Steven Abdul Khan Brown, a music producer, was on his way to the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, when he heard the stunning sound as he got closer to the congregation.

A word from that group? Whitney Houston when she was young.

In a conversation with a source more than 40 years later, he recalled the feeling as “that’s scary — whoa.” Why haven’t I visited this location before?

The talented musicians at New Hope, where Cissy Houston served as minister of music, were urged to be heard by Khan Brown, a fellow Newark native who had been working with Kool & the Gang and Phyllis Hyman. Khan Brown met the grandmother and a big-voiced Whitney, who as soon as she started singing, completely blew him away.

Khan Brown remembers her performance as saying, “Lord, I’ve died and gone to heaven.” “I believed something was passing through my hearing. She began striking notes. Intoxicated by the spirit, people were sprawled out on the ground. Still in disbelief, to be honest.

He made studio time reservations with Cissy’s approval because he knew he had to record with the budding celebrity. Khan Brown heard some of the demos that Whitney had made, but he claims that they weren’t the appropriate songs for Whitney: “The stuff they put on Whitney back in the day, it was funny.” She was improperly sliced. She received the incorrect materials.

Khan Brown believed that religious music was what she should be recording. He and the then-17-year-old Whitney Houston collaborated on the recordings of “He Can Use Me,” “Testimony,” and “I Found a Wonderful Way” in February 1981. Forty years later, the songs are featured on the church album I Go to the Rock: The church Music of Whitney Houston, which is out on Friday. Six of the 14 songs on it have never been published before.

The songs they recorded, which Khan Brown and his grandmother, gospel singer Ann Lendy Lewis, co-wrote and produced, are credited with helping Whitney get her first record contract. With the singles “Saving All My Love for You,” “Greatest Love of All,” “How Will I Know,” and “You Give Good Love,” her self-titled debut album was published in 1985, and the rest is history.

He claims that “three gospel songs started the riot.” “That’s how we managed to enter the building. And I’ll always remember it. It was all because of gospel music.”

In order to ensure that the proper energy was present in the studio so that the songs would sound flawless, Khan Brown claims that he, Whitney, and Lewis organized a “gospel jam session.” He was playing chords at the piano when he said, “I’m going to let my God use me,” which attracted Whitney’s attention.

Nippy reportedly said, “He can use me,” remembers Khan Brown. She’s the kind of person you could settle down with and begin writing while telling her words, and Nippy would be able to take it. She absorbs everything. She has the ability to seize the soul, take it from you, and flee.

He adds, “We were holding church in the basement. “And there is no stopping once you are caught up in the spirit.”

When they recorded the gospel funk song “Testimony,” which Khan Brown described as a personal song he wrote to “tell the world about Whitney Houston and how good God’s been to us,” he claims that “the spirit took over.”

Whitney’s latest posthumous album also includes three previously unheard songs: a live medley of the spiritual songs “He” and “I Believe,” recorded in 1990 at the Yokohama Arena in Japan; and live renditions of Edwin Hawkins’ “This Day” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Emmy-winning musician Rickey Minor, who served as Whitney’s musical director for the live unreleased songs on the new album, says of Whitney, “She had the ability to take a song and almost make you forget that it was covered by someone else.” “I believe she sang from the bottom of her heart. She also felt every syllable.

“I need a melody and I need a story to sing about,” Minor adds, quoting the singer. I can’t just stand up there and start bopping around; I need something to which I can connect in order to be able to communicate with others. There is no story at all if it’s a situation I can’t relate to, though. And I believe she mastered the art of choosing what felt right for her, which was another aspect of her charm.

While rewatching videos of Whitney singing her heart out during the 1995 VH1 Honors special, which he produced along with scores of other Whitney performances, TV director Ken Ehrlich becomes emotional.

“I’m unable to observe. Ehrlich, a nine-time Emmy nominee and director of the Grammy Awards from 1980 to 2020, declares that it is “too much.” She was fantastic, and working with her was fantastic. She exuded a certain kind of magical atmosphere. She always gave off the impression that you valued her just as much as she valued you. Many of the people we all deal with don’t behave in that way. Her actions were all potent.

She was raised in a Christian home and never lost that. And that was really just a big part of who she was,” he adds.

I Go to the Rock: The Gospel Music of Whitney Houston also includes previously heard tracks like “I Go to the Rock,” “Joy,” “I Love the Lord,” “Hold On, Help Is on the Way” and “Joy to the World” from the Preacher’s Wife soundtrack; “Jesus Loves Me” from the Bodyguard soundtrack; “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” from the Sparkle soundtrack; and “I Look to You,” the title track from Whitney’s final studio album released in 2009.

The album is accompanied by a TV documentary of the same name, which is being published by Gaither Music Group, Arista/Legacy Recordings, and Whitney’s estate. The special, which will broadcast on UPtv and AspireTV on Friday at 8 p.m. ET, will be hosted by CeCe Winans.

Whitney enquires in the recording of “He/I Believe,” the album’s final track, “Do you like gospel music?” Ah, that’s nice. That’s fantastic.

In the midst of singing “This Day,” Whitney says, “Sometimes the church gets all up in me, I can’t help myself.”

Khan Brown claims, “If you’re unholy and unsanctified, when Whitney got finished, you were saved.” “Whitney is the healer,” I say.

He continues, “She left some healing music for the globe. What is that, exactly? gospel music’s top speciality.


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