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Whether the Style’s Gospel or Soul Mariah Carey Sings a Heavenly Song

Mariah Carey is an extraordinary gospel singer--blessed with both a remarkable command of her upper register and the ability to invest a song with gut-wrenching passion. Unfortunately, though, she doesn’t sing much gospel.

Her just-released debut album, “Mariah Carey” on Columbia, is primarily pop-soul. The first single, “Vision of Love,” shot up into the Billboard Top 40 in just a few weeks--impressive for a singer who was totally unknown a month ago. But it’s Carey’s gospel-style singing that gives this album its real charge.

In town recently to film a video, the 20-year-old New Yorker insisted, with the utmost sincerity, “I’m not really good enough to sing gospel. I’m not in a league with those really good singers.”

She’d get a strong argument from the millions who saw her knockout gospelized version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” televised from the opener of the Pistons-Trail Blazers basketball championship series.

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Like Taylor Dayne and Lisa Stansfield, Carey is a white singer who has a black vocal style. Carey, though, is the best of the lot, with range and power not heard perhaps since Jennifer Holliday surfaced in the mid-'80s.

Dance-music artist Brenda K. Starr, who hired Carey as a backup singer, orchestrated her big break. At a party two years ago, Starr slipped Carey’s demo tape to CBS Records president Tommy Mottola, who was so impressed by her voice that he offered her a contract.

Raised in New York by her mother--an opera singer and vocal coach--Carey was turned on to singing as a toddler. “I wanted a career as a singer before I was old enough to know what a career is,” she quipped.

As a youngster, Carey thrived on jazz, R&B; and especially gospel. “Great gospel singing gives me chills,” she said, shivering to emphasize her point. “There’s so much passion and fire and spirit in it. It comes from way down deep inside. When the good gospel singers sing, they soar. I wish I could soar like that.”

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