Aretha Franklin and Cissy Houston — mother of Whitney Houston — first became acquainted in the late ’60s, when Cissy, as part of the all-female, all-Black R&B backup vocal group The Sweet Inspirations, sang backup vocals for Franklin during performances, according to All Music. Perhaps one of Franklin’s most prominent songs for which Cissy sang backing vocals was “Ain’t No Way,” which was written by Franklin’s elder sister Carolyn, and released in 1968, instantly becoming hugely popular, per the BBC. Interestingly, Whitney made her world debut singing the same tune on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1983 alongside her mother.
Although it has sometimes been reported that Franklin was Whitney’s godmother, that was not, in fact, the case. Cissy did refer to Franklin as Whitney’s honorary aunt, however, leading Whitney to call Franklin, 21 years her senior, “Auntie Ree.” Whitney was a young girl when Cissy and Franklin first became acquainted and it was around that time that Whitney met her honorary aunt, as Cissy would sometimes bring her into the recording studio, per Smooth Radio. In a 1986 interview with MTV, Franklin remembered young Whitney as being a “kind of shy, lovely girl, very nice young lady.
Shortly after her death, Franklin recalled being stunned upon hearing young Whitney’s voice for the first time, per Today. “When she hit the soprano, I said, ‘Oh, this little girl can sing!'” Franklin said. “OK, Cissy’s baby can sing!”