Whitney Houston remembered
In October 1997, during the waning moments of Whitney Houston’s heyday, the singer performed two historic shows at the recently renovated DAR Constitution Hall.
Backed by a 35-piece orchestra and watched by more than 2,500 attendees, she belted out her hits with surprising force, swooping skyward into the rafters and down into the floorboards with her supersized mezzo-soprano. Not all of the material was her own. Some selections were old gospel tunes that hearkened back to her days as a young churchgoer in Newark, N.J., and others were classic songs originally performed by Miss Houston’s biggest influences, from Diana Ross to Dionne Warwick.
In a final display of gratitude for those who came before her, Miss Houston dedicated both shows to the late Marian Anderson, a black opera singer who’d been blocked from performing at DAR Constitution Hall in 1939.
Pop music had become firmly integrated by the 1990s, when Miss Houston dominated the charts alongside multiracial artists such as Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and Selena. Much of the work had been done by her predecessors, who helped break down barriers for black musicians during the Motown era. Even so, Miss Houston carried the torch into the 1980s and beyond, performing a wide range of music - pop, soul, gospel, R&B, dance, adult contemporary - that appealed to all audiences without whitewashing its black roots.
Unlike the Motown movement, which radiated outward from its Detroit headquarters, Miss Houston’s songs couldn’t be traced back to a single place. They were part of a global sound, the soundtrack to a modern world that no longer listened to music along racial lines. Some of her biggest hits were contemporary-sounding songs that catered to new trends, but others - including “The Greatest Love of All,” “I Have Nothing” and her stirring, rafter-reaching version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” - were timeless ballads, seemingly unconcerned with the past or present.
Over the course of her 30-year career, Miss Houston revitalized the role of the big-voiced singer, paving the way for proud divas like Miss Carey, Mary J. Blige and Adele. Her influence spread into all corners of the pop world, all colors of the color wheel.
For local fans mourning her Saturday death, there’s perhaps no better way to celebrate her legacy than to think about those DAR Constitution Hall shows, when a sharp, sober Miss Houston performed for more than 150 minutes, honoring those who came before her while laying the brickwork for a new generation of vocalists.
“I love you, D.C.!” she announced at the beginning of the second show, while everyone from Bobby Brown to scores of Capitol Hill politicians looked on.
We love you, too, Miss Houston.
“Young and Old”
Fat Possum Records
After making a splash in the indie community with “Cape Dory,” the band’s 2011 debut, Tennis is back for another round.
“Cape Dory” attracted an unusual amount of attention for such a young band, thanks in part to a back story that sounded more like a movie plot. Band members Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley had written the album while sailing along the Eastern Seaboard for seven months, an experience that led to their marriage after the trip’s conclusion. The songs themselves reflected the pair’s time at sea, mixing ‘50s pop melodies with a tropical, beachy theme.
This time around, the band has a different kind of secret weapon in the form of Black Keys percussionist Patrick Carney, who produces “Young and Old” and lends its songs some muscular heft. Tennis certainly isn’t a heavy band; tunes like “My Better Self” feel like modern-day re-creations of Brill Building pop songs, stripped of the ornate string arrangements and performed with hip, lo-fi nonchalance. Even so, Mr. Carney’s influence adds some weight to these airily melodic tracks, which float along in a haze of keyboards and female vocals.
Miss Moore is the real star here, responsible for the album’s cutesy charm and punchy hooks. Her vocals, barely discernible beneath the hazy reverb that hung over “Cape Dory,” are pushed to the forefront, and she sings each number like a newlywed who’s been through the honeymoon stage and glimpsed what life is like on the other side. “Young and Old” may still be cute, but it’s got a dangerous bite, too.