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Music Makers: If It Works, Stick With It hide



Critics might not like Whitney Houston's second album as much as her first, but the Grammy award-winning artist's fans are buying it like crazy.

Her 1985 "Whitney Houston" is the top selling solo debut album ever. Her newest, "Whitney," jumped onto the Cashbox best-selling pop album chart at No. 35 and leaped to No. 4 during its second week in June. The first single, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," was No. 2 on the pop chart.

Miss Houston isn't concerned about criticism that the albums are too similar and the second doesn't display growth. "I believe if a formula works, that's the way you should go. Why switch from an eight-million-selling team and say 'I'm going to hire Joe Smith'? I had the same producers so you're going to get the same flavor.

"My voice has grown so much; my mental attitude has grown," she said.

"I don't know what they want from me. Maybe they want me to scream or growl. I tried to sing a variety of things. People will have their personal opinions about things but that's OK."

Ballads are her favorite. "I love being able to bite into a ballad and really give it emotion, bring the lyric to life as if somebody were really living it."

Miss Houston's U.S. tour started July 4 and runs into November. As usual, it's strictly a family affair. Her younger brother, Michael, is her assistant stage manager.

"Felicia Moss, my Mom's younger sister's daughter, sings backup. Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick are daughters of my Mom's older sister. My Mom has got eight brothers and sisters; I've got lots of cousins," she said.

Family involvement doesn't stop there. Miss Houston's father, John Houston, formerly executive director of the Newark, N.J., Central Planning Bureau, is her business manager.

Her mother, Cissy Houston, is a well-known backup singer. Until 1970, she had her own group, the Sweet Inspirations, who regularly sang backup for Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, among others.

Miss Houston said her mother could have been a big star but chose not to be. "The choice came to be a mother and raise her children or record and be a star. She chose to be a star in her own home. She couldn't stand to be away from her kids too long. She's not bitter about anything. She made her own decision. My father didn't tell her to.

"The Sweet Inspirations were the hottest background session people in town. I would go along as a child; it was quite exciting. I'd see people you hear on radio or TV. I guess it set in my mind these people are real, not just a figment of your imagination or what you want them to be.

"It helped me for my career today," Miss Houston said. "It set me up to realize you don't idolize people and later become disappointed by the facts of what you see. You realize these stars are human beings."

Miss Houston started as a backup singer when she was 13, before her career took an abrupt turn and she became a model three years later. "I never wanted to do modeling," she says. "I was in New York one day; Mom and I were going to see somebody who lived in the Carnegie Hall building. A man walked up and said there was a new modeling agency upstairs and I should go.

"I did Seventeen Magazine exclusively for a year as their junior black model, doing clothing and accessories. I didn't get on the cover until I was 17. I enjoyed myself enormously but after awhile it got to be a drag. If I ate too much or got a pimple, I'd go crazy."

By the time she decided on music, she was 18 and tired of modeling.

"We went on a hunt for a record company. We set up showcases at a New York rehearsal hall. It was like, 'Come down and put a bid on Whitney.' I did six songs, like 'Tomorrow' from 'Annie.' Clive Davis heard me then he got up, said, 'Thank you,' and left. I said, 'Did he like me or what?"' Davis, president of Arista Records, liked her and signed her.

One of the songs on her new LP is "I Know Him So Well," a duet she sings with her mother. She first heard it while putting on her makeup for a TV show in Germany.

"Three years later I'm sitting in Clive's office getting ready for this album. He played 'I Know Him So Well' and I like to jumped out of my skin. I said, 'I want to do it.'

"He wanted me to sing it with a woman. There were so many we thought about, it became confusing. I said, 'I can't pick anybody but if there's any woman I would rather sing with, it would be my Mom."'

The 23-year-old Miss Houston lives with two cats in a condominium apartment 20 minutes from her parents' home in New Jersey.

Since her first megahit album, touring and winning a Grammy in 1986 for best female pop vocal performance for "Saving All My Love for You," Miss Houston has been swamped with compliments.

She deals with them by heeding her mother's advice. "Way before this happened, she always told me perfume was to be smelled, not drank. You hear compliments and say 'Thank you' but you don't take it in too much."'

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