Classic Whitney...

Associated Press Report

NEW YORK (AP) - Sleekly dressed in a white evening gown, it's an elegant Whitney Houston pictured in HBO promotional materials for her live televised concert this Sunday.

Backstage, life is a little less glamorous: She's fighting off a cold, her daughter demands attention, days of rehearsals beckon and there's an interview to be done, never one of her favorite activities anyway.

Her mind flashes back to youthful summer days spent traveling on concert tours with her cousin, Dionne Warwick, one of the singers Houston will pay tribute to on Sunday.

"You see the glamour and the glitz in the front, but in the background, you know what it takes to put on all the glamour and the glitz,'' she said.

Houston's dusting off several of her own hits to go along with tributes to Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross for the 90-minute special, broadcast live from Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall on the East Coast at 9 p.m. It will be on tape delay in other time zones at 9 p.m.

The concert promises to be a scaled-down, more musical experience than her two previous HBO specials, welcoming Desert Storm troops home in March 1991 and paying tribute to South Africa and Nelson Mandela in November 1994.

Houston hasn't toured in the mainland United States for the past three years, so it will be the first time many of her fans have seen her in a while.

"I like the intimacy of it,'' she said. "I wanted it to be more intimate, rather than large, which I'm used to playing. I just thought it would be a great atmosphere.''

Besides, she said, "they're paying me a lot of money.'' The concert will also benefit the Children's Defense Fund.

Plans are to perform Warwick's "Walk on By,'' Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' and "Ain't No Way'' as a tribute to Aretha Franklin. Houston also plans to sing "Summertime'' from "Porgy and Bess'' and some gospel material.

"It will be a setting of just basic, classic songs with voice,'' she said.

Warwick "has known me before I knew myself,'' she said. "It's difficult to talk about someone who is your family and also talk about them in the realm of a popular songstress. Dionne just taught me so much about grace and style.'' Houston said she's always admired the way Franklin moves people - literally and figuratively - with her music. Ross is "the epitome of what I think is glamour and what I think is class,'' she said.

"They don't need hit records to be popular and be known,'' she said. "They will always be known. They set the standard for everybody.''

One reason Houston is digging back into popular songbooks is she doesn't believe there are as many talented songwriters coming up with original material as there were even 10 years ago.

"There are no more notes to play, so we have to go back and pick up songs that were once great and bring them back to this arena,'' she said. "There are no more stories being written, there are just grooves ... I tend to go for the old classics, the ones that will last forever.''

Her next musical project is a greatest hits collection, but she doesn't know when that will be ready. Houston hasn't decided what new songs to include.

She's also producing, singing and playing the Fairy Godmother in this November's television special, "Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.''

Not one to enjoy encounters with the news media even in the best of times, Houston said she and many of her show business peers are "very upset'' and "highly paranoid'' in the wake of Princess Diana's death in a car accident while trying to avoid photographers.

"Enough is enough,'' she said. "Do you want to get somebody that bad that you have to hurt them? I've always felt that way about them, my feelings haven't changed ... They don't know when to stop. And when somebody as beautiful and wonderful as Princess Diana has to pay for it, then it really'' stinks, she said.

When Houston has been in the news this year, it hasn't been for happy reasons. She suffered her second miscarriage last December, was allegedly slapped by her husband, singer Bobby Brown, in a Hawaii parking lot confrontation that her publicist later claimed was a case of mistaken identity, and was cut in the face in what was called a boating accident off the island of Capri, Italy.

She and her husband are both celebrities, but that doesn't mean the public has the right to know what's going on in their lives, she said.

"I didn't get in the business to talk about my personal life,'' she said. "I got in the business to sing, to try to make music and to try to make people happy ... if I can. My life doesn't go on record. My voice does.''



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