Whitney Changes Flavors
BET Weekend Magazine
Ingrid Sturgis

Notes: The cover pic is one of her dressed in D&G. she has the short black bob, fuschia pink jacket(with a bit of leopard print from the inside showing), black top, silver rhinestone on black, hip-hugging belt, black slacks.

Picture on the opposite side of the first page of interview- the David Lachapelle pic of Whitney backstage sitting on a chair, hugging herself, looking up smiling with red slippers on the floor. Full sized pic. 

Whitney Houston settles into a banquette in the wood-panelled lounge of the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, a haunt of Nancy Reagan's. She is glamorous yet casual this Friday, wearing a big white shirt over jeans, her hair covered by a jaunty bold black-an-white-check turban.

Hotel guests glance over to peek at one of the world's best-selling female singers and her entourage- a personal assistant an a publicist. Just then, Bobby Brown rounds a corner. ' Pork chops or chicken?' Brown asks his wife.  Houston leans forward instinctively, head raised toward her husband. 'Chicken,' He rolls off. She pours a tall glass of cranberry juice.

Houston apologizes for being slightly congested, saying the L.A. weather brings out her allergies. Already here for a bout a week, Houston glammed up for the Grammys, where she won the Best Female R*B vocal performance award for the single, 'It's Not Right But It's Okay,' She performed in a black-leather column dress over slacks designed by Fausto Puglisi. Houston will have to suffer through a few more days, when the Soul Train Music Awards honors her as female Artist of the Decade.

Whitney Houston, 36, has come into her own. Her album MLIYL demonstrated her ease at breaking out of the box musically. Even her onstage fashions show a woman who's unafraid to take risks. She's worn the edgy, sexy styles of Italian designers Dolce and Gabbana. 'They have the flash, the styles, the colors,' she says. 'I want to flash through, shine, sparkle then leave. Dolce created a very entertaining look,'

Her performances have changed as well. She's more relaxed on stage, with more lively movements and less posing. She interacts with her audiences and challenges her band to follow her- wherever it takes them. 'This is a dream come true,' Houston says of her career. 'This is something I worked at/ I went for it because I disregard I had what it took to do this. I didn't want to be a cook, and I knew I could sing. And, Gold only knows, I didn't even know it, but I did something good because I can hear it in everybody's sound.'

Houston's 15-year career is captured on a new 2-cd retrospective that includes such Grammy winners as 'Saving All My Love For You' (1986) and 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" (1988). This Newark native has 11 No.1 singles. She's received dozens of awards- BETWalk of Fame, American Music, MTV, NAACP, Emmys- and she's nominated for 3 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards to air in Jone on Fox.

The former Seventeen cover model burst on the scene in 1985 at 22. In her earliest looks, Houston's mile high hair was teased to poodle perfection, coifed in curls or worn in a closely cropped Afro. (the magazine shows 5 pictures in succession demonstrating her many looks). She wore sleek, glittery couture gowns and sang songs far beyond her maturity. Her concerts showcased a 5-octave range in stylized, romantic pop settings. 'Nobody else was singing those songs that you could hear a Black child sing,' she says. 'You couldn't hear that.'

Early on, Cissy Houston shrewdly turned her daughter's career over to Clive Davis, the former president of Arista Records, know for his innate ability to spot and nurture talent. 'For the next generation,' Davis said at the time, 'She will embody the fiery gospel of Aretha Franklin and the stunning beauty and lyric phrasing of Lean Horne,'

And Houston does. But her musical inspiration is likely to be found closer to home, from her mother and her cousin, Dionne Warwick, who preceded Whitney on stage , as well as in the choir at New Hope Baptist church, which Cissy Houston has led for years.

'You have to have a sense of melody and phrasing,' Whitney Houston says, repeating her mother's teachings. 'People want to kow2 what you are saying.  They want to know your lyrics, if you can hold a straight melody,' That discipline shows up in her speech. Each word is clipped, enunciated with a warm inflecting revealing her family's Gerogia roots.

'In the Black community, we always had to run that riffing thing,' Houston says, humming.

'But nobody understood what the hell we were saying. So that cornered off a market because White people wouldn't buy any records. And I sold a lot of records from just singing the melody.' Houston says.I can sing grit all damn day long,' she continues. 'That was never beyond me. But now I'm older. I have experiences that I can really get down about. I have a lot more to sing about, a lot more to cry about, a lot more to laugh about.' She turns quiet. 'That goes into my music, too. Now, I can do what I want to do.'

Houston is, by turns, wary an friendly- throwing her head back to laugh, reaching over to touch a knee or shoulder to make a point.Her uneasiness is justified. Her marriage to Brown, 31, has endured criticism ever since they wed in 1992. The former New Edition member has

been treated more than once for substance abuse. In January, Hawaiian airport security guards said Houston evaded them to board a plane after they allegedly found marijuana in her carry-on bag. She was reportedly dismissed from the Academy Awards in March because she appeared 'out of it' during rehearsals.

Houston declined to discuss these matters but she fiercely proclaims her love for Brown, whom she has publicly crowned 'the r*b king.' 'I feel good to know I got the same guy. I wake up with the same man, with the same feelings. I don't have to change my underwear to please him.'

She adds that she doesn't understand the interest in her personal life. 'They think there's more to know. Ain't nothing up my sleeve,' Houston says, 'I don't like to dignify lies with truth. There's nothing to know.

Cissy Houston, 66, is reflective about her daughter's recent public tribulations. 'It's not easy,' she says. 'Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It's difficult for a mother as visible as I am. With God, I've learned to handle most things. They build you up to tear you down. you really have to hold on to God. That's the only thing that gets me through and the only thing that will get her through.''

When Houston's not performing, she tries to maintain a regular family life. She and brown recently took their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, 7 on a Disney cruise. 'I don't hang out. I don't go to clubs,' she says. 'I like to go shopping. I'm a homebody. I like to stay home.  I play whit my daughter. She's my best friend,' Houston continues. But, 'I'm a hands-on mother. Krissy knows I have the final word. I try to help Krissy to understand if the response was no , why the answer was no. I'm a mother who knows how to say no.'

Whitney Houston's self-assurance was not obvious to her mother in her first film, The Bodyguard, in 1992. "I'm just sitting up and soaking it in, and sometimes not even believing that's her,' Cissy Houston says. 'When she sings a certain song- I Will Always Love You'- she does me in.'

She did that to just about everybody else, too. The Bodyguard soundtrack sold 37 million copies worldwide. It was #! for 14 weeks. The soundtrack (3rd page- shows tracklisting of WTGH- old listing) for her 3rd film, The Preacher's Wife, which co-starred Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance in 1996, showcased Houston's gospel influences with a joyful performance of 'I go to the rock,' The soundtrack remains the best-selling gospel album in Billboard Magazine's history.

'She has mature into the best singer there is,' Davis says. 'They know she really has vocal genius. Some can do real ballads. Some can do soul, hip-hop, ballads, up-tempo, dance. Her body of work, MLIYL, completes the cycle.'

My Love, which features Faith Evans an Wyclef Jean, also reflects what Houston has absorbed from her hip-hop peers. 'They think that because I've been around for so long, they don't see me as being part of that generation. I am part of that generation. Now, it's hip-hop.'  Her Greatest-hits collection will inclue remixes and four new tracks. Houston works with some of today's hottest producers and singers, including Q-Tip an Raphael Saadiq, who wrote and produced 'Fine.' She works again with producer Rodney Jerkins on a remake of 'IITYT' with George Michael.

With plans for a Latin sound, Houston is taking even more risks. She talks about working with Gloria Estefan and her producer-husband Emilio Estefan. 

Audiences also love Houston on the screen big or small. 'I've also gotten into Hollywood-and I've stomped that ground.' Through her company, Brownhouse Productions Inc, she produced and starred in Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on ABC in 1997. The multicultural adaptation, which took 4 years to get to television, was the network's best night in more than a decade.

Houston's next Disney project is based on 'the Cheetah girls novels by author Deborah Gregory. It will debut this fall. She'll also star in a remake of the 1981 French Thriller, Diva, with Will smith's Overbroook Entertainment INC.

In looking over her career, Houston is clear about who she is. 'I'm Whitney. I am Whitney Houston,' she says. 'I've always had my own style. There's nobody else.'

[Ingrid Sturgis is managing editor of BET Weekend Magazine.]



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