Whitney Houston’s family wants to highlight her gospel roots

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Whitney Houston’s brother remembers when his young sister listened to their mother during gospel rehearsals before she mimicked every tune that was sung.

As Houston rose to pop superstardom, her exceptionally talented vocals were rooted in gospel music. And now, her family — led by her sister-in-law Pat and brother Gary Houston — wants the foundation of her musical legacy to continue to live on through her new posthumous gospel album and documentary under the same name, “ I Go to the Rock: The Gospel Music of Whitney Houston.

“Gospel was in her heart,” said Gary Houston, who recalled his sister around the age of 5 wearing their mother Cissy Houston’s wig and high heels while using a broom as a microphone. “We woke up to and went to sleep to gospel. She would sing exactly what she heard my mother and her siblings. No secular music. It was all gospel.”

Pat Houston, the executor of Whitney Houston’s estate, said she’s excited for listeners to hear the six-time Grammy-winner’s message of hope and faith and the influential mark gospel music had on her life and career through both projects, which both were released Friday last week. The documentary, hosted by CeCe Winans, aired on UPtv and AspireTV and will be available on DVD.

The singer’s 14-track album features several tunes from notable soundtracks including “Jesus Loves Me” from “The Bodyguard,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” from “Sparkle” along with “I Go to the Rock” and “Joy to the World” from “The Preacher’s Wife” soundtrack – the best-selling gospel album of all time. The project also includes six unreleased tracks – three of which (“He Can Use Me,” “I Found a Wonderful Way” and “Testimony”) were recorded when she was 17 years old.

“You heard the innocence of her voice,” said Pat Houston. “You could see where she started and how she ended up with all her hits throughout her career. Any song is a great song of Whitney Houston’s. You heard her gospel roots all wrapped up in her music.”

Whitney Houston first started singing at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, as a child. Between the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists with her effortlessly powerful vocals rooted in the Black church but made palatable to the masses with her pop persona.

It understandably took time for the family to grieve after Whitney Houston’s death in 2012. Her brother, Gary, said he still feels his sister’s spirit whenever it rains, or when a bird visits him while he’s at home adding that “when the doorbell rings, I think it’s her.”

But now, Gary and Pat Houston feel like they’re in a better place. That’s one of the reasons Pat felt now is the perfect time to release the gospel-centric projects — especially with Easter next month and Whitney Houston’s 60th birthday celebration on the horizon in August.

“An Easter project is something she always wanted to do since her visit to Israel,” Pat Houston said. “It never came into fruition. We’re doing this all through Whitney’s lens. It’s special because this is her 60th birthday celebration. This project is definitely a labor of love for her. It represents her in such a very spiritual way.”

Pat Houston said she hopes viewers can find closure through watching the documentary with several guest appearances including Jenifer Lewis, Kim Burrell and Kevin Costner. It features the singer’s first-ever performance in front of an audience as well as many others including her singing “I Go to the Rock” with The Georgia Mass Choir on “Saturday Night Live” in 1996, “Jesus Loves Me” in Santiago, Chile, in 1994, and “Guide Me O Thou, Great Jehovah” on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1990.

“Hopefully one could have peace and knowing that Whitney Houston was a woman of God,” she said. “No one is really exempt from the harsh realities of the world. She certainly understood that. But Whitney expressed her love for God. She knew where her strength was coming from and she showed it throughout the documentary.”

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