Whitney E. Houston Legacy Foundation Celebrates Late Singer’s 60th Birthday and Community Service in Atlanta

Pat Houston and other family, friends, and collaborators shared with BET how the record-breaking singer used her fame and fortune to pay it forward and give back.

“I believe the children are our future” isn’t just the opening line from one of Whitney Houston’s signature songs, “Greatest Love of All.” It was a mantra that she lived by her entire three-decade career.

And the work is still going on 11 years following her untimely death. On Aug. 9, what would’ve been the late singer’s 60th birthday, the Whitney E. Houston Legacy Foundation hosted its second annual Legacy of Love Gala at St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta. The fundraising event, decorated in Houston’s favorite colors, purple and lavender, continued the six-time Grammy Award winner’s mission to support grassroots organizations and causes that support empowering youth and young adults.

“Whitney was very passionate about helping children and young people,” Pat Houston, Whitney Houston Legacy Foundation president and executor to the Whitney Houston Estate, told BET. “It’s just a continuation of helping young people rebuild and restore their lives and to empower them to be better.”

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This year, the Whitney E. Houston Legacy Foundation presented Living Live Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that seeks to provide access to young Black and people of color pursuing creative careers, with a grant for its community efforts. The year-old charity’s flagship outreach program, Lighting the Way Youth Mentorship, exposes kids ages 10 through 12 to a range of career opportunities in the arts and entertainment through interactive events, workshops and hands-on projects that allow them to partner with working professionals.

“Receiving an award named for Whitney Houston is everything to me,” Living Live Foundation founder Jordan Live told BET. “She’s my favorite singer of all-time. It’s a testament to life and God in general for what a difference a year can make. It truly is possible, and Whitney is here at this moment.”

Hosted by local anchorwoman Karyn Greer, the Legacy of Love Gala featured veteran music executive/event chair Clive Davis and songwriters/producers David Foster and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, delivering remote tributes to the songstress who sold over 200 million records worldwide. Gospel singers Kim Burrell, Bebe Winans and Whitney’s brother, Gary Houston, also performed during the ceremony.

The Whitney E. Houston Legacy Foundation started as the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children in 1989. The philanthropic effort was a vehicle for the superstar to combat homelessness, diabetes, award scholarships to Black and brown students, and rebuild parks and recreational spaces in underserved communities. The revival and name change came in 2020 to support grassroots efforts and causes The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale actress cared about.

In 2007, Whitney and Pat opened a Celebrity Consignment store in Shelby, N.C. with the proceeds going towards Pat’s nonprofit, Teen Summit. Donating all of the clothes from her closet, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer inspired Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, the Kardashians and Alicia Keys also to contribute their clothes. A number of Whitney’s fur coats, tour costumes and award show gowns from Celebrity Consignment were archived following the singer’s passing in February 2012 and repurposed for the gala’s silent auction.

“There are lots of major organizations out there that raise millions and millions of dollars to go to particular charities, but we tend to stay very low and get right into the community to help build that community,” Pat Houston said. “You have to start from the home first, and that’s what we try to do.”

Houston’s close peers and collaborators saw her 60th birthday as a moment to reflect on her influence, selflessness and generosity. Rickey Minor, Houston’s musical director from 1989 to 1999, remembers when singer Brandy was a persistent, nervous preteen whose only goal was to meet her idol in-person. Running as soon as she met the musical legend, their connection blossomed into a special mentor/mentee relationship that extended beyond their starring roles in the live action version of Cinderella in 1997.

“Her empowerment gave people the belief that they could be what they see, but they had to see what that is,” Minor told BET. “You have to see someone that looks like you, talks like you or living the life you know can be.”

Producer Narada Michael Walden, who admits he initially turned down working on her 13 million-selling self-titled debut album to complete a project with Aretha Franklin, is responsible for eight of Houston’s 11 number-one Billboard Hot 100 singles. Walden and Houston shared an intentionality to make records that could appeal to any audience: usually starting off with a prayer in the studio to ensure their music would have staying power.

“In her heart, she was really for the people: a true people’s champion like Muhammad Ali,” Walden told BET. “It’s just her nature to care for people. She saw this whole thing really as God’s plan, and that’s how she made it through. It’s very hard to be at that kind of altitude for as long as she was, and it was her belief in God that helped her.”

Recording Academy president/CEO Harvey Mason jr produced Houston’s last recording session during the remake of Sparkle in 2012, just days before she died. Mason’s easygoing demeanor made the controversial performer comfortable enough to do more than two takes on a song to ensure they made music that resonated with her fans.

“She was open with her feelings and free with her passion and love,” Mason told BET. “You could feel it. If she liked you, you knew it. If she loved you, she would let you know. She wore her heart on her sleeve. She was a truly wonderful, loving, warm, generous person, and I miss her everyday.”

Since Houston’s passing, she’s become the first Black artist with four Diamond certifications by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). MAC Cosmetics introduced a line of makeup named for her; Scent Beauty released a fragrance inspired by her favorite scents and a hologram concert that became a Vegas residency. A rest stop near her hometown, Newark, New Jersey, is also named in her honor.

But what family and friends remember most about Houston outside of her superstardom is her undying commitment to service and how it was just as important as making hit records. “All she wanted to do was be a normal person, but when it comes to Whitney Houston, it becomes something else,” Gary Houston told BET. “She did what she had to do, paved the way for a lot of people and did what God wanted her to do.”

“The industry and the world misses her, so that’s tough, especially on her birthday,” Mason adds. “On the other hand, it’s a celebration of her life and the things that she’s accomplished both in music and life.”

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