Whitney Houston didn't have a single note in her lower register when Stevie Wonder introduced her to voice coach Gary Catona seven years ago.
'Her speaking and singing voice were completely hoarse,' he told me, when we spoke this week about the singer's untimely death. 'At her best, she had a three-and-a-half octave range.'
At certain moments during their lessons, he recalled, his former pupil managed to reach incredible vocal heights - but she couldn't sustain them.
'She had demons in her,' Catona told me sadly. 'She was many people in one, and it was a question of which one would appear — and when.'
Whitney wouldn't let anyone tell her what to do - but with her singing coach, she left her ego at the door.
I asked Catona what had damaged her voice. Was it physical? Or psychological?
'Purely physical,' he said, without a moment's hesitation. 'It was her extra-curricular activities. The vocal mechanism is made up of skin tissue and muscle. It doesn't do well when it's abused by smoke?.?.?. and other substances.'
But I wondered, too, about the psychological harm done by the serial adultery of Whitney's father, who often left his daughter and her mother to cope on their own, and the singer's own conflicts with her sexuality.
Catona, who has worked with everyone from Freddie Garrity, of Freddie And The Dreamers, to Seal, said showbusiness was to blame, too.
'Human beings were not designed to be viewed as perfect. When people tell you you're not only beautiful but perfect, that wreaks havoc on a person's life.'
I went back and listened to Whitney's first two albums again this week and I asked Catona why even the blandest, whitebread numbers somehow managed to be quite moving.
'She was the veritable embodiment of an art form, like a Sinatra or an Ella Fitzgerald,' he told me. 'Her distinctive vocal quality was compassion, so that when she sang, the emotions she generated resonated joy.'
Given more time, he believes he could have rescued her voice.
We may get a taste of the Whitney effect when the musical version of her film The Bodyguard opens at the Adelphi Theatre in November. Producers Michael Harrison and David Ian have been working on the project for several years, so they're not simply cashing in on the singer's death.
Thea Sharrock will direct Heather Headley in the role of the rock star Rachel Marron (the part Whitney played). All the songs featured in the movie, including I Will Always Love You, will be there, and that score will be augmented by a dozen other numbers that Whitney made famous.
I have seen and heard Ms Headley and her voice was made in heaven, too.
© Daily Mail, London
A brilliant and tragic life
LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) - Whitney Houston, who was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room last Saturday, rose from a gospel church choir in New Jersey to become one of the best-selling and most-admired female singers of all time.
With hits like "I Will Always Love You" -- the theme song of what was her film acting debut in "The Bodyguard" opposite Kevin Costner in 1992 -- and "The Greatest Love of All," Houston won six Grammys and more than 400 other awards in a 25-year career.
Her soaring voice influenced singers ranging from Beyonce and Alicia Keys to Mariah Carey and Celine Dion -- and inspired thousands of copy-cat performers on TV talent shows.
Her early successes also made her one of the first black artists, along with Michael Jackson, to find success on MTV. She later became the kind of singer and actress who could cross international barriers as well as ethnic ones.
"She had everything, beauty, a magnificent voice. How sad her gifts could not bring her the same happiness they brought us," singing legend Barbra Streisand said in a statement.
Critics hailed the range of her voice and the passion behind her performances.
But behind closed doors, her life was far from the romantic dreams she captured so brilliantly in her singing. She struggled for years with drug and alcohol problems, entering rehab again as recently as May 2011.
Her sudden death shocked the world as much as Jackson's passing from an overdose of sedatives and a powerful anesthetic in June 2009, at age 50. She joins a short list of brilliant singers -- Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse and Jackson -- whose lives were cut short by personal problems and drug abuse.
Houston died on the eve of the Grammy Awards, and just hours before she was due to attend the annual pre-Grammy party thrown by record producer Clive Davis -- the man who discovered her in a nightclub in the early 1980s and who guided her career through its many ups and downs.
Her death came just over two years after a 2009 comeback following the end of a turbulent 14-year marriage to singer Bobby Brown. She is survived by their daughter, Bobbi Kris.
BATTLING DRUGS, MAKING MUSIC
Houston brought a painful and public honesty to her personal struggles, admitting in a 2002 TV interview that she had used marijuana, cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs.
By 2009, as she released her first (and last) studio album in seven years with "I Look to You," she told talk show host Oprah Winfrey that her and Brown's drug of choice was marijuana mixed with cocaine.
She also described how when the two were high, he would break glass objects and at one point he painted what she called "evil eyes" on the walls of their home.
Her mother forced her into rehab, telling Houston "I'm not losing you to Satan," the singer told Winfrey.
The pair divorced in 2007 and Houston declared that she was clean. But a comeback tour of Europe was dogged by poor performances, bizarre behavior, and repeated denials that she was back on drugs.
It was all a far cry from the days when Houston began singing in a gospel choir in New Jersey at the age of 11, and later accompanied her mother, the rhythm and blues singer Cissy Houston, in concerts and on an album.
Houston, whose cousin was singer Dionne Warwick and whose godmother was Aretha Franklin, did some modeling and started singing on jazz albums in the early 1980s before Davis heard her and offered her a record contract.
Her self-titled debut album was released in 1985 and produced the hit singles "Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know" and "The Greatest Love of All." At more than 13 million copies, it was the best-selling debut album ever by a female artist.