Sensational word-of-mouth has been going around about Whitney Houston, the 18-year-old daughter of pop-r&b-gospel singer Cissy Houston, and when she took the spotlight in the middle of her mother's set at the Horn of Plenty, she did not disappoint. Mandarin-eyed and coffee-with-cream-colored, a chic-looking young Billie Holiday fit to be photographed by Carl Van Vechten, Whitney took two ordinary pop ballads -- "You Are So Beautiful" and "All the Time" -- and delivered them simply and directly. She sang in long, unfussy lines, building slowly and holding off forever a gorgeous vibrato she deployed very sparingly and only after that throwing in a few blocky gospel phrases almost as a surprise. She has a big voice, the kind that makes you laugh and weep at the same time because it expresses so much more than any particular song. But she didn't wring the tunes dry or scrape them clean or anything like that -- no violence, no overkill. The widest open note was as controlled and clear as the hum she produced by holding the word "time" with her lips closed; every note there was wanted. These are the best habits for a young singer to have. I hope she stays away from the flashy wailing and raw hollers audiences adore.

Singing obbligato on "All the Time," Cissy Houston could not conceal with mother's pride her consternation at not measuring up. She had apologized upfront for having a cold, and it did fray her voice into second-(or third-)rate Gladys Knight bluster. I had hoped for a trace of the clarity and power I remember from the album she did with Herbie Mann (Surprises), but the set showed the same wayward focus and fondness for pop schlock that plague most of her records. Although I suppose if you ever wanted to hear "Tomorrow" (from Annie) again, you could worse than hear Cissy and her backup trio take it to church.

Village Voice, July 1982