‘Sparkle’ just one of Houston showcases

Singer was reponsible for bestselling soundtrack of all time

As TriStar rolls out “Sparkle” on more than 2,200 screens today, the specter of the late Whitney Houston looms large, due mostly to the circumstances surrounding her death in February. But followers of Jordin Sparks, who plays the title role in the movie about the rise of a Supremes-like trio in late ’60s Detroit, might be hard-pressed to fathom just how big a star Houston was in her heyday.

When producer Debra Martin Chase became production partners with Houston in 1995, “she was one of a handful of the biggest stars in the world: Michael, Madonna, Prince, Mariah — she was the epitome of a superstar,” recalled Chase.

But when “Sparkle,” a remake of a cult classic from 1976, began to gel in 2009 after the project stalled due to the death of Aaliyah — who was to star in a Warner Bros. remake that Chase and Houston initiated 12 years ago — Houston was in the midst of a not-so-successful comeback. Her first studio recording in seven years, “I Look to You” had just arrived after a long fallow period marred by substance abuse and a messy divorce from Bobbi Brown.

She was hardly the same singer-actress whose performances in “The Bodyguard” (1992) and “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996) earned a combined $459 million worldwide at the boxoffice and produced the bestselling soundtrack and gospel soundtrack albums, respectively, of all time.

“She hadn’t been in front of the camera in 15 years,” Chase said. “And honestly, there were questions about her (overseas) concert tour just in terms of perception.”

And in the wake of Houston’s death, questions about her competence on the “Sparkle” shoot immediately surfaced around town. “I was there with her every day, she was the happiest, healthiest, most open, most present I had ever seen her,” Chase said.

Houston acted as a mentor to younger members of the cast, particularly Sparks, who makes her film debut in “Sparkle,” just as Kevin Costner was a guiding light for Houston’s maiden role in “The Bodyguard.”

So far, sales of the soundtrack have hardly been sparkling, having debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard Top 200 with sales of 12,024 units and dropping 38% in its second week on the chart. But that could change with the release of the film, which has generated mixed to positive reviews; tracking for the movie puts it in the mid- to high teens.

In the meantime, Houston, even in her death, seems to be in the midst of a perfect storm of attention. In addition to “Sparkle,” she is the subject of a Grammy Museum exhibit that opened Wednesday; RCA is about to announce a greatest hits package from the singer; and Houston is the centerpiece of a tribute album being recorded by the R&B Divas, which includes Faith Evans and Nicci Gilbert, who star in a reality show that debuts Monday on TV One. The album is due Oct. 1 on the eOne label.

Whitney Houston was the greatest singer on the face of the earth,” Gilbert said. “I’m hard-pressed to believe there will be anybody who could deliver a song like her. And some of what caused her demise eventually was the pressures of the industry.”

If Houston’s career serves as a cautionary tale, her life seems like perfect fodder for a pop biopic. Even in “Sparkle,” where she plays an ex-singer recovered from a bout with addiction, “she became that character and the lines blurred,” says Chase.

But don’t look for the Whitney Houston story on screen anytime soon. Chase admits she was approached by a studio a few years back, but felt there was another chapter yet to be told. “She had an extraordinary life and that’s the stuff that great biopics are made of,” she said. “Hopefully some day (but) not now.”

Related: “Sparkle” film review

More Music

  • Maren Morris 53rd Annual CMA Awards,

    Maren Morris to Hit Road with 'Tour Bus Baby' for Summer Amphitheater Outing

    Maren Morris is not one for a super-extended maternity leave. After previously announcing a handful of festival dates for the summer, Morris has now revealed plans for a full amphitheater tour that will take her across North America through the summer months and into the early fall, wrapping with a return to L.A.’s Greek Theater [...]

  • SZA, Justin Timberlake Drop ‘The Other

    SZA and Justin Timberlake Drop First Song From 'Trolls World Tour'

    SZA and Justin Timberlake released “The Other Side,” the first song from the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” soundtrack. Of course, Timberlake’s Grammy-winning 2016 hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from the first “Trolls” film, was one of the most massive hits in a career filled with them, and like that song, this one involves co-writer Max [...]

  • YGRolling Loud SOCAL, Los Angeles, USA

    YG’s 4Hunnid Label Strikes Joint Venture With Epic Records (EXCLUSIVE)

    Compton rapper YG today unveiled a joint venture between his 4Hunnid label and Epic Records. The Sony Music company will exclusively release, distribute and market new music from the rapper’s Los Angeles-based independent label. The first release from the partnership is scheduled to come from Compton female rapper Day Sulan, who was featured on YG’s [...]

  • Chrysalis Records Re-Launches, Signs Laura Marling

    Chrysalis Records Re-Launches, Signs Laura Marling in Partnership With Partisan

    Chrysalis Records — the iconic record company that was home to artists ranging from Jethro Tull and Blondie to Billy Idol and Huey Lewis and the News — is re-launching as a front-line label and releasing new music for the first time in more than two decades. British singer-songwriter Laura Marling is the revived label’s [...]

  • BTS

    Howard Stern, Show Listeners Call Staffer 'Racist' for Linking BTS and Coronavirus

    Remarks about BTS made on “The Howard Stern Show” are being called “racist” by both listeners and the show’s host. During the February 24 episode of the SiriusXM staple, Howard Stern —  a notorious germaphobe — brought up growing concern over the deadly coronavirus with his cast of comedic cohorts. The topic turned to BTS [...]

  • Jeremy Renner

    John Ottman Hosts Jeremy Renner, Michael Keaton, More at 'Aiding Australia' Benefit

    Film editor and composer John Ottman, who won an Oscar for “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 2019, hosted members of the film, television and music communities at the “Aiding Australia” charity dinner and concert held at his West Hollywood home on Sunday evening (Feb. 23). The benefit raised funds to help in the recovery of fire-ravaged Australia, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content