The Prom Queen of Soul

Whitney Houston is sleek, sexy, successful -- and, surprise, she can sing

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Whitney Houston holds her award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards March 2, 1987

There she stands, Miss Black America. With her impeccable face, sleek figure and supernova smile, she looks like a Cosby kid made in heaven. She stirs sentiments not of lust but of protectiveness and awe; everybody around wants to adopt her, escort her or be her. And now this perfect creature picks up a microphone. Oh. You mean she sings too?

Oh, yes. Whitney Houston can sing, and not just too. Beneath the Tiffany wrapping lie the supplest pipes in pop music. Her precocity and virtuosity, her three-octave range and lyrical authority, are, at 23, scary. She can switch moods without...