An expression of love that came from the higher power she so deeply loved. While in use, that instrument brought you closer to HIM. Whitney Houston’s talent was not of this world, which is the true culmination of who she was and is. The following is a deeper look into Whitney Houston’s greatest live performances, curated by her fans in loving memory.

Whitney Houston’s Greatest Live Performances

“I Loves You Porgy”/, “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)”/“I Have Nothing” at the 21st Annual American Music Awards, 1994

Performed on the same night Houston took home a record eight awards (a feat only matched by Michael Jackson), this performance is the closest to perfection that anyone on this Earth will ever come. To sing one of these songs (well) individually is a task that challenges even the most experienced vocalists. Houston seamlessly weaves all three songs together without breaking a sweat (albeit her signature bead of slight perspiration on her upper lip. Stage lights are hot!). During each of these songs, Houston uses her supreme skills to accurately pull off each transition vocally, while simultaneously portraying the emotional differences within each of them, physically.

Starting with “I Loves You Porgy,” a standout penned by Gershwin & Gershwin for the opera Porgy & Bess, she entices her captive audience into a lusty seduction absent from her earlier stage work. It is the perfect foil to Houston’s fiery rendition of “And I Am Telling You, (I’m Not Going),” an iconic tune from the 1981 Broadway hit production “Dreamgirls,” which is my preference between the first two selections of this set. The song, synonymously associated with vocal giant Jennifer Holliday, would undoubtedly be intimidating for most singers; however, Houston devours the piece with a ferocity that illustrates her innate vocal superiority and technique. This may be a hot take, but I prefer Houston’s version to Ms. Holliday’s.

One of the nuances of Houston’s set is that each selection is an iconic love ballad. Watching her masterfully breeze through these above songs as she approaches the final act of this performance, Houston’s Olympian-like stamina had the audience in a trance. For the finale, she performed her 1992 hit, “I Have Nothing,” from the mega-blockbuster film, “The Bodyguard,” wherein, just like her movie counterpart Rachel Marron, Houston becomes the fully realized Pop empress, with the audience merely being her adoring subjects. With them in the palm of her hands, she transitions from lightly caressing her vocals and phrasing during particular parts of the ballad to plummeting to the guttural parts of her lower register, only to just as quickly ascend to the highest peaks of her memorable falsetto. Two years removed from the single’s initial release, Houston not only solidified this song’s place among the best in her catalog of hits but of any recorded in the 20th century. Houston was as confident as she was elegant throughout, and using “Nothing” as the set’s closer further cemented the track’s impact. Ultimately, we are left with nearly 10 minutes of superb, uninterrupted, anointed singing. The enormity of this triumphant performance was indicative of Houston’s astronomical success at that time. It was Whitney’s world; we were all just living in it.

“The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV, 1991

Set at the height of America’s involvement in the Persian Gulf War, Houston performed this song at Tampa Stadium with approximately 73,813 in attendance and an additional 73 million people watching globally. According to longtime musical director Ricky Minor, Houston intended for her rendition of the song to be of similar impact to Marvin Gaye’s soulful performance at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. While Minor has since confirmed that the music was pre-recorded (a precaution used to avoid audio issues during the live broadcast), Houston’s effort has become the most well-known cover of The National Anthem and one of the most memorable moments in television history.

Like Gaye’s interpretation, Minor modified the song’s original 6/8 time signature into 4/4, commonly used in more African-American-derived music. In doing so, Minor afforded Houston enough room to utilize the full extent of her wide vocal range while also allowing her to infuse the song with a Gospel element that’d never been heard before. Ironically Houston, who had not listened to the provided modified instrumental of the track before its recording, nailed Minor’s arrangement in just a singular take.

Three years after her infamous appearance at the 1988 Soul Train Music Awards, in which the majority black audience booed her after claims of “selling out” (I’m talking to you, Al Sharpton) to white audiences, Houston had successfully reclaimed her blackness throughout her creative output and overall public persona. What is most telling about this point is that one of Whitney Houston’s greatest live performances finds her in her most natural state. Eschewing the evening gown suggested by her team in favor of her famous red, white, and blue tracksuit, Houston looks as patriotic as she does relatable, a fact that I hope the audience that once so venomously booed her at Soul Train appreciated. She was always that girl from Newark, and nothing could change that. Her showing was as joyful as it was yearning; joy in the expression of this black woman’s gifts while longing for freedom that has never been fully allowed for so many black people past and present. It’s hard for me to speak positively on the song’s supposed theme of freedom, as divisiveness and inequality continue to attack the moral fabric of this country. However, watching this always transports me to where I can at least hope things will improve. Most importantly, a black woman did that. KNOW THIS!

“The Greatest Love of All” from Welcome Home Heroes With Whitney Houston, 1991

This could very well be sacrilegious, but “The Greatest Love of All” has not always been a favorite Whitney tune of mine. Growing up in a household where the 1988 film Coming To America was in consistent rotation, my primary association with the song was tied to Eddie Murphy’s hilarious version sung in the movie. My immature brain wrote the original off as corny and unsuited for my more soulful musical preferences. I later learned of the song’s origin, and my views began to soften.

Initially written in 1977 for the Muhammad Ali biopic “The Greatest,” songwriters Martin Masser and Linda Creed crafted the song during Creed’s terminal fight with breast cancer, one that she’d lose nine years later. A proper coping mechanism during her illness, Creed hoped the lyrics would inspire others to thrive in adversity, specifically children. Still, I held on to that opinion until I watched this stunning 1991 rendition.

In a benefit concert staged to welcome home over 3,000 servicemen and women from The Gulf War, Houston’s voice had fully matured by this period of her career, and she’d begun to take more risks with her onstage vocal delivery. Gone were the restrictive days of mimicking herself to sound like she did on wax, and she takes several artistic liberties with the song that makes it far superior to the original release. Houston’s chilling ad-libs and vocal control are put to work here, an impressive feat given that it was the penultimate song on the vocally acrobatic setlist she’d performed that night. The most notable moment of the performance is when Houston brings an adorable young fan on the stage to serenade him in the spirit of Linda Creed’s aspirations for the song’s impact. Wherever that young man is, I hope he made something of himself because Whitney and Linda told him to!

“All The Man That I Need” from Welcome Home Heroes With Whitney Houston, 1991

I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched this one, for it is easily one of the most outstanding examples of Houston’s extraordinary falsetto and immense vocal power. The album version was exceptional, a standout from her 1992 career-changing album “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” However, this live performance, along with many other iterations of it sung during this era, eclipses Houston’s studio recording and the original incarnation of the track, released in 1981 by Linda Clifford.

This performance, along with the famous “Love Medley” (also included in this list) that preceded it, is possibly the highlight of a supremely high-quality concert and finds Houston as she reaches her vocal peak mid-performance. The dramatic incantation of Houston’s repetition of the phrase “I need,” punctuated by a nearly operatic tone and pitch, lend themselves to the reverent nature of the song’s lyrical theme.

While Houston was known for her expansive vocal tricks, none felt too showy or out of place. I’ve often wondered if Houston’s well-known religious beliefs played a role in her passionate delivery of this track; instead of Houston singing to a romantic partner, the song’s recipient is her creator. Her creator brought her there, and that creator was the only man Houston would ever need. This performance and the entire show’s production gave audiences a brief glimpse into the historical commercial success that Houston, and by proxy, the world, would experience in just one year.

“This Day,” from “Whitney Houston: This is My Life” TV special, 1992

As previously discussed, Houston’s relationship with the church was a significant facet of her life and career, even at their low points. Her devotion to her higher power and commitment to her professional pursuits were inextricably bound together, yet somehow at odds. Every musical note that ever left her body expressed the complexity of this internal struggle and Houston’s intense desire to live her life as a scripture-abiding Christian woman; despite her flaws.

Rewinding the clock to the “Bodyguard” era, “This Day” showcases Houston returning to the familiar well of her early childhood experiences from within the church. Flanked by the robust support of three backing vocalists and her band, one could be forgiven for assuming that her accompaniment was on a much larger scale for this cover of the Edwin Hawkins classic. In this instance, Houston starts the song softly, then gradually intensifies as she directs the band to the track’s climax. A staple in her live stage concerts at this point of her career, what I love most about this particular performance is her role as a choral mistress, guiding the arrangement in a manner similar to that of her mother, Cissy Houston. Her demeanor at the song’s conclusion was that of genuine adoration and praise, and it transports the listener back to Houston’s pre-showbiz days of singing at her church home, New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.

“I Love The Lord/“Joy To The World” at Ebony 50th Anniversary Celebration, 1996

Moving along to 1996, this performance of “I Love The Lord” and “Joy To The World,” from Houston’s soundtrack album, “The Preacher’s Wife,” may not be the most technically sound performance of her career, but the shining point is her genuine happiness during its latter section. Accompanied by The Georgia Mass Choir, Houston produces a deeper-toned, coarser take on the song than its album counterpart. The most enjoyable aspect of this is that, done intentionally or not, Houston’s delivery is that of one who has genuinely experienced hardship yet is still grateful for the blessings imparted to her, something that I relate to. Not every moment in our lives will find you at your best, but faith in whatever personal doctrine you ascribe to will drive you out of whatever obstacle is thrown your way. Let the church say Amen!

Remembering Nippy at 60, with 60

I’m unable to quantify the enormity of Whitney Houston’s contributions to the entertainment world. She was a businesswoman, humanitarian, and pioneer in the modern landscape of popular music. Nippy was for the girls, always striving to lift as she climbed and never dimming anyone else’s shine to bolster hers. Like every other living person on this planet, Whitney was imperfect. She was not above criticism, and she made questionable judgments in her life. But it was HER life. And it is that life and the many gifts that it left that should be revered, not the tragic ending she suffered. On this day, the 60th anniversary of the birth of this majestic creature, it is my sincere hope that we remember her with love, compassion, and appreciation.

Today, we celebrate… with 60 of Whitney Houston’s greatest live performances.

In further celebration of her 60th birthday, three of Whitney’s most iconic albums have been newly re-issued on vinyl:

The Preacher’s Wife

I’m Your Baby Tonight

My Love Is Your Love

Watch Whitney Houston’s Greatest Live Performances

  1. “I Loves You Porgy”/“And I Am Telling You”/“I Have Nothing”  (American Music Awards, 1994)
  2. I Will Always Love You” (GRAMMY Awards, 1994)
  3. “Saving All My Love For You” (GRAMMY Awards, 1986)
  4. “A Song For You” (Welcome Home Heroes, 1991)
  5. “All At Once” (American Music Awards, 1987)
  6. “I Am Changing” (Arista 10th Anniversary, 1984)
  7. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Top of the Pops, 1987)
  8. “One Moment In Time” (Atlanta, 1992)
  9. “How Will I Know” (MTV, 1986)
  10. “I’m Every Woman” (Concert for a New South Africa, 1994)
  11. “I Say A Little Prayer” (with Natalie Cole, 1990)
  12. “The Star Spangled Banner” (Super Bowl, 1992)
  13. “The Greatest Love of All” (Welcome Home Heroes, 1991)
  14. “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (Arsenio Hall Show, 1991)
  15. “It Hurts Like Hell” (Poland, 1991)
  16. “Home” (Merv Griffin Show, 1983)
  17. “When You Believe” (with Mariah Carey, Academy Awards, 1999)
  18. “For The Love Of You” (California, 1987)
  19. “So Emotional” (Japan, 1991)
  20. “I Belong To You” (London, 1991)
  21. Love Medley: “Didn’t We Almost Have it All”/“A House Is Not A Home”/“Where Do Broken Hearts Go” (Welcome Home Heroes, 1991)
  22. “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)” (Brazil, 1994)
  23. “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” (Welcome Home Heroes, 1991)
  24. “Revelation is Here” (Brazil, 1994)
  25. “All The Man I Need” (Welcome Home Heroes, 1991)
  26. “This Day” (1992)
  27. “Queen of The Night” (Brunei, 1996)
  28. “Anymore” (Japan, 1991)
  29. Waiting to Exhale Medley (GRAMMY Awards, 1997)
  30. “Higher Love” (Japan, 1990)
  31. “In Return” (Japan, 1990)
  32. “I Learned From The Best” (Germany, 1999)
  33. “Heartbreak Hotel” (with Kelly Price & Faith Evans, Rosie O’Donnell Show, 1998)
  34. “Jesus Loves Me” (Rio de Janeiro, 1994)
  35. “Ain’t No Way” (with Mary J. Blige, VH1 Diva’s Live, 1999)
  36. “You Give Good Love” (Soul Train Awards, 1987)
  37. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (with Natalie Cole)
  38. “A Quiet Place” (1987)
  39. “I Love The Lord”/“Joy To The World” (ft. The Georgia Mass Choir, Ebony 50th Anniversary, 1996)
  40. “That’s What Friends Are For” (with Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, & Dionne Warwick, Soul Train Awards, 1987) 
  41. “We Didn’t Know” (with Stevie Wonder, Arsenio Hall, 1990) 
  42. “Lover for Life” (Brunei, 1995)
  43. “Something in Common” (duet with Bobby Brown, Soul Train Awards, 1994)
  44. “Just The Lonely Talking Again” (California, 1987)
  45. “Hold Up The Light” (with Bebe & Cece Winans, NAACP Image Awards, 1989)
  46. “Hold Me” (1987 rehearsal)
  47. “My Love is Your Love” (with Bobbi Kristina Brown, Germany, 1999)
  48. “Step By Step” (Italy, 1998)
  49. “I Look To You” (with Kim Burrell, BET Celebration of Gospel, 2011)
  50. “I Was Made To Love Him” (with Stevie Wonder, Diva’s Duets 2003)
  51. “Don’t Cry For Me” (Commitment For Life AIDS Benefit, 1994)
  52. “There’s Music In You” (Rosie O’Donnell, 1998)
  53. “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” (Germany, 1999)
  54. “One of Those Days” (Good Morning America, 2002)
  55. “Love Will Find A Way” (Texas, 1985)
  56. “Who Do You Love?” (Japan, 1991)
  57. “If Told You That” (Poland, 1999)
  58. “You’re a Friend of Mine” (with Dionne Warwick, Solid Gold, 1985)
  59. “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” (American Music Awards, 1999)
  60. “So Amazing” (Soul Train Awards, 1999)

Watch Whitney Houston’s Greatest Live Performances

Share this Article
Your fave’s favorite Gemini. New Jack Swing to Trap Queen.