Mariah Carey

Tells why she looks white but sings black.

Jet (US) March 4, 1991. Text by Paul Flynn.

Like former Rick James sidekick Teena Marie and the popular members of New Kids On The Block, songstress Mariah Carey finds herself on the receiving end of routine remarks insisting she's another White singer trying to sound Black.

But this frivolous accusation is w-a-a-a-a-y over the fence in the ballpark of reality for the 20-year-old rising New York starlet whose fair complexion and fine sandy-colored mane clearly result from the genetic fusion of a Black, Venezuelan father - Washington, D.C. aeronautical engineer Alfred Roy Carey - and Irish mother - N.Y. voice coach Patricia Carey.

Saying she's a combination of all three nationalities during the March Ebony interview in Manhattan, Ms. Carey asserted: "I can't help the way I look, because it's me. I don't try to look a certain way or sing a certain way..."

In fact, her soulful voice and mesmerizing musical style, much like that of pop star Whitney Houston, may very well have ensued from earfuls of traditional spirituals she absorbed during sporadic childhood visits to her Black paternal grandmother's Baptist church. Even today, "I get up and go to bed listening to gospel music," she told Ebony, naming Edwin Hawkins, Shirley Caesar and the Clark Sisters as some of her favorite religious artists.

The gospel-like purrs that emanate from her well-trained vocal chords may also be attributed to years of exposure to tunes hummed by late, legendary divas Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, two harmonious heroines she became melodically chummy with thanks to her mother's assistance.

Her mom, a former New York City Opera singer, receives Mariah's immeasurable gratitude for furnishing her daughter with lyrical genes at birth and voice lessons that began at age 4.

The radio and her older sister's record collection, which embodied the soulful vibrations of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Al Green and Stevie Wonder surely had some influence on today's hottest new pop star's thick rhythmic style of singing as well.

To Ms. Carey, who co-wrote all the songs from her self-titled debut album, which features the top-selling gold singles Vision of Love and Love Takes Time, her fans shouldn't care if she looks White and sounds Black.

But the reality behind the deep-seeded Black/White issue is that many Blacks resent ascending superstars who all their lives garner the luxuries often associated with being White, then reap the benefits of musical success by targeting their gospel-resembling sound toward Black audiences once they hit the professional music scene.

Ms. Carey maintains she's no such perpetrator. Explaining that Vision of Love made it big without being a hip-hop, house or rap tune, she said the song represents what's in her heart and what's taken place in her real life, which hasn't been all peaches and cream.

"It's been difficult for me moving around so much, having to grow up by myself, basically on my own, my parents, divorced," admitted Ms. Carey, who also has a 29-year-old brother. "And I always felt kind of different from everyone else in my neighborhoods. I was a different person - ethnically. And sometimes that can be a problem. If you look a certain way everybody goes, 'White girl,' and I'd go, 'No that's what I am'."

Instead this chart-climbing vocalist, who after being overlooked for years signed with CBS' Columbia Records in December 1988, prefers to be recognized as a respected singer and songwriter who will continue to soar in the world of show biz.

And no matter how people may see her perform or what they may think of her musical sound, if Ms. Carey has her way, onward and upward will be her career's dominant direction.