NEW YORK DAILY NEWS INTERVIEW - JULY 1999
Diva Whitney - She prays
& sings with her favorite pastor and reflects on life as a star.
By DAVID HINCKLEY
Daily News Staff Writer
When the Rev. Marvin Winans seeks an amen from the congregation at the Perfecting
Church on this particularly hot Sunday morning, he can start in the second row with his
old friend Whitney Houston.
A little more than 12 hours earlier, she was leading her own show at the Fox Theater here.
Now she's enjoying his.
"Church the Way It Was Meant To Be," Marvin Winans calls his Pentecostal house
of worship, and he didn't build Perfecting to 5,000 members by making the service taste
like castor oil.
His choir has 75 voices, fronted by nine soloists and a six-piece band whose leader is
built like Fats Domino and pounds out red-hot rhythms on the Steinway grand. The Rev.
Winans has a different forum than some of his singing siblings, but preaching time is
"You can go to school until you have so many degrees they call you Fahrenheit,"
he thunders. "IT DOESN'T
MEAN GOD HAS CALLED YOU!!!!"
Whitney Houston raises her hands, joins a chorus of "No, it doesn't," and points
an index finger toward the pulpit as if to tell the Rev. Winans that he, he has been
Who knows how? You are called and you serve.
"He's my minister," Houston says after the service. "He was the minister at
my wedding. I love him and I love his church."
Having Whitney Houston's life, she can't always get to her own church, New Hope Baptist in
New Jersey, where her mother, Cissy, is minister of music. In fact, Whitney lost her spot
in the choir there.
"My mother said, You can't make rehearsals, you're out of the choir.' But I'll
She says this sitting in Marvin Winans' office, talking with a visitor while the reverend
has lunch in the next room with a dozen members of the Houston entourage, including
6-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina.
Houston is still in her pink church suit. It is redundant to say she looks stunning. She
sips water and talks politely and directly, with few wasted words.
She is known to drop an occasional expletive into her conversation, probably getting a
quiet kick out of tweaking the old America's Sweetheart image. But in the reverend's
office, she slips just once. Then apologizes.
"I like the name The Perfecting Church,' " she muses later. "It says
we don't come to God perfect. We come as we are, and He helps us from there."
As perfection requires hard work in showbiz as well as life, the 35-year-old Houston is
now back to her singing career. She's on a tour that brought her home to the New Jersey
Performing Arts Center in Newark last night, and will bring her to The Theater at Madison
Square Garden on July 14 and 15, in support of her "My Love Is Your Love" CD.
Her first studio album in eight years, it has gone double platinum and spawned several
hits, including the top-five "It's Not Right, but It's Okay."
That there has been debate over whether double-platinum constitutes slow sales indicates
where Houston has set her bar. Her three previous studio albums sold more than 25 million
copies. She has had 11 No. 1 singles, and "I Will Always Love You," beside
selling 12 million "Bodyguard" soundtracks, was No. 1 for 14 weeks, the
second-longest run in modern history.
Houston also made her acting debut in "The Bodyguard," and has since starred in
"Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife." Next year, she's doing
a movie with Will Smith.
"I always knew I could sing," she says. "But the acting came as a total
surprise. The only person who said The Bodyguard' would get that response was
[co-star] Kevin Costner."
She has had less pleasant surprises over 15 years in the biz, too, especially since her
1992 marriage to Bobby Brown.
"A lot of things surprised me that the tabloids would think people are more
interested in my life than my music, that all they seem to want to know is what's going on
in my bedroom or any of my rooms.
"I didn't know this would become a pleasure of America, that they would take potshots
at me because I had friends who were gay, or who lived a different kind of life."
In her stage patter, Houston brushes off the tabloids, sort of: "Half this mess they
just make up. You try to laugh about it."
So does any of it still sting?
"Some things still sting very badly. Look, I'm not married and have some kind of
double life with some man, or woman. I couldn't live that way. I am married to one man. I
was raised in the church and I careabout morality. I couldn't tell my daughter to do one
thing and do another myself.
"I'm a mother, a wife, a daughter. To the world, I'm Whitney Houston. To me, I'm Mrs.
Bobby Brown. That's who I am.
"No, we don't fight all the time. No, he doesn't beat me. He's got a temper. If you
fluff his feathers, you'll know it. But he's a sweet, gentle man.
"Nobody is good or bad all the time. Everybody has ups and downs and we've had our
moments. They pass. It's just that we can't keep them in the house. They hear anything
about us, they run with it. But they don't get the whole story. Something causes
everything. That's the part people don't hear."
Interestingly, Houston doesn't hide Bobbi Kristina from the world. She comes on stage, she
"Keep her in a bubble? We couldn't if we wanted to," Houston says, laughing.
"Too much energy. She's got my traits and Bobby's, too, except I was kind of timid as
a child and with her, it's Everybody in the pool.' "
And does she have her mother's voice? "She's got my mother's voice,"
says Houston, daughter of the marvelous pop and gospel singer Cissy Houston. "That's
the voice I had when I was 6. So we'll wait and see. If she likes music, I'll encourage
her. I'd like her to learn the technical side, too, so if she wants to play or write, she
can do it herself."
Right now, she's rearing Bobbi Kristina the way she thinks all parents should:
"I want to be there. I can't leave and come back when she's 16. I blew off the Jay
Leno show because there was an activity at her school. I just felt that was more
It's no accident Houston started her tour after school ended, so Bobbi could come along.
Her moment on stage confirms the child has no fear and reflects Houston's growing
confidence in her own ability to improvise.
When an autograph-seeking fan holds a CD over the lip of the stage at the Fox, a
moment that can stop a show, Houston first jokes, "Thanks, I already have one."
Then she takes it, placing hand on hip as if to say, "All right, girl, where's the
pen?" The crowd laughs, she signs and the music resumes.
It looks easy. It isn't. Like making a record.
"Anyone who thinks all I have to do is sing' has no idea. I don't just come in
and they give me a song and I sing it and leave. Those songs are mine. How I sing them is
how I feel them."
Her producers will tell her how she sounds. She'll bounce takes off her husband,
"because he's totally honest." But in the end, she says, the song must be hers,
which is how a singer gets up to where everyone has always felt Whitney Houston's voice
could take her the ranks of Ella, Sarah, Barbra and Judy, artists with a singular
"That's the goal," says Houston. "A career. At first there's pressure to
establish yourself with hits. Today I keep up with current sounds, but there's less
pressure. People know me.
"I knew when I started I wasn't like anyone else not my mother, my cousin
[Dionne Warwick] or anyone. I walked into this business with faith. I didn't walk
into it trying to believe. I did believe. Somehow I knew this is what I would do. I just
love to sing."
On stage now, her show has grown to about two hours. Her top ticket has also risen, with
the market, to $100-plus. "It's a lot," says Houston, nodding. "That's one
reason I'm doing theaters. I don't want the person in the last row not to know what I'm
wearing. I don't want them to see the show on monitors."
She still isn't a dancer, but she moves more easily on stage, and she has plenty of hits
to feed her fans who in Detroit sip mixed drinks and dress to kill.
About half the show is the new CD, the rest her past hits. "I have to do How
Will I Know' and Saving All My Love' and I Will Always Love You,'" she
says. "Those songs brought me here. I'll do them forever."
And is that a burden?
"No, because they all had meaning for me. When I did Saving All My Love,' I was
going through a terrible love affair. He was married and that will never work out
for anybody, never, no way, forget about it."
Everyone, of course, will find meanings of their own. One fan at the Fox pleaded,
successfully, for the towel with which Whitney mops her face.
"I use a towel, I just throw it in the hamper," says Houston. "But I
understand the idea. I have a pair of shoes Ginger Rogers gave me before she passed. I
have things from Dorothy Dandridge, from Sammy Davis. They're a connection to people whose
work I admire."
Houston's next projects also involve people
she admires: Will Smith and Selena. "What Selena did in the English market was
brilliant," says Houston. "[Arista Records President] Clive Davis and I are
thinking about me doing that in the other direction."
In between, she'll be wife, mother, daughter, singer and the rest, in a lineup that's
pretty well set. "I don't make a lot of new friends. People you met after you became
successful, you have to check them out so carefully. My friends are people I've known a
She feels the same about the church. "The church can be our salvation," she
says. "It has to become the center of our community again." She reflects a
moment and adds that it is a community center. It just doesn't get credit.
"That's our lovely press. Don't talk about good things, because if people feel too
good, you have less control over them."
Good news doesn't sell, whether it's the Lord or her marriage?
"That's it," she says. "I know the game. I just won't play it."
She says this in an even tone, calm and cold enough to deep-freeze the state of Michigan.
But whatever the frustration, don't think she doesn't like her life.
"I was a showbiz kid. I'd go to the studio with my mother. I learned music with her,
and I learned from the best. I've had a great time. If I closed my eyes tomorrow, the only
thing that would concern me is my daughter growing up right. For me, for my life, I'd be
When the conversation is over, Houston throws open the door to the room where her posse is
well into lunch. "Now I know," she announces in a loud voice, "that y'all
didn't eat my food! I know you saved me some!"
It's nice she's overcoming that shy streak.
In the corner, Bobbi Kristina is sitting with the Rev. Winans, who is playing a small
"Listen to this, mommy," she says.
All other ground is sinking sand.
Singer monitors daughter's TV, CDs
DETROIT-- Whitney Houston gets asked to help out a lot of causes, but she says she stays
mostly with the ones that help children.
"It's a difficult time to be a child, " she says. "Sometimes it seems like
all we're offering in the streets is death."
On stage, she urges parents to be involved in everything children do. With her own
daughter, Bobbi Kristina, 6, she says:
"We monitor her. When she watches TV, it's the Learning Channel, Nickelodeon and
Disney. She goes to a school where people understand her situation-- no one's going to
leave the Enquirer lying around with some story she shouldn't see. She's not interested in
listening to Marilyn Manson, but if she were, we wouldn't let her. What kind of demon
spawn you find there, I don't know."
There's a role for government, too, says Houston-- "like with gun control. With
movies or music, I wouldn't want to just say, 'This one's good and that one's bad.' The
key is controlling access. Things will always be out there, but it's like drugs or liquor:
You make sure they aren't available to everyone."