Ebony, June 1990

Title: 'Forever Daddy's girl': this world-class entertainer is a superstar as well as a superdaughter to father John Houston. (Whitney Houston)

Author: Lynn Norment

Full Text COPYRIGHT Johnson Publishing Company Inc. 1990

'Forever Daddy's Girl'

LONG before Whitney Houston became America's darling, she was daddy's girl.

That is quite evident when one observes the loving interplay between the superstar singer and her father, John R. Houston. The special father-daughter bond is apparent as Houston tells how his eyes still mist when he hears his "Nippy" sing, how his daughter can "put a hurting on a song." It is also evident when Whitney tells of how her "Poppy" was the first man "I ever fell in love with."

It is rather uncanny how in separate interviews throughout the course of a very busy day in New York City, both father and daughter recall the same incidents from Houston family history, use the same terminology to make a point, and the same adjectives to describe a situation. At times a very articulate and charming Houston speaks of his daughter in glowing terms that would inspire skepticism if not for the tender paternal honesty. When John Houston speaks of Whitney Houston, the talented singer and loving daughter, it
is from the heart.

And when it comes to protecting his daughter's interests, his heart gives way to keen business sense. Since 1986, Houston has been Whitney's business manager. As president and chief executive officer of Nippy, Inc., he oversees three corporate entities and a multi-million dollar enterprise.

Since her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, set the music charts afire and became the all-time best-selling debut LP by a solo artist, 26-year-old Whitney Houston has indeed become big business. Her second album in 1987, Whitney, became only the fourth LP by a solo artist, and the first by a female, to debut at the No. 1 spot on album charts. In addition, the album's single, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," established an unprecedented seven consecutive No. 1 hits by a performer. More than 30 million of the two albums
have been sold worldwide. Now an artist of international stature, Whitney has won two Grammy Awards, 12 American Music Awards, three People's Choice Awards, and two Emmy Awards for outstanding individual performance.

The ascent to the top was so fast, Whitney says, that after a whirlwind first year, "I had to catch up on all that Whitney Houston had become. It just took off so fast that I had to backtrack."

That's when she decided to persuade her father to get involved. "First of all I was in trouble, and I knew that my father is a very wise man, a smart man.  I figured that if there is anybody I can trust, it is my daddy, because I know my daddy loves me. And I know that before the business and the money came, it was just him and family. Plus, my mom was on Daddy's case to get involved in my business.

"And besides that fact, my father has a good business mind," she says. "I just feel comfortable with him being there. I feel secure that somebody is watching over me, and watching over everybody else, too. I trust him. He literally came in and saw the troubled areas and what needed to be done, what I needed to do, and we did it."

With Whitney's "total involvement," Houston reorganized his daughter's business affairs and expanding financial empire. He hired an accounting group, solidified her relationships with her attorneys, signed a top booking agency, and hired talented and competent Black people in key positions. "I want people around us whom you can tell what you need done, but not how to do it," he says of his administrative philosophy.

Most people are well aware that entertainer Cissy Houston is Whitney's mother, for she has appeared in a video with Whitney, performed on her album and in live concerts, and appeared in numerous publications with her famous daughter. John Houston, on the other hand, has preferred to keep a low profile and carry out his daughter's mandate" to run these businesses."

Houston, a striking, self-assured man, admits to occasionally "going bananas" when he discovers that a staffer has taken some action without his or Whitney's knowledge. "I come across to some people as the devil incarnate," he says. "I am smart, I learn fast, and I'm dedicated to Whitney Houston.  But I'd be dedicated to anyone I'd work for," he adds.

But especially when the chairman of the board is his daughter. The fact that Whitney is indeed chairman, the boss, the one who signs the checks, is emphasized by Houston. "It is her career, her money, and nobody makes decisions but her. She's not into the routine of running the office day-to-day," he adds. "I'm paid to do that."

It is impossible, as Houston and Whitney both acknowledge, to separate father from manager, and daughter from artist. It is the manager/father who passionately talks about the "loving, caring" Whitney Houston. "After that first year, there were some misconceptions about Whitney," he says. "Some people felt that she was syrupy, that she had no social awareness, that she was a Barbie Doll. That is not the case. She is well-informed, politically aware, smart and articulate, and in the final analysis, she runs the show."

After all, she is John R. and Cissy Houston's only daughter, and strength of character apparently is a family trait. It is a close-knit, loving family, and the Houston children were "raised to love self, family and God." While the proud father does indeed love his sons--Michael, 28, Whitney's road manager, and Gary, 31, who is pursuing an entertainment career on his own--his "only girl child" has a special place in his heart. He remembers the day in 1963 when she was born and how at the Newark hospital he had to push through a crowd of a admiring doctors, nurses and visitors to see his "gorgeous
curly-headed baby girl" for the first time. Over the years, he worked alternately as a truck driver and as an administrator. During former Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson's administration, Houston headed Newark's Planning Board.

His wife, Cissy, pursued a career singing with the Sweet Inspirations, and on occasion Houston traveled with her as she toured with Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and other entertainers. But many times he stayed home with the children. Comfortable with his role as a 1960s "Mr. Mom," he washed diapers and clothes, ironed, combed hair and cooked meals. To the neighborhood children he was Uncle John, and on more than one occasion he disciplined other children or took a troubled child into his home.

He recalls how Whitney was a "talkative, independent" child who was quite capable of taking care of herself, despite brother Michael's protective presence. As Whitney grew older, Houston remembers how he'd hear her "screaming and hollering" down in the basement family room to the accompaniment of records by various female artists. It was not until he heard her sing solo at New Hope Baptist Church that he realized his daughter had real talent and could "touch" people. As she sang "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah," Houston says he was so moved he had to get up and walk around the

Mother Cissy took responsibility for honing her daughter's talent. Whitney continued to sing in church and by age 15 was doing backup vocals for her mother's performances and for other artists such as Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls.  She also began modeling for national magazines. Whitney's parents were always supportive of her career ambitions. Their only stipulation was that she study hard and finish high school before she sign a recording contract.

"My father was so attentive, so affectionate to us children," Whitney recalls. "As a husband, he treated my mother like a lady, with respect. He would bring us both flowers for Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and birthdays. He was a gentleman. But the was my dad, and when he got mad and laid down the law, we all abided by it."

Whitney says that like any other child, she was indeed disciplined, usually by her mother. "My father spanked me once and slapped me once," she says with laughter. "I was running off at the mouth. I should have stopped while I was ahead, but I didn't."

Whitney adds that her father is her "friend" and her "business associate," and she admits that there are times when they disagree. "We've even hollered at one another, screamed and stuff," she says. "It was always over business. If it were anything else, I would not be screaming at my father."

Despite such minor disagreements, life is good for Whitney. She seems to have grown comfortable with her celebrity status, yet she is down-to-earth and warm, full of youthful exuberance. She is now hard at work finishing her third album, which she says is "taking a toll on me" and is more difficult than the first two. In addition, she's considering various acting projects.  "There is no rhyme or reason to it," she says of her interest in acting.
"It's not because I want to be a movie star. It's simply another form of entertainment."

Because she cares about people in general, and especially young people, Whitney uses her success in the entertainment business to help those less fortunate. She devotes considerable time and funds to charitable causes. The United Negro College Fund recently honored her for her "longstanding support and commitment." She also has received an honorary doctorate in humanities from Grambling State University. In addition, Whitney has established the Whitney Houston Foundation For Children (headed by her mother) to foster "creative literacy" in underprivileged, inner-city children. Her message to young people is: Love yourself and get an education, for that will only enhance your opportunities. "My dad used to always say: 'To thine ownself be true. Don't lie to yourself,'" she recalls.

Whitney says she thinks about that advice often, especially when it comes to her career--and men. When asked about rumors of romantic ties to fellow superstar Eddie Murphy, Whitney says, simply: "Eddie and I are just good friends. We have mutual respect for one another."

As is the case with many women, her ideal of what a man should be is greatly influenced by her father. "I remember how, when I was younger, I would sit on my father's lap and he would say, 'You know, Nippy, if you don't find a man who loves you like I love you, then he ain't worth having.' To me, my dad was just perfect in the way he treated us and the way he treated Mom. When you get older you realize that you're never going to find a man like your father.  If you come close to it, you are lucky. I'll never find anyone to love me
like my daddy loves me.

"I will always be daddy's girl."
-- End --



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