When he was a fifth grader at Hazelwood Elementary in Renton, George Merrill started a band and made up songs. Shannon Rubicam was a self-described daydreamer who added melodies to words she was reading.
As adults, George and Shannon wrote two of Whitney Houston’s biggest hits – “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
“When we first heard that Clive Davis, then head of Arista Records, wanted ‘How Will I Know’ for his new young artist, Whitney Houston, we had no idea who she was or what she might sound like,” says Rubicam, “We were pleased to know someone wanted to record our song.”
The song, released in 1985 became Houston’s second number one single on the Billboard chart.
They followed it up with I Wanna Dance With Somebody in 1987. Rubicam says that song had a deeper meaning than just going to a disco or club and finding someone to literally dance with, it was about finding that special person to dance with for life.
“Hearing those songs on the radio, or in the grocery store or on MTV was a surreal experience in a way,” Rubicam says. “You write a song, send it off and say goodbye, at which time it almost becomes someone else’s property to the degree the singer claims it. Whitney soundly claimed both our songs with her powerful vocals. We are, and will always be, ever grateful to her.”
Merrill and Rubicam met Houston after a concert in the summer of 1986. She was 23 years old, and backstage with her parents.
“I remember she was so bright and charismatic, and we were all jumping up and down. The air was charged, and she had caused it all with her brilliance,” says Merrill.
By Linda Thomas
Photo, screen grab from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” video