Can An Ex-Mailroom Clerk
From the Projects Find Happiness and Stardom in
2 Atlanta Dreamhouses?
KEITH Sweat believes in two things: premonitions and love. He hasgood reason to believe in both. His persistent premonitions as a childgrowing up in Harlems Grant Projects told him he was going to be a star.His painful experiences as a man trying to make a bad love relationshipgood made those premonitions a reality.
"People might think I'm lying about them," saysSweat, referring to his childhood premonitions, "but as a kid Iused to go to bed and dream I was onstage giving a concert. I could seemyself singing and the people were screaming and the whole thing was soreal to me I used to wake up and really believe I had done a show. Youcouldn't tell me it didn't happen .... I would get up in themorning and start looking in my pockets for all the money I'd madefrom my shows."
As evidenced by his palatial new home on the outskirts of Atlanta,the money in Sweats pockets these days is clearly real. His dream housein suburban Alpharetta is complete with backyard pool ("I love towatch the lights dance on it at night), waterfall ("I designed itmyself'), indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis ("I just had those putin"), spiral staircase leading to a sweeping loft ("I'mstill deciding how to decorate it") and numerous bedrooms connectedto matching marble bathrooms.
The basement (in which he is building a state-of-the-art gym) andbackyard (which he is in the process of landscaping) are in variousstates of completion and Sweat has left the recording studio and flownin from L.A. on the red-eye this morning to personally supervise thefinal tree plantings. "Yon wouldn't believe how many trees Ihave around here and how long it took me to get just the right lights tooutline them," he says, surveying the workers from a mammothsecond-floor deck overlooking a Jacuzzi and pool.
He says he doesn't even want to talk about how much money hespent to have the two 500-pound marble dogs that stand guard on eachside of his front door flown in from the West Coast. "I'mtrying to forget how much that cost, but I just had to havethem,"he says.
The third of five children, Sweat even used some of his money topurchase a dream home for his mom, a former beautician, just around thecorner from his. "I don't know how to explain it,. he says ofthe childhood visions that made it all possible, "but those dreamsseemed so real I knew they were really premonitions."
Sweat may have known he was destined to be a singing/songwritingsensation but, at least in the beginning, no one else did. Though hisfirst two albums, Make It Last Forever and I'll Give All My Love ToYou, went multiplatinum and his latest album, Keep It Comin', hasalready been certified gold, when the single, thirtysomething balladeerfirst started shopping his demo tapes, he couldn't buy a recorddeal.
After graduating from the City College of New York with a degree incommunications, Sweat was working on Wall Street as a brokerageassistant. Though he was making decent money (he'd worked his wayup from the mailroom of Paine Webber), he just wasn't fulfilled. Nomatter how he tried, he just couldn't forget those premonitions.
He didn't even want to sing the songs so much anymore. He justwanted to write them. So he spent his nights--and hispaychecks--recording his tunes and trying to get someone, anyone, to buythem. He might as well have been selling Sinatra tickets at the Apollo.
"All of the recording companies turned me down flat," herecalls with a wan smile. "Everybody said the same thing:'Thanks but no thanks. Your songs just aren't hot enough forour artists to sing. '"
That's when Sweat started singing them himself. And thats whenhe got his record deal and, with it, a once-ina-Iffetime shot at makinghis childhood dreams come true.
Its also when his personal life started to crumble and his longtimegirlfriend broke his heart. 'That was a very tough time in mylife," he confides, referring to the months he spent writing andrecording his 1987 debut album, "I was coming out of a relationshipwhere I was hurt and I mean really hurt bad. It was a heartbreakrelationship for me--the kind where you are hurting so much you have tofind someone to talk to or go crazy. I didn't really have anyone totalk to so what I did was talk to my album."
Everyday and every night. Drained and distraught, feeling like awalking package of shattered glass, Sweat's songs became more thanmusic to him. They became his confidant, his psychiatrist, his solesource of solace. "Everything I was feeling, all the hurt and thepain and the emotion I was going through, I put into my music," hesays, staring out at the turquoise water of his backyard pool. "Onthat album, I wasn't writing about something I didn't know. Iwas writing about my life. And I really think that's why peopleresponded to it so strongly. They knew it was real..
It took several months, says Sweat, but slowly and inevitably, hehealed. Ironically, the racking heartache had a silver lining. The albuminto which he poured all his grief and pain occupied the No. 1 spot onboth the Black single and album charts--the first time that had happenedin more than a decade. "When people heard those songs two thingshappened," he says. "First, they could relate to them becauseeveryone has been hurt in love. And second, when they listened to them,they could hear that I knew what I was singing about."
Which is why, says Sweat, he has continued to write songs aboutlove-- whether it's lost, found or desperately searched for."Pretty much all of my songs are autobiographical," saysSweat, who co-wrote all 10 of the tracks on his current album."They're about situations I've gone through being in arelationship. You won't hear me write a song about walking on abeach because that isn't what my life has been about. I write songsabout what I know and what I know is the ups and downs of relationships.What I know about is what it feels like to hurt and be hurt. What I knowabout is love."
And how to convey the power and pain of it. When Sweat performslive, his mostly adult female audience resembles a screaming, shriekingthrong of lovesick teenagers, showering him with everything from flowersto housekeys to panties. During a recent Washington, D.C., performance,the singers security guards had to physically rescue him from ahysterical fan who, desperate to touch him, rushed the stage and tackledhim. "I crawled across that stage so fast even I didn't know Icould move that quick," he recalls chuckling.
Though his Make It Last Forever World Tour sold out 20,000-seatarenas (including two sold-out shows at London's prestigiousHammersmith Odeon), Sweat has no plans to tour to promote his currentalbum. Instead, he is wrapping up writing and producing chores on anupcoming album for SILK, the male quartet singing background on hiscurrent album, which he will launch on his own label, SWEAT Records.
Once he's finished in the studio, Sweat says he wants to relaxand cool out, to "take a little time for me, to do the things Iwant to do." What he wants to do is spend more "qualitytime" with his 4-year-old daughter, Keisha, from a previousrelationship, ("When I say quality time I mean take her everywhereand be 'Daddy' "), his mom ("She really talked meinto moving to Atlanta"), and enjoy his new home.
"I've been spending most of my time on the West Coast inthe studio with SILK so I've hardly spent any time here," hesays referring to his sixbedroom, eight-bathroom house.
On the personal side, Sweat says he "is involved in arelationship now" though he does not want to elaborate. "Somuch of my life is public, I want to keep my personal life as private asI can," he explains. One thing he will say is that he does want tomarry some day, but only when he is sure "it is the rightrelationship, the right woman..
As for his old scars, Sweat says he has become philisophical aboutthe heartache. "You can't stop loving or wanting to lovebecause when its right it's the best thing in the world, "hesays. "When you're in a relationship and its good, even ifnothing else in your life is right, you feel like your whole world iscomplete."
But one question lingers. Now that he has made his childhoodfantasy come true, now that his heart has mended and the old hurts arejust a distant memory, can a former mailroom clerk from the Harlemprojects handle the weighty pressures of real-life stardom and, mostimportant, fulfill the promise of his first album to Make It LastForever? A slow smile illuminates his Face. "As long as I keep myfeet on the ground," he says, reaching for the phone to book aflight to L.A.
In other words, no Sweat.
Boss of Armys ROTC uses tough love to help youths be the best theycan be
TALKING in clipped military cadence, the solidly built Army generalin camouflage suit and combat boots was telling it like it is. He wasaddressing a racially integrated group of brighteyed male and femaleJunior ROTC cadets at a recent summer camp session at Fort Jackson, S.C.If there is anything we have been trying to teach you here," thegeneral barked into a microphone, "it is not to be a quitten Now isthe time to get the word 'quit' out of your vocabulary! Yourepresent the future! Set yourself some goals now about where you aregoing in life! We want you to become a stronger person! The person mostresponsible for you from this day' forward is YOU!"
The enthusiastic applause that followed the general's addressindicated that his blunt message had fallen on receptive ears and that,contrary to conventional wisdom, it is still possible to "getthrough" to kids.
Since becoming boss of the prestigious U.S. Army ROTC CadetCoramand at Fort Monroe, Va., two and a half years ago, Maj. Gen.|Vallace C. Arnold, a 31-year Army veteran, has applied his own brand oftough love while molding military leaders and exhorting high schoolstudents enrolled in Junior ROTC to finish school and become bettercitizens. As commander of the Army's ROTC, which last yearcelebrated its 75th anniversary, the general is charged with one of theArmys most vital missions--the recruiting and training of 70 percent ofits officers.
In carrying out his mission, Gen. Arnold commands a staff of some3,800 men and women, including officers, enlisted personnel andcivilians. Currently, there are 44,000 ROTC cadets (including 15.7percent Blacks) enrolled at more than 1,000 colleges and universitieswhere upon successful completion of courses in military science andsummer training sessions they will be commissioned as second lieutenantsfor an eight-year commitment in either the U.S. Army, the Army NationalGuard or the U.S. Army Reserve. At the same time, there are 126,292 highschool students taking part in the nationwide Army Junior ReserveOfficers' Training Corps (JROTC) program, which, while teachingbasic military skills, focuses primarily on developing good citizenship."The purpose of JROTC," the general explains, "is verydistinctly to create better young Americans. We teach them self-respect,respect for each other, selfdiscipline, team work and feeling good aboutthemselves." Unlike the college ROTC program, JROTC carries nomilitary career commitment on the part of the students.
As the Army is undergoing drastic downsizing (by approximately 25percent) in response to the end of the Cold War and a consequentlydiminished need for officers, the ROTC program is making correspondingcuts, from its yearly production of 8,000 second lieutenants to 5,200.This, the general explains, does not mean that young men and women whoseek commissions through ROTC today will find themselves looking forcivilian jobs tomorrow because they have been phased out. He insiststhat there will still be ample opportunities for young officers becausethe Army will make sure that it will not create more officers than itneeds.
The widely held assumption that West Point graduates have the edgeover ROTC-trained officers is countered by ROTC staffers with apersuasive argument. They point out that the Army's two topleaders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell,and the Armys chief of staff, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, as well as themajority of the top commanders of Desert Storm are products of ROTC.
Dispelling concerns that Blacks, who today make up one third of theArmy, will play a diminished role in the future, Gen. Arnold urges youngBlacks not to give up their interest in an Army career."Blacks," he says, "have played a very important rolehistorically in our military. That role hasn't always beenrecognized. But that role will continue in the future. We will continueto be available for Black youngsters who want to come into our Army: Iconsider Black Americans a very important part of this country, and theywill be a very important part of our military in the future. They [youngBlacks] will have the same opportunities in the future that they havehad in the past." In other words, the Army pie will get smaller,but Blacks' proportionate share, according to the general, willremain the same.
In spite of this, Gen. Arnold admits that downsizing ROTC will makethe process for selecting applicants to the commissioning program andfor awarding lucrative ROTC scholarships (up to $7,500 per school year,plus a $1,000 allowance) considerably more competitive. The generalleaves no doubt that young people who have poor grades and are unwillingto work hard need not at3ply. "We are looking for bright,wellrounded young people who desire to be leaders in our Army," heexplains. "They have to be well motivated toward the service. Weneed a number of them who have technical skills, who are able tointegrate the use of technology with leadership skills to get the jobdone."
Separating the men from the beys is a painstaking process, thegeneral explains. "We evaluate each of them, day and night, on howthey lead and how they perform. I am looking for staying power. I lookfor whats inside of them, just to find out if there is a little steelthat won't bend, that won't break and that won't wearout."
As a Black officer, Gen. Arnold says, he is thoroughly committed toequal opportunity, not only in his command but in the Army in general."I'm not saying that we have achieved all the levels offairness and that discrimination has been eliminated," he concedes,"but where I find that it [discrimination] is going on, I'mnot hesitant nor reticent about taking action to correct it."
None of his staff officers accuses the general of reticence,although they say he rarely, if ever, shouts at them. In discussing hisleadership style, the general recalls that when he was a colonel andabout to receive his first star, a ranking general reminded him that ageneral doesnt have to shout in order to get his subordinates to listen."I've tried to remember that," the two-star general saystoday, "but I'm not sure that I've always succeded."
Members of the generals staff agree that their boss is a rathercongenial fellow and unusually approachable, as far as generals go, andthat working for him is rough, but rewarding. "He makes you workyour butt off," said one lieutenant colonel, "but he worksjust as hard, if not harder, himself."
Much of the dedication to hard work that enabled Washington,D.C.-born Gen. Arnold to rise to the top of his profession was instilledin him early in life, first as a pupil in a one-room segregated schoolin rural Calverton, Va., then at William C. Taylor High School inWarrenton, Va., and finally at Hampton Institute (now University) wherehe studied industrial education and joined ROTC. In 1960 he wasgraduated with a B.S. degree and commissioned a second lieutenant. (Hehas since added an M.A. degree in personnel management andadministration from George Washington University.) He promptly foundhimself in Korea where he was assigned to a Hawk missle battery. Afterfive months, he recalls, the battery executive officer was promoted tobattery commander and told him that he would be the new batteryexecutive officer. When he asked his boss how, as the lowest rankinglieutenant in the peeking order, he could become the No. 2 man in thebattery, his boss told him, "Because I want you to. Thatshow." The general said that it was that kind of confidence hissuperiors placed in him early in his career that motivated him to stayin the Army. In addition to being posted in Korea, Gen. Arnold servedwith distinction in Vietuam, in the Pentagon and, immediately prior tohis present assignment, in Europe.
Looking hack on his long Army career during which he aequired awife, two daughters and a five-year-old grandson, the 54-year-oldgeneral who looks like a man who takes his PT seriously, says that hesnot yet sure what he'll do when retirement time comes around inabout four years. Until then, some of his goals are to give to the Armythe best qualified and best trained young officers it has ever had andto build a system that will accomplish that on a continuing basis."I also want to invigorate the Junior ROTC program and have thatprogram become a more valuable program in this society of ours," hesays. "And as a minority [member] in our Army, I shall continue touse my influence and my position to insure that diversity is part of ourinstitution, that diversity remains something thats highlighted, that wedon't back away from and continue to imbed in our military and inour society."
IN an instant it would all be over. All the weeks of waiting andwondering had come down to this place, this moment.
As Sigourney Weaver opened the envelope containing the winner ofthe 1992 Tony Award for best actor in a musical, Gregory Hines sattransfixed and motionless, his eyes focused on the steps leading up tothe stage. First, he counted them. Then he memorized the number of stepsand the height. He was terrified that if he won he--the man who jammedwith Judith Jamison, tapdanced with Sammy Davis Jr. and "pas dedueled" with Mikhail Baryshnikov would make a complete fool ofhimself by falling on the stairs on the way to claim his prize. Or evenworse than falling flat on his face would be the pain of facing up toyet another loss.
He wanted the whole thing to be over. He wanted it to go onforever. He wanted to jump and run all the way home to the safety of hispenthouse apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City where he wasborn and reared. But most of all he wanted to know i/; after more than40 years in show business, he had finally nabbed the jewel that hadeluded him for his entire career.
And then the announcement: And the Tony goes to Gregory Hines ! ToHines, the sound of his own name was so sweet, so melodic, that hedoesn't know how he got on stage ("I don't rememberleaving my seat,"), never mind how he maneuvered the dreadedstairs. All he can recall is the warmth that washod over him when herealized that he had finally captured the honor that had thrice eludedhim for his Tony-nominated performances in Eubie, Comin' Uptown andSophisticated Ladies.
"I remember every time I lost--and I lost three times in arow--when I heard the other person's name it was such a harsh soundand the rush of emotion was such that it actually hurt," heconfesses.
But not this time. This time, the sound was as soft and sweet as alovers caress. "When I heard my own name," he recalls, "Igot this warm rush that went through my whole body."
And what a body it is. At 47, Hines still has the chiseled, sinewybuild of a man half his age: the sculptured arms, the dancers legs, thewashbeard stomach of a Malibu lifeguard. To attain it and to develop thestamina required to perform eight shows a week, Hines had to redesignhis diet and spend hours in the gym working out with weights.
Not that he's complaining. Jelly is a breakthrough role, andhe knows it. "This is the first time in my career," he says,"that I feel like I was part of something that was great."
There are other reasons for Hines' intense satisfaction withthe phenomenal success of Jellys Last Jam. Broadway's daring hitmusical in which he stars as Jelly Roll Morton, the jazz pioneer whogrew up in the privileged, light-skinned Creole society ofturn-of-the-century New Orleans and denied, according to the musical,his roots while scorning dark-skinned Blacks.
For starters, his wife of ll years, Pamela Koslow, co-produced theshow. In fact, he relates, she is the reason he is starring in it. Afterreading the script, Hines knew one thing: he wasn't going to playJelly. There were too many things he didn't like about thecharacter, and he didn't hold out any hope that he and George C.Wolfe, Jellys 37-year-old writer/director, could work out their creativedifferences.
Then Koslow intervened ("She encouraged me to stay open")and Hines went to see a workshop performance of Jelly in L.A. Then andthere, he decided to give it a shot. "1 saw George's greattalent and the great risks he was taking with the African-Americanstage," he says.
Those risks are the real reason he decided to do the show. Bytaking them, Hines believed that, for the first time in his career, hewould have a chance "to say something important" about theinterior life of Black Americans.
"I loved being in shows like Eubie and Sophisticated Ladiesbut I knew they weren't really saying anything," he says.'"Jelly is. One of the best-kept secrets in the world is theracism that exists within the African-American community. And I knewthat to have a piece on Broadway about... the attitudes we have abouthair quality and skin color and class would not only affect White andAfricanAmerican audiences, but it would speak on larger issues of thehuman condition."
Speaking about those issues by using the life of Jelly Roll Mortonto explore the essence and consequences of Black America's internalracial anxiety is, for Hines, what has made the success of Jelly sospecial. Not winning the Tony. Not his wife's success. But thesweet satisfaction of exploding the stereotypical Black musical("For too long on the muscial stage we have perpetuated the myththat African-Americans are always singing and dancing and happy")and, on a deeply personal level, having the guts to be part of somethingthat is bold and courageous enough to address one of the most sensitiveissues in Black America: pigment, shade, and all the pathos of the wholelight-skinned/dark-skinned thing.
"I have been touched by it in my own family, "heconfides. "My mother comes from a very light-skinned background. Myfather is dark-skinned, and when they fell in love her father refused tocome to their wedding."
Growing up, Hines can remember "the subtle references to skincolor and hair quality, the subtle sense of superiority" he feltfrom light-skinned Blacks and his puzzlement at the pride in hisgrandparents' voices whenever they told him he had relatives fromCork, Ireland.
"I grew up in the '60s when we were all trying to sit ata lunch counter so I knew that whether I had somebody in my family fromCork, Ireland, didn't mean anything," he says. "I knew Iwas going to get hit over the head just like the darkestAfrican-American sitting next to me."
Those experiences may help explain why, even after Hines committedto playing Jelly, there were some edgy, anxious moments. For Hines, asfor many Black Americans, Jellys issues were just so close-to-the-boneraw, there were days when he just couldn't handle it. 'Wherewere lines I couldn't say untfl the first week of previews,"he says. 'Where were days in rehearsal when I'd say, 'Whydo I have to say that? I'm not going to say that line."'
Lines like No coon stock in this Creolel Or the unforgettablycutting As bitches go, you come the closest, which Hines' charactersays to his girlfriend by way of explaining that no woman, her included,could ever understand him completely.
Obviously, this is not the lighthearted fare of the traditionalmusical. And Jelly dares to push the envelope even further. In anarrestingly erotic bedroom scene, Hines (clad only in his briefs) andfellow Tony-winner Tonya Pinkins (attired in a blisteringly sexy blackgarter belt and teddy) dramatize the entire sexual and emotional natureof their relationship. Honored with 11 Tony nominations and sell-outcrowds since it opened, Jelly is in the opinion of many critics andtheatergoers what the New York Times called "the breakthroughmusical of our time."
Despite the kudos, the show has been criticized for being morefiction than fact. "Jelly was no racist," says Bob Greene, aMorton expert who toured for years with his World of Jelly Roll Mortonconcert. "He was a New Orleans Creole and all his recordings werewith Black musicians. His idol was the pianist Tony Jackson, fully Black.... In contradiction to the very premise of the play, he knew hisroots and drew his music from
Hines disagrees, saying: "I think the play follows the truthvery dosely. In fact, I think we've softened it a bit. I thinkthere have been areas of Jellys actual life that have been softened tomake him as palatable as he can be and yet still tell the story of hislffe."
The story of Hines' own life contains more than enough dramafor a Broadway play. A native New Yorker, he grew up in Harlem idolizingSammy Davis Jr. and other regulars at the Apollo Theater. By the time hewas 25, he had tapped all over the world--first in a duet with olderbrother Maurice, then later as a trio with his father, Maurice Sr. ondrums as Hines, Hines and Dad. To the outside world, he seemed to haveit all--money, fame, a beautiful wife and daughter. But the truth, hesays, is that he was "desperately unhappy."
In the early '70s, after months of racking soul searching,Hines broke up his marriage and the family act and fled to Venice Beach,Calff., where he played guitar in a jazz/rock band and lived thequintessential hippie lifestyle: equal parts sex, drugs and rock'n' roll. Once, when his mother telephoned, Hines was brutallyhonest about why he couldn't chat. "I said, 'Look I justdropped some acid so I can't talk now,'" he recalls.
And then he met Pamela Koslow, and he knew he had found whathe'd been searching for.
'?is the years have gone by, I feel like Pamela and I havejust been able to get to a level of intimacy that I had only dreamedabout," Hines says of Koslow, with whom he has a 9-year-old son,Zachary. "I don't know what it is with Pamela and me but I amnever completely comfortable when I'm not around her.... This lovethat we have, it is the most powerful emotion in my life." And themost powerful physical force. After 20 years together, Hines'hunger for his wife is as intense as it is conspicuous. When Koslowstops by the crowded care where he is having lunch, Hines dropseverything-his fork, his sentence, his defenses-to give her a long,lingering, lustful kiss.
And just what has kept him fascinated with Koslow for 20 years?Hines grins. "Pamela," he says, "is the best 1over that Ihave ever been with. She is an amaz/ng sexual partner.... Sometimes Ithink that was the pull that brought us together and ultimately that isthe thing that keeps us together."
On the subject of her husbands lovemaking skills, Koslow is equallyeffusive. "One of the most romantic things about Greg is that he isa wonderful lover and always has been," she statesunselfconsciously, adjusting the tiny diamond she wears in her nose.
In fact, because Hines is such "a loving, physical man,"Koslow says she has grown accustomed to watching his love scenes, thoughshe admits it took some getting used to.
"Greg is a very giving, very loving man," she says,"and that is the kind of image he wants to portray to youngAfrican-American men. So I have gotten used to the fact that he is goingto push for a love scene."
Ironically, Hines doesn't, he says, think of himself as sexy."I like to wear G-string underwear and really look deeply into mywife's eyes because it makes me feel sexy," he says, "butI've just never thought of myself that way."
However much Hines may adore his wife, there must have been timeswhen he has felt the disapproval, if not the outright hostility, ofothers because of his decision to marry a White woman? "I have feltvarious kinds of energy--everything from complete approval to completedisapproval... ,"he says. "But I don't think I have everfelt a real strong defensive mechanism behind this love. If someonedidn't really particularly care for my choice, I have never feltthat I needed to explain or justify it because my love for Pamela hasalways felt so right. From the time I met her, it just felt like weshould be together. So any kind of energy that I have ever felt thatpeople didn't particularly dig it usually passed by me prettyquickly."
Sadly, the negative energy between Hines and his brother, Maurice,has done anything but pass quickly. He hasn't spoken to his onlybrother in more than seven years. What could cause such a deep andenduring emotional rupture? Hines sighs, shaking his head:
"Maurice and I are very different. And also there is a realtruth to sibling rivalry. The fact that my brother and I are in the sameprofession, that we worked together in the same act for almost 30 years,are all contributing factors. So much of our relationship was in theact. And maybe with my brother and me, the act might have been what keptus together. And when it was gone, it was tough for us to find a reasonto spend time together."
When Hines is not performing, he spends most of his time with hiswife, his recently married daughter, Daria Him ("I'm notpushing it but I can't wait to be a grandfather"), his sonZachary ("He's taking tap lessons") and Jessica Koslow,his wife's daughter by a previous marriage. He knows hes thehottest star on Broadway, but he says he has never found a better rolethan the one he plays in real lffe.
"Sometimes when I think about the whole scheme ofthings," he says, "I think that being a parent is really whyI'm here. Not to tap dance or entertain, but to love my childrenand teach them how to love so that they can love their children and thecycle is unbroken .... That s why I get chills just thinking about agrandchild--that I would be able to hold a child that, comes from mychild and know that my child can love this baby because I was able tolove her because my parents love me. Thats what its all about."
and Bobby Brown
are wed in elaborate, starstudded ceremony
on the brides New Jersey estate
IT was the wedding of the decade, the most talked-about celebrityevent of the year, and the most coveted invitation of the summer socialseason.
On a smoldering July afternoon, superstar singer Whitney Houstonand pop-soul star Bobby Brown exchanged wedding vows in a privateceremony on Houstons posh New Jersey estate. Witnessed by a smallgathering Of family and close friends, including dozens of celebritiesand entertainment tycoons, the talented stars were pronounced husbandand wife in a romantic garden gazebe adorned with 8,000 roses andhundreds of orchids, all in lavender and purple, the GrammyAward-winning bride s favorite color.
Radiant in a form-fitting beaded, Lyon lace gown with a four-foottrain and a beaded headpiece with floor-length beaded tulle, ateary-eyed Houston was escorted down the carpeted aisle'which ledfrom a rear entrance of her $10 million home--by her father, JohnHouston, as a string orchestra played Mendelssohns wedding march.
Houston s close friend, the ReV. Marvin Winans, a member of thepopular gospel singing family, officiated at the 35-minute, double-ringceremony. BeBe Winans sang "Enough Said," a song he composedespecially for the coupie a few days before the wedding. His brother,Daniel Winans, sang a song he had written for Houston years before hemet her. Both songs were so touching that the bride and groom and manyin the audience were moved to tears. Throughout the ceremony, the maidof honor, Robyn Crawford, had to blot tears from the brides eyes andcheeks.
Diane Johnson, who has been designing Houstons stage and personalwardrobes for years, ce-designed the bridal gown with Marc Bouwer."Whitney wanted to keep it a very simple design," saysJohnson, who runs a boutique in breasts stuffed with collard greens, andgrilled herbed vegetables. For dessert, there were fresh berries, anassortment of chocolate delicacies, as well as slices of the six-tiered,18-layered wedding cake. The architectural confection, decorated withhand-molded lavender sugar violets, had alternating layers ofstrawberry, lemon mousse and banana cake. An army of waiters keptglasses filled with Dom Perignon and Cristal champagne throughout theevening.
The wealthy couple had requested that in lieu of gifts, guests makedonations to the Whitney Houston Foundation For Children. Among thenuptial guests were some of the biggest and wealthiest names in showbusiness and beyond, including Clive Davis, president of Houston'sArista Records, and AI Teller, president of Browns MCA Records. Alsoenjoying the festivities were Phylicia Rashad, Patti LaBelle, GladysKnight, Dionne Warwick (Whitney's cousin), Jasmine Guy, Antonio(L.A.) Reid, Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds, Donald Trump, Dick Clark,Charles Dutton and his wife, Debbi Morgan, Keenen Ivory Wayans, BlairUnderwood, Clifton Davis, Teddy Riley, Isiah Thomas, Gloria Estefan,Malcolm-Jamal Warner and his mother-manager, Pamela Warner, MelisaMorgan, Milira, Heavy D., Valerie Simpson, Freddie Jackson, and BobbyBrowns former New Edition cohorts, Johnny Gill, Ricky Bell, MichaelBivins and Ronnie DeVoe.
Brown and Houston met three years ago backstage at the Soul TrainMusic Awards. Romantic sparks ignited immediately and Brown was invitedto Houston's star-studded 26th birthday party at her estate in1989. At the time, she was dating Eddie Murphy, who gave her a hugediamond ring for her birthday. Houston later dated Randall Cunningham,who also attended the wedding. About a year ago Houston and Brown becamea loving twosome and wedding plans started to gel.
In the meantime, Houston recently finished filming her debut movie,The Bodyguard, in which she co-stars with East Orange, N.J.,Houston's hometown. "The Lyon lace, imported from France, isthe finest lace in the world. The lace made the dress." Inaddition, Johnson designed the groom's white double-breasted silktuxedo and the bridesmaids' purple silk floor-length gowns withtrains.
Among the attendants were two of Houston's closest pals,recording artists Priscilla (CeCe) Winans Love and Perry (Pebbles) Reid.The best man, Browns brother, Tommy, and the groomsmen, who includedHouston's brother, Michael, were all attired in Johnson-designedpurple tuxedos with matching purple alligator shoes that were custommadein Italy. The four flower girls and three ring bearers were adorable inwhite and lavender.
"Purple is Whitney's favorite color," Johnsonemphasizes. "She wanted everything in purple and lavender andwhite. She even decorates her Christmas tree in purple."
The couple exchanged identical platinum wedding bands. Hers had thewords "Love, Bobby" in cut-out script, while his read,"Love, Whitney."
After Brown enthusiastically declared, "I doll" and thecouple were pronounced husband and wife, the guests were awed as sevenwhite doves were released outside the gazebo. The couple then sealed theunion with a long, passionate kiss during which Brown literally liftedhis bride into the air as the jubilant guests applauded.
Afterwards, the newlyweds entertained 800 guests at a lavishwedding reception hosted in a huge air-conditioned, carpeted ballroomtent constructed on Houstons lawn above the swimming pool. Lavender andpurple fabrics draped the ceiling and lined the tent, giving theillusion of an Arabia palace. Some 15,000 lilac and purple dendrobiumorchids decorated support columns, entrances and exits. Each of the 84tables in the dining tent, one of seven set up for the affair, wasclothed and beribboned in three layers of lavender ribbed satin thathighlighted the elaborate centerpieces. The floral arrangements includedblue roses and cattleya orchids in shades of lavender and purple.Candles in hurricane glasses created a warm, romantic glow thatcontrasted with the elaborate and effective light and sound show. Guestsidentified their tables by silver-trimmed white cards with phrases, suchas "Lover For Life" and "Love Obsession," scriptedin lavender.
The sit-down dinner was opulent but relaxed, for in between coursesthe formally attired guests boogied on the purple and white oval dancefloor to music programmed by David Cole and Robert Clivilles of C + CMusic Factory. The menu included chilled peach soup, grilledchateaubriand, jersey chicken breasts stuffed with collard greens, andgrilled herbed vegetables. For dessert, there were fresh berries, anassortment of chocolate delicacies, as well as slices of the six-tiered,18-layered wedding cake. The architectural confection, decorated withhand-molded lavender sugar violets, had alternating layers ofstrawberry, lemon mousse and banana cake. An army of waiters keptglasses filled with Dom Perignon and Cristal champagne throughout theevening.
The wealthy couple had requested that in lieu of gifts, guests makedonations to the Whitney Houston Foundation For Children.
Among the nuptial guests were some of the biggest and wealthjestnames in show business and beyond, including Clive Davis, president ofHouston's Arista Records, and AI Teller, president of Browns MCARecords. Also enjoying the festivities were Phylicia Rashad, PattiLaBelle, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick (Whitney's cousin), JasmineGuy, Antonio (L.A.) Reid, Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds, Donald Trump, DickClark, Charles Dutton and his wife, Debbi Morgan, Keenen Ivory Wayans,Blair Underwood, Clifton Davis, Teddy Riley, Isiah Thomas, GloriaEstefan, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and his mother-manager, Pamela Warner,Melisa Morgan, Milira, Heavy D., Valerie Simpson, Freddie Jackson, andBobby Browns former New Edition cohorts, Johnny Gill, Ricky Bell,Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe.
Brown and Houston met three years ago backstage at the Soul TrainMusic Awards. Romantic sparks ignited immediately and Brown was invitedto Houston's star-studded 26th birthday party at her estate in1989. At the time, she was dating Eddie Murphy, who gave her a hugediamond ring for her birthday. Houston later dated Randall Cunningham,who also artended the wedding. About a year ago Houston and Brown becamea loving twosome and wedding plans started to gel.
In the meantime, Houston recently finished filming her debut movie,The Bodyguard, in which she co-stars with handsome, acclaimed actorKevin Costner. The film is scheduled for release during the upcomingholiday season, and initial reports predict that Houston has a verypromising future in Hollywood. That is, if she chooses to focus onmovies rather than, or in addition to, the successful and lucrativerecording career she already has established. Houston's 1985 albumbecame the alltime best-selling debut ever by a solo artist, selling 13million copies. Her three albums have sold more than 39 million copiesworldwide, and she is the only artist to achieve seven consecutive No. 1hits.
The groom also is a successful recording artist. He started hiscareer as a teen with the popular New Edition group, and achievedworldwide star status in 1988 with his second solo CD, Don't BeCruel, which was a groundbreaking recording in the new jack swinghip-hop genre. The CD, which included the smash hit, "MyPrerogative," rose to the No. 1 spot on Billboard's charts andsold 8 million copies. Brown's anxiously anticipated follow-up CDwas released in August; the first single, "Humpin'Around" in which he declares, "Ain't nobody humpingaround," was released within a few days of the wedding.
Many fans and acquaintances of the pair confess they don'tquite understand how the elegant, sophisticated Whitney Houstonromantically connected with the street-wise, Boston-bred performer whohas established quite a reputation as a womanizer. But those close tothe couple say the magnetism that propelled the two to marriage couldnot be denied. Brown says it was love at first sight. "I may be aB-boy and she's America's sweetheart, but it'slove," he says. "When it happens, you have to grab it. Youcan't let it go, no matter what anybody else thinks... Whitney is areal Black woman. That's what really drew me to her. Shesbeautiful, not just outside but inside," he says, adding that hisbride "has some B-girl in her as well."
The newlyweds' happiness was quite evident during thereception as they danced cheek to cheek, sipped champagne, mingled withguests and playfully squished cake in each other's faces and thenlicked it off. The last guests did not leave until 2 a.m., some 12 hoursafter the festivities began.
The following morning, Brown and Houston flew on the Concorde toEurope for a 10-day Mediterranean cruise aboard a luxurious 140-footyacht with a crew of nine. The honeymoon was a wedding gift from Aristaand MCA.
Upon their return, the talented duo directed their focus, at leastpartially, to their careers, for Brown has a new album to promote and atour to plan, and Houston is finishing the soundtrack to her upcomingmovie. In the months and years to come, their fans can look forward tothe talented couple making harmonious music together. For as theyexpress so well on their soon-to-be released duet on Brown's newalbum, Bobby, they certainly have "Something In Common."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Johnson Publishing Co.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.