Rather than dwell on the trials and tribulations she faced throughout her lauded career, Whitney Houston's death is a chance to reflect on her achievements at past Grammy ceremonies -- she won six awards and was nominated 26 times -- namely in 1986, 1988 and 1994.
Looking back on the artists she competed against in categories like Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year, she was surrounded by a wealth of acclaimed female singers and songwriters -- Madonna, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton among them.
Today, in many of the same categories, the pool is littered with pop newcomers and veteran artists whose songs and albums touch on human emotion but don't come close to tugging at the heartstrings the way Houston's lyrics did in the late '80s and early '90s. Plus, she never needed to reinvent herself to gain recognition.
The New Jersey-born chanteuse had kept a classic look -- gently curled tresses, a bright smile and elegant style -- from year to year and let her music speak for itself. No out-of-this-world get-ups or pink hair, just brilliant talent. Today's pop stars rely on a different formula. They opt for constant changes in hairstyle and wardrobe, in addition to their lyrics, to help their climb up the charts. Sometimes it works (Rihanna), sometimes it's bizarre (Lady Gaga) and sometimes there's just no need (Adele).
As Sunday's Grammy Awards get underway, Record of the Year finds Adele ('Rolling in the Deep'), Bon Iver ('Holocene'), Bruno Mars ('Grenade'), Mumford & Sons ('The Cave') and Katy Perry ('Firework') up for the coveted trophy, while Album of the Year sees Rihanna ('Loud'), Adele ('21'), Foo Fighters ('Wasting Light'), Lady Gaga ('Born This Way') and Bruno Mars ('Doo-Wops & Hooligans') vying for the win. This shows the boys and girls on a relatively equal playing field, but Houston didn't get the same game 26 years ago.
In 1986, Houston's self-titled debut album -- remember 'Greatest Love of All,' 'You Give Good Love' and 'Saving All My Love For You'? -- was nominated for Album of the Year. Although she lost, she was the sole female nominee in a sea of men: Dire Straits ('Brothers in Arms'), Sting ('The Dream of the Blue Turtles'), USA for Africa ('We Are the World/The Album') and Phil Collins ('No Jacket Required'), who took home the win.
Her album, which centered on the different aspects of love, didn't earn that award, but it proved that music with a positive message, supplied by a vibrant voice, had a place. Houston, however, did take home the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance for her song 'Saving All My Love for You' that year. She was up against Madonna ('Crazy for You'), Linda Ronstadt ('Lush Life'), Pat Benatar ('We Belong') and Tina Turner ('We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)'). She was also nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance for 'For the Love of You,' though Aretha Franklin's 'Freeway of Love' bested her. This era of music was deeply rooted in matters of the heart.
When looking at Sunday night's Best Pop Vocal Performance nominees -- Adele ('Someone Like You'), Lady Gaga ('You and I'), Bruno Mars ('Grenade'), Katy Perry ('Firework') and Pink ('F---in Perfect') -- the songs pale in comparison to the smash hit that won Houston the award in 1988, 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).' That year, Suzanne Vega ('Luka'), Barbra Streisand ('One Voice'), Belinda Carlisle ('Heaven Is a Place on Earth') and Carly Simon ('Coming Around Again') were all nominees. She earned the golden gramophone at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards for that category, but she didn't win Album of the Year or Best R&B Vocal Performance, two other categories she was nominated in.
Six years later, at the 36th Annual Grammy Awards in 1994, Houston would come out victorious, winning Album of the Year for 'The Bodyguard Original Soundtrack' and Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance for 'I Will Always Love You,' the lead single off that project. Once again, love prevailed. For Album of the Year, her 'Bodyguard Soundtrack,' which has sold more than 44 million copies worldwide and was certified 17-times platinum, faced Donald Fagen ('Kamakiriad'), Billy Joel ('River of Dreams'), Sting ('If I Ever Lose My Faith in You') and Neil Young ('Harvest Moon').
So what does traveling back in time to review Houston's Grammy accolades really mean? Her undeniable knack for producing sonic gems shows that she came from an era of music when talent was based less on theatrics and reinvention and more on vocal star power. Her lyrical content covered love in its many forms -- heartbreak, flirtation and romance, among others -- without banality.
Adele and Bruno Mars' nominations at this year's Grammy Awards are relevant to the groundwork Houston laid as a previous winner. Their respective "love" songs, 'Rolling in the Deep' and 'Grenade,' are a testament to Houston's legacy; she was an entertainer who sang from the heart. It's a quality very much needed in today's pop spectrum, and it's one that will be dearly missed with Houston's passing.