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Toni Braxton Eyes the Kenny G Crowd

August 11, 1996|Steve Hochman

The new Toni Braxton video for the song "You're Making Me High" presents a distinct image for the singer--slinky and funky, with hip, urban youth appeal.

So what could be more un-hip for Braxton than to tour with Kenny G? But that's just what she's doing, with the smooth saxman headlining a 50-date trek now set to begin in October, with dates that month expected at the Hollywood Bowl and the Pond of Anaheim.

Some Braxton supporters are surprised that an artist of her stature isn't headlining her own tour, rather than going out with the much-maligned, middle-of-the-road star.

"Toni's fans are much younger than Kenny G's," says Michelle Santosuosso, program director of San Francisco urban-oriented radio station KMEL-FM. "I think the loyal fans will buy tickets but leave before Kenny plays. And many of the young teen fans probably won't even go."

Los Angeles Times Sunday August 18, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Page 91 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Solo credit--Diane Warren is the sole writer of the Toni Braxton song "Un-Break My Heart." An item in last week's Pop Eye column incorrectly stated that it was co-written by David Foster, who produced the track.

Not so fast, replies Roy Lott, vice president and general manager of Arista Records, the company that represents both artists.

"The perception of Kenny that you're ascribing to some people is really uninformed," he says. "To sell the number of albums he has--10 million in the U.S. alone of his last one--you have to have appeal to a broad base of people."

And that broad base, Lott says, includes a large number of R&B and urban music fans. The statistics back him up. The instrumentalist's 1992 "Breathless" album is still a big seller at the nation's R&B-oriented record stores, according to SoundScan.

And it's not the first time the two have worked together. Kenny G guests on one track of Braxton's new album, and Braxton has returned the favor with a vocal on the saxophonist's album-in-progress--a contrast to his usual all-instrumental approach.

"[The tour] will be good for both of them," says Violet Brown, urban music buyer for the Torrance-based Wherehouse chain. "I think it will make a lot of new fans for both artists. I see this selling a lot of records."

And some see this meaning a lot more than just record sales for Braxton, whose debut album sold 7 million copies and whose new "Secrets" is currently No. 7.

"If Braxton gets the people who are into Kenny G to be her fans, she could be [as big as] Janet Jackson," says Danyel Smith, music editor of the urban culture magazine Vibe.

That--and more--is what Lott and Braxton's manager, Arnold Stiefel, have in mind. The current single, they say, is not meant to present a new image for the singer, but to expand her range and audience. The next single will be a distinct contrast: "Un-Break My Heart," a pop ballad written by Diane Warren and David Foster.

"The lines are blurred, and it's hard to pigeonhole someone like her as pop or adult or urban or crossover," says Stiefel.

And, they hope, it will be hard to pigeonhole her in one medium. Plans call for Braxton to launch a film career once this tour is done. She's considering several offers now, with plans to begin filming in the spring. After that, she expects to do her own tour--her first as a headliner.

Says radio programming consultant Jeff Pollack, "Sometimes people spend too much time worrying what's going to be hip, and if your basic goal is to appeal across the board as a mainstream, pop artist, then you shrug your shoulders and say, 'Let's go for it.' "

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