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The Gospel According to Whitney

Marriage, gossip, entertaining, motherhood . . . just another day in Houston's life.

July 29, 1999|ELYSA GARDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PHILADELPHIA — Divahood can be an exhausting occupation.

Just ask Whitney Houston, who recently postponed two dates on her first U.S. tour in five years because of strain on her celebrated vocal cords.

"I have a bronchitis situation, and I have allergies," Houston explains hoarsely, while catching a break in her hotel suite here, the 10th stop on a tour that includes shows tonight7/29 and Friday7/30 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.

"The air quality is not good on the East Coast these days. I can't get enough air, and my bronchioles shut down. But I sing anyway. I'm one of those people who will push and push. I should pace myself better."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 31, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 14 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Company name--The TV production company of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown is called Brownhouse. An incorrect name appeared in a story on Houston in Thursday's Calendar Weekend.

Of course, there are rewards to being a workaholic. Houston's 1998 album, the double-platinum "My Love Is Your Love," was put together in just a couple of months and has earned arguably the best reviews of her career.

The project--her first nonsoundtrack album in eight years--finds Houston, who turns 36 next month, collaborating with younger artists such as Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Faith Evans and Wyclef Jean, and mixing the lavish ballads that have come to be her trademark with more funky, hip-hop-savvy fare.

Houston, who still lives in her native New Jersey, has also kept busy acting in films, including "The Bodyguard" and "The Preacher's Wife," and contributing to soundtracks. All the while, she has had to field rumors casting aspersions on her marriage to hip-hop singer Bobby Brown, who is the father of her 6-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown.

In an interview two days after singing the national anthem at the WNBA all-star game in New York City, the singer, who is being accompanied on the tour by her daughter, discusses her relationship with Brown and Clive Davis, the Arista Records president who is widely credited with guiding her success. Houston also reflects on the challenges of touring, music, motherhood and the recurring tabloid reports about her marriage.

Question: You're such a winning live performer, and yet this is your first tour in five years. Why the gap?

Answer: Touring takes a great amount of discipline. You must get a certain amount of sleep to sing, and it's difficult, because when you get off stage, you're wired. By the time you cool down, it's 6 in the morning. Then you're up again trying to do another gig. Then you have to get food in, and if you have kids, you have to be Mommy. It gets heavy at times.

Q: How would you rank singing live compared to, say, recording or making movies? Which of these pursuits do you enjoy most?

A: Singing [live] comes first, not recording, not making movies. Singing to people I know actually go out there and buy records--not distributors, not retailers--is what makes it worthwhile.

Q: Which songs do you especially like to perform live?

A: I love "Saving All My Love for You," because it's mellow and intimate but with a strong, strong lyric. "The Greatest Love of All" is one I love very much because it's a kids' song. I know it inspires a lot of young people. I like to do the old stuff live, like "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," because it brings back lots of great memories of when I was very young!

Q: So what do you look for in a song now, at the advanced age of 35?

A: Passion. Any form of passion but mostly love. Diane Warren wrote this incredible song called "I Learned From the Best" [on "My Love Is Your Love"], with lyrics like, "Baby, I learned the way to break a heart / I learned from the best / I learned from you." That's passion. That's a song you could kill.

Q: What other music are you listening to these days?

A: I'm an old-fashioned girl. I still like Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life." I still love Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." And I love gospel. I listen to the Winans constantly. I like things that lift me up, inspire me.

Q: Does hip-hop inspire you? Your current album incorporates hip-hop and contemporary R&B textures.

A: My husband inspires me, and he's the hip-hop king. He's very aware of what's happening in music, and when I set out to do this album, I took his lead. He said, "You want to work with people who are comparable to you." Like Rodney Jerkins [who co-wrote and produced the current hit single "It's Not Right but It's Okay"]. I'm from church, he's from church. His father's a minister. He's also an accomplished musician.

Then [Brown] said, "You love Missy Elliott's stuff. Call her." I said, "I don't know. I mean, these are the new people who are hot, hot, hot, and I'm 10 years behind them." But I called, and Missy was floored. She wanted to do it. And Faith. I love Faith. Wyclef came in at the last minute. He told Clive [Davis], "I've gotta get on this train." Again, Wyclef's from church. His father's a preacher too. All these people have the same kind of background as me.

Q: Let's talk a bit about your background--family background, musical background. Your mother, Cissy Houston, was obviously a big role model in both respects. What other artists influenced you?

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