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Cissy Houston, The Original Sweet Inspirations and Elvis Presley

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Cissy Houston (born Emily Drinkard on September 30, 1933) is a gospel and soul singer. She led a successful career as a backup singer for such artists as Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin, and is now primarily a solo artist. She is the mother of singer and actress Whitney Houston.

In 1963 she and three other singers formed a backup group that became known as the Sweet Inspirations and performed around the country with various headliners. Despite their touring success, Houston longed for the comforts of home. 'I don't know if the road was really for me', she says. 'My surroundings have to be a certain status or else I'm miserable. Some of those hotel rooms get on my nerves'.

Elvis Presley invited the quartet to sing backup during his now-legendary series of Las Vegas concerts. After those shows, Houston says, 'we would jam with him for an hour, singing gospel. He really loved it, had a feel for it and was tickled to have four 'church sisters' backing him up'. As a token of his gratitude, Presley (whom Houston's husband affectionately called Elvis Pretzel) presented Houston with a bracelet engraved on the outside with her real name and on the inside with his pet name for her: Squirrelly. That same year, Houston and her singing partners scored their own Top 20 hit with the tune 'Sweet Inspiration' and watched their reputation soar. Cissy, in particular, 'was a terrific singer', says Ahmet Ertegun, cofounder of Atlantic Records.

'She has wonderful pitch and was always performing at her top level'.

The Original Sweet Inspirations
Clockwise from top. Sylvia Shemwell, Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith and Estelle Brown.

Clockwise from top. Sylvia Shemwell, Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith and Estelle Brown - The Original Sweet Inspirations. Talent clearly runs in the family. Houston's son Gary also works as a background vocalist and Michael as a songwriter, while Whitney has become one of the world's biggest pop stars. 'When she said she wanted to sing, it wasn't anything I wanted her to do', says Houston. 'But I knew I had to be there to coach her in the dangers of this business'. That remains a full-time gig. It was during Cissy Houston' s soprano obbligato on 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' that Elvis started laughing at the mid night show on August 26, 1969. Elvis changes the lyrics to be funny, and then cannot keep a straight face the rest of the song. He seems to be somewhat amused by the soprano performance by Cissy Houston's who sings her part perfectly.

This performance becomes an underground legend among Elvis fans until its official release on the Elvis Aron Presley eight LP box set in 1980. Now available on the All Shook Up CD. 'Elvis loved gospel music. He was raised on it. And he really did know what he was talking about. He was singing Gospel all the time – almost anything he did had that flavour. You can’t get away from what your roots are'. Cissy Houston.

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