Feb 19, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
When Whitney Houston’s death was announced on Feb. 11, my thoughts flashed back to one of the best concerts I’d ever heard, and I’ve attended thousands.
It was Sept. 7, 1986, and Houston – then 23 – appeared at the State Fair Grandstand, a week after the fair had closed. Her original Grandstand date on Aug. 28 had been washed out by relentless rain and rumbling thunder. More than 16,000 disappointed fans dodged puddles as they retreated to the fair’s parking lots.
Joe O’Hara, then the director of the fair, and his assistant, Joe Laguardia, managed to arrange for the superstar to return the Sunday after Labor Day.
Under a headline proclaiming, “Houston’s vocal fire warms crowd,” I reviewed the performance in the Sept. 8, 1986 edition of the Post-Standard:
Night air chilled the sellout crowd of 16,600 who turned out for a second time to hear Whitney Houston’s heavenly voice. But a little chill was nothing compared to the relentless rainstorm that prevented the 23-year-old singing star from performing Aug. 28 during the run of the State Fair.
After making her long-awaited entrance with the help of the “2001” theme, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Houston welcomed the audience.
“I told you I’d be back,”” she exclaimed. “Tonight, this show is your show.”
Houston looked more like the girl next door than the glamorous seductress depicted in her videos. Sporting a black satin Music Television tour jacket over a lavender jogging outfit, Houston kicked up her silver suede boots for a funky version of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something.” Her full head of long kinky hair shook like a tree on a windy day as she pranced about the stage.
Pretty as she is, with piercing eyes and a smile as broad as the Brooklyn Bridge, people don’t buy tickets so much to see Whitney Houston as to hear her. She has a voice that could move mountains.
Part of Houston’s talent is inherited. Her mother, Cissy Houston, was the founder of The Sweet Inspirations gospel group, and pop singer Dionne Warwick is Whitney’s cousin. But the impressive pedigree only gives potential.
Houston’s raw talent has been carefully nurtured, starting with choir work at the New Hope Baptist Church as a child, and stints as a back-up singer during her teens.
Her debut LP on Arista Records showcased a mix of uptempo dance tunes and soulful ballads that display Houston’s incredible vocal ability.
To say Whitney Houston has a voice is like saying the Atlantic Ocean has water.
Though slightly built, Houston exudes power when she sings. She’s got it all: vocal range, control, phrasing, emotion, style and technique.
On a song like Paul Jabara’s ballad, “Eternal Love,” Houston holds the low notes for a long time. “Eternal Love” segues into “You Give Good Love,” one of the singles from her LP. Here Houston rides the high range, recalling the style of the late Minnie Riperton.
Whether singing high or low, holding those notes takes strong lungs and years of breath control practice.
Houston’s brother, Gary Garland, sang several duets during the concert. He may not be Jermaine Jackson or Teddy Pendergrass, but he does well especially on the precision harmonies on “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do.” Garland also vocalized on “Hold Me” and “Take Good Care of My Heart,” a mid-tempo thumper.
Saxophonist Josh Harris blows the familiar intro to “How Will I Know?” the rocking dance number that rocketed to the top spot on the charts earlier this year. The Grandstand crowd, young and old, black and white, stood up to boogie. “How Will I Know?” is still going strong. Just last week, Houston’s video version was tapped as the Best Female Video of 1986.
An occasional crackle through the PA marred a ballad here and there, but the sound mix was wonderful. It’s a pleasure to hear all the lyrics.
Houston enjoys the backing of a top-notch band. Conductor/pianist John Simmons keeps the seven musicians and four back-up singers cranking it out. And he’s careful that everything they do complements Houston’s vocal artistry.
Houston rendered her third No. 1 hit, “Saving All My Love For You,” a little bit differently than the recording. With a sultrier voice, she emphasizes the adulterous theme of the hit song, and she holds the high notes longer than she did in the studio.
Switching gears quickly, Houston hauls out a chunky rhythm on “Someone for Me.” Once again, the falsetto reaches for the sky as she infuses the paean to loneliness with a gritty, sense of urgency. Then the band takes a breather as a. lone spotlight shows Houston at center stage for an emotion-filled “I Believe,” a gospel number previously recorded by her mother.
“This is from me to you,” she said to introduce her dramatic closer “The Greatest Love of All.” With her heritage firmly grounded in soul and gospel, Whitney Houston’s future is clearly bright as she continues to climb to her peak of pop perfection.