"I've been very busy the past few months, but I can't complain," says pop vocalist Whitney Houston. "It goes with the territory."
Besides, what's to complain about?
Houston, who appears with Jeffrey Osborne at Merriweather Post Pavilion tomorrow night, saw her debut album go gold earlier this week, her Top 40 single "You Give Good Love" recently reached No. 1 on the Black Music chart and spawned a hot video to boot, and her concert performances have won her critical acclaim across the country.
That's not all. Another song from the album, the ballad "All at Once," is already a smash in Europe, and even if Houston's recording career were to nosedive tomorrow -- not a likely prospect -- she could always return to modeling. Her statuesque beauty has already adorned the pages of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and French Vogue.
What's more, talent, it seems, runs in the Houston family. The 21-year-old daughter of gospel and R & B vocalist Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick's first cousin, Whitney possesses a powerful and rangy voice, and although her delivery is more refined and thus perhaps better suited to the pop market, it still reflects her gospel upbringing.
"We all came up through the church," she says. "Me, my mother, Dionne -- it was a family tradition." Cissy Houston was the minister of music at the New Hope Baptist Church in East Orange, N.J., where Whitney grew up, but some of her fondest memories came from watching her mother work in another capacity -- as a member of the popular '60s soul group the Sweet Inspirations.
"I remember my mom doing about eight sessions a day," she says, recalling a period in the late '60s when her mother frequently recorded background vocals for other artists, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley among them. "I remember being in the studio and how moving it was to see Aretha work. She brought such great emotion to her music. I decided then that if I was going to sing, I wanted to make people feel the same way about my music."
Besides Franklin, Houston credits both her mother and Warwick for influencing the decision she made at age 12 to pursue singing as a career. "My mother taught me not only how to sing," she says, "but to discover what each song is about -- and what music, any music, really requires to sing it properly. Since Mom was on the road with Dionne when I was growing up, I must have seen Dionne's show a million times. Some of Dionne just had to rub off."
It's merely a coincidence, Houston says, that she wound up recording for Arista Records, the same label as Warwick. "When I decided I wanted to sign a record contract, my management set up a showcase for labels so they could see me perform. Arista was one of them. Actually, I was working with my mother when I met Clive Davis" -- the head of the label -- "and he had no idea Dionne and I were cousins."
Her debut album, simply titled "Whitney Houston," took 2 1/2 years and $250,000 to complete. "Basically, when you want to do something right, it takes time and money," she says. The most challenging part of the project, she discovered, was finding the right songs, although a number of critics have observed that the material on the album, which includes two duets with Jermaine Jackson and one with Teddy Pendergrass, doesn't really do her voice justice.
Still, the duets helped to establish her on the radio. "Actually, I didn't record that song "Hold Me" with Teddy in the studio," Houston confesses. "He had already laid down his vocal, and then I went into the studio to do mine. I didn't meet him until a few weeks later." Jackson happened to see Houston perform in a promotional film shortly after he signed with Arista. "He said he wanted to record with me, and I was delighted," she says.
Houston is also delighted with the response to her first video. "I really loved making it. Some of them dull your imagination -- they don't leave enough space for the viewer to decide what they want the music to be. But sometimes they're like wonderful silent movies -- no talking, just emotion on the screen."
While she's concentrating on her singing career at present, Houston is still under contract as a model. "Singing comes first," she says, adding that modeling came about strictly by chance. "I was walking with my mother in New York. We were going into this building and a man asked me if I wanted to be a model. He sent me upstairs to an agency and they signed me that afternoon. It's a lot harder than you might think, but I really enjoyed it -- you see great places, meet great people."
Houston is already looking forward to her next album, which may be produced by Richard Perry, who's often credited with sustaining the Pointer Sisters' success and sexy image. However, she doesn't see her music changing much. "We haven't really decided on a producer yet. Basically, I just want to keep improving my music, to take my first album and build on it and keep it fresh."
As for the future, Houston sees herself settling down to family life someday. "I can't imagine myself performing for the rest of my life," she says, "even though I love it right now. I want to sit down at one point and enjoy what I've done."
And when might that be?
"A long time!"