Emily “Cissy” Houston (née Drinkard; born September 30, 1933) is an American soul and gospel singer. After a successful career singing backup for such artists as Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin she embarked on a solo career, winning two Grammy Awards for her work. She is the mother of Whitney Houston, grandmother of Whitney’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, aunt of Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and a cousin of opera singer Leontyne Price.
Born Emily Drinkard in Newark, New Jersey, to Nitcholas and Delia Mae Drinkard (née McCaskill), she was the eighth child; older siblings were brothers William, Hansom, Nicky, and Larry, and sisters Lee, Marie, and Anne. Houston’s father Nitcholas Drinkard was born to Susan Bell (called Delia) Drinkard (née Fuller), of Dutch and African-American descent. His father John Drinkard, Jr., was of Native American descent. The Drinkards had owned a substantial amount of farmland in Blakely, Georgia, during a time when it was unusual for blacks to own large portions of land. The asset was gradually depleted as they sold small portions of the land over time, to resolve the continued legal troubles of a close relative.
After Houston’s three oldest siblings were born, the family relocated to New Jersey during the Second Great Migration. Her parents emphasized the children getting educated and being involved in the church, and her father encouraged Houston and her siblings to sing. In 1938, five-year-old Cissy’s mother Delia suffered a stroke and died of cerebral hemorrhage three years later.
Her father died of stomach cancer in 1951 when Houston was 18. Cissy went to live with her older sister Lee and her husband Mancel Warwick. The Warwicks had three children: a son, Mancel Warwick Jr. and two daughters Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. Renowned soprano Leontyne Price is a Drinkard cousin.
In 1955, Houston married Freddie Garland and had a son, Gary Garland, an NBA basketball player and DePaul University Athletic Hall of Famer. The Garlands divorced soon after.
In 1963, she married John Russell Houston, Jr., a Newark City administrator and entertainment executive. The couple had a son Michael Houston, who became a songwriter, and a daughter, Whitney Houston, who became an R&B/pop singer . Aretha Franklin was an honorary aunt of Houston’s daughter.
In the 1990s, Houston’s daughter Whitney began to struggle with drug addiction. Houston staged several interventions to get her daughter into rehabilitation and recovery programs. On one occasion she obtained a court order and the assistance of two sheriffs to intervene, persuading her daughter to undertake treatment at Hope For Women Residential & Therapeutic Services in Atlanta, Georgia. Her daughter cycled through recovery, relapse and rehabilitation programs. On February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston died at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, After her daughter’s death, in an interview with the New Jersey TV station WWOR, Houston expressed her distaste of the media’s coverage of related events: “The media are awful. People have come from here and there, and they don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said. “People I haven’t seen in 20 years … Here they come, they think they know everything, but that’s not true. But God has his way of taking care of all of it, and I’m glad I know that. They really chopped on her, chopped on her … kept, kept, Houston has six grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren, which included granddaughter Bobbi Kristina Brown (d. July 26, 2015), daughter of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston.