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Concert-Hall Swing Easy For Houston hide

Whitney Houston could make the jump from nightclubs to concert halls.

It was just a question of when. Anyone who heard her at Humphrey's on Shelter Island this summer could tell that. Sure, there was still a touch of ingenue, a vulnerability about her.

But when she turned it up, Houston could burn jet fuel at North Island, clear across the harbor. An image burns in the mind of Houston in mid-song standing square at center stage, silent, legs apart, hands out, head thrown back beyond the view of the audience.

Every muscle is tensed, barely restrained by simple flesh as she slowly lifts the microphone until it hangs like Damocles' sword. Bringing the microphone to mouth was like touching a match to gas.

She explodes into the song.

The audience is freed to breathe again. Potent stuff for a little garden-party setting like Humphrey's. She made that jump. Houston debuted in Carnegie Hall in late October.

It was a sellout show, so they added another.

That sellout show was Nov. 20. At the end of her debut, the New York Times said Houston "demonstrated the potential for greatness."

Her performance of "I Am Changing" from "Dreamgirls" brought the crowd to its feet in ovation. And now Houston is coming back to San Diego to show how it's done.

She appears for one evening, tomorrow at Golden Hall. Her first large-hall performance had been long awaited by the New York critics, who heard her perform at Sweetwater's, the Bottom Line and other smoky joints.

In fact, Houston's entire career has been watched with unusual interest. Her career has been carefully nurtured and cultivated, like a hothouse flower. Could she survive in the hostile, fickle world outside?

Now Houston fans are wondering when she will fill her first arena, stadium, Central Park. Houston started in the choir at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark where her mother, Cissy Houston, is minister of music.

Cissy Houston was also a member of the Sweet Inspirations, backup group for, among others, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley and has had a prominent solo career of her own. From her home in Woodbridge, N.J., Whitney said her childhood was spent listening to the queens of gospel, pop and soul as they practiced, rehearsed and recorded.

That included her cousin Dionne Warwick. She grew up not in awe of greatness but in kinship with it.

Warwick wasn't a superstar, Houston said, she was family. When Houston was 15, she said, her mother let her sing backup in her nightclub act.

Slowly over the years, Whitney was brought to the front of the stage, a solo at a time. Along the way she picked up the hyphenated identity of singer-model-actress.

She worked for the classy Wilhelmina Agency, doing covers for Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and Glamour, among others.

She's acted on television in "Gimme A Break" and "As The World Turns." She worked as a background vocalist for Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls and the Neville Brothers, and did duets with Teddy Pendergrass ("Hold Me") and Germaine Jackson ("Take Good Care of My Heart"). But with her debut album on Arista Records, Houston the solo pop stylist has eclipsed her other talents. The album, titled Whitney Houston and released nine months ago, has sold more than 2 million copies and is near the top of Billboard's pop chart. Two songs, "Saving All My Love for You" and "You Give Good Love," are both edging toward million-copy sales. Jackson produced two of the album's songs and sings duet on "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do," a role handled nicely in concert by Houston's brother Gary. Rightly or not, Whitney Houston has been annointed heir-apparent to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Lena Horne, Melba Moore and Diana Ross. That is an awful burden to carry at 22 years old, and really in just the dawn of a career.

But who can say?

If Whitney Houston can continue the successes of the last nine months, she will be queen.

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