Whitney, Bobby To Play Paul Robeson Tribute

R&B superstar Whitney Houston, her husband, R&B singer Bobby Brown, and her mother, gospel legend Cissy Houston, will perform as part of a star-studded salute to the life of fellow New Jersey native Paul Robeson on November 28 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, the city where both Houstons were born.

Along with the Houstons and Brown, singers Angela Bofill, Denyce Graves and Melba Moore, actors Avery Brooks, Ossie Davis and James Earl Jones, dancer/actor Gregory Hines, the Dance Theater of Harlem, jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Paul Robeson, Jr., will take part in a multi-media presentation of images of Robeson.

"Paul Robeson was the most distinguished performing artist of his time,'' Cissy Houston said last week. "Every black American — no, every person — should take strength from his fight for equality for all people.''

Robeson (1898-1976), the distinguished, Princeton-born athlete, scholar,

singer, actor and humanitarian, whose activism on behalf of civil rights, anti-colonialism and the Soviet Union engendered controversy, is being honored as the "Voice of the Millennium'' at the gala.

There is a personal bond between the Houstons and Robeson, Cissy Houston said. Robeson, a personal friend of Whitney Houston's paternal grandparents, was godfather to Whitney's father, John Houston.

Whitney Houston will sing "I Loves You, Porgy,'' from "Porgy and Bess,'' and she will participate in the evening's grand finale, according to the event's director, Curtis Farrow of the Jersey City-based production company Irving Street Rep.

If the singer appears as planned, the event will be her first performance at the Newark theater. She had scheduled a show there in July, 1999, but she canceled minutes before show time, citing throat problems as the reason. That show has not been rescheduled.

Several other missed performances last year and this year — including

a high-profile withdrawal from March's Academy Awards ceremony — have led to intense media speculation about Houston's condition, especially in light of her pleading no contest earlier this month to marijuana-possession charges she faced in a January incident in which security guards at Hawaii's Keahole-Kona International Airport seized her handbag, suspecting she was carrying the drug.

A judge in Hawaii on November 2 agreed to let the charges be dropped if Houston stays out of legal trouble for three months. Brown has had his own recent troubles with the law; he was released from a Florida jail in July, after spending a little more than two months behind bars for several parole violations stemming from a 1998 DUI conviction.

"We're all very supportive of [Whitney], and the charges are being dismissed,'' said Patricia Houston, the singer's sister-in-law and a spokesperson for the event. "She's going to be among friends and family ... she's America's sweetheart.''

Proceeds from the night, which will be taped for airing on PBS in March, will benefit inner-city students of Newark's Rutgers University, Robeson's alma mater, and the Paul Robeson Foundation, which teaches people about Robeson's life.

Tickets range from $75 to $1,000. For more information ,call the theater, (888) 466-5722, or the event's hotline, (201) 659-4901. otline, (201) 659-4901.