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Whitney Houston Hits A High Note hide

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - There is a moment in Whitney Houston 's performance that seems to go on forever.

After tearing her heart out on a high note, Houston throws her head back, then stands still and silent at center stage. Seconds pass, each becoming more highly charged. A minute goes by, maybe more.

The crowd is quiet at first - it is waiting, astonished. Then it begins whistling, then cheering and clapping. A man (she cannot see him) tries to hand her a bouquet. She stands, head flung back, until the audience reaches a near-frenzy.

It is a calculated climax of almost unbearable tension and theatricality.

To achieve such control over an audience is one thing, but if you are like Whitney Houston - only 21 years old, on your first major tour and merely the opening act - it is nothing short of remarkable.

But then, very little about Whitney Houston is ordinary.

Her debut album, "Whitney Houston ," climbed to No. 1 on Billboard's black charts. So did "You Give Good Love," her first single, which hit the top spot on the black singles chart and is now No. 4 and rising on the pop chart.

Currently, she is touring the United States as the opening act for smooth rhythm-and-blues singer Jeffrey Osborne.

Later, she will be opening for popular crooner Luther Vandross. A headlining tour for Houston is being planned to follow that.

That this should be happening to her now seems somehow pre-ordained.

"I saw all of this way ahead of time," Houston says with soft assurance before a recent concert. "I saw just what is happening now. It wasn't so much of a goal as it was just something I looked forward to.

"You see, before you venture out into something you've got to know what you have, and if you've got it, if you have something to give, then you go for it. That's what I knew: that God gave me talent and I want to use it."

Heaven knows, Houston has the bloodlines.

She grew up in East Orange, N.J., the daughter of soul singer Cissy Houston , a founding member of the Sweet Inspirations who performed as backup for Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and others. Dionne Warwick is Whitney 's first cousin.

There is little doubt she inherited the musical talent of a talented family. Her songs range from pop to rhythm-and-blues and are tinged with gospel. When she sings, her voice can go from gut-wrenchingly gravelly to angelically pure.

She is also beautiful. Sleek and leggy, Houston has a delicate, almost exotic look that won her a modeling contract with the prestigious Wilhelmina agency.

At age 12, she decided that she wanted to be a singer like her mother, her cousin Dionne and her "Aunt Ree," Aretha Franklin.

She was sitting in the kitchen with her mother when she told her. "Oh, my God," was her mother's immediate reaction.

"It was just a matter of knowing what you have," Houston says, "and my mother knew it. From there she took me, and she trained me, and she taught me."

Houston had for years been singing in the choir of Newark, N.J.'s New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother is the minister of music. But she then began accompanying her mother in the studio, singing backup for Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls. Houston would also sing backup when her mother performed, gradually joining her at the microphone and eventually co-headlining at Sweetwater's, a New York cabaret.

Although record offers came during those years, Houston 's family advised her to wait. She was being carefully groomed and allowed to grow. The singer credits her parents' strength (her father, John, heads Newark's planning board) for helping her keep her balance.

Houston 's manager, Gene Harvey, who has been with her since she was 18, agreed that fending off the initial offers was wise.

"We thought it was too early for her," he says. "She had to develop the emotional strength to deal with the record business."

She spent those years carefully watching and listening, and she is grateful today for her solid grounding.

From her privileged vantage point, Houston has seen the casualties of pop life, and she is determined to avoid the dangers. She knows the temptations created by long, lonely days and nights on the road.

"God is my source," says Houston , whose older brother, Gary Garland, sings in her act. "I don't get lonely like that. You don't when you have something like God.

"I love this," she says of her new life, "but it's nothing to hold onto that's secure."

She has learned to cope with the craziness of the road, including men who find out where she is staying and call. There are people who expect too much or who want too much.

"People do so many things, say so many off-the-wall things. They don't realize that what we do is work. Although we love it, this is our job. And we're human beings. We're not super-people who can fly through the air. We have one incredible thing, and that is talent."

And, yes, Houston has had second thoughts.<BR><BR>

"When I got to feel what the business was really about, I said, `Do I really want to be bothered with this? Is this really something I want to do?'

"And I really do."

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