Whitney Houston Remembered At NJ Hometown Funeral

Clapping hands and swaying to gospel hymns in the church where Whitney Houston's powerful voice once wowed her congregation, the biggest names in entertainment sang along with the choir to remember the pop superstar at her hometown funeral Saturday.

"We are here today, hearts broken but yet with God's strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston," the Rev. Joe A. Carter told the packed New Hope Baptist Church after the choir behind him sang "The Lord is My Shepherd."

Mourners including singer Jennifer Hudson and Houston's mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, stood, swayed and clapped along in the aisles as gospel singers BeBe Winans and the Rev. Kim Burrell joined with pop stars like Alicia Keys in paying tribute to the 48-year-old pop superstar who first began singing in the Newark church.

"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime," said music mogul Clive Davis, who shepherded Houston's career for decades.

Others were more mournful; singer Ray J., who spent time with Houston during her last days, broke down crying. His sister, singer Brandy, put her arm around him. Cissy Houston and Houston's daughter, 18-year-old Bobbi Kristina, clutched each other in the front of the row.

Actor Kevin Costner, her co-star in "The Bodyguard" that spawned her greatest hit, remembered a movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, who "still wondered, `Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?'"

"It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end," Costner said.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry praised Houston's "grace that kept on carrying her all the way through, the same grace led her all the way to the top of the charts. She sang for presidents."

Stevie Wonder and Oprah Winfrey were among the biggest names gathered to mourn Houston, along with Hudson, Monica, Brandy and Jordin Sparks - representing a generation of big-voiced young singers who grew up emulating her. Houston's voice, a recording of "I Will Always Love You," was to close the funeral.

Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers and offering short comments about Houston between them.

Houston's mother was helped by two people on either side of her as she walked in and sat with her granddaughter and other family to begin the service. Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, briefly appeared at her funeral, walking to the casket, touching it and walking out. Security guards said Brown was upset that he would have to sit separately from the people he arrived with, and left. A Brown representative didn't immediately comment.

Mourners fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston's casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies. White-robed choir members began to fill the pews on the podium. As the band played softly, the choir sang in a hushed voice, "Whitney, Whitney, Whitney."

Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called "Aunt Ree," had been expected to sing at the service, but she was too ill to attend. Franklin said in an email to The Associated Press that she had been up most of the night with leg spasms and sent best wishes to the family. "May God bless and keep them all," she wrote.

A program featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read "Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God." Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother and daughter filled the program.

"I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long," Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program. "And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years."

"Rest, my baby girl in peace," the letter ends, signed "mommie."

The service marks one week after Houston, one of music's all-time biggest stars, was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.

To the world, Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame.

To her family and friends, she was just "Nippy." A nickname given to Houston when she was a child, it stuck with her through adulthood and, later, would become the name of one of her companies. To them, she was a sister, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.

"She always had the edge," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said outside church Saturday. "You can tell when some kids have what we call a special anointing. Aretha had that when she was 14. ... Whitney cultivated that and took it to a very high level."

A few fans gathered Saturday morning hours before the service as close as they could get to the church, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Miami. Bobby Brooks said he came from Washington "just to be among the rest of the fans."

"Just to celebrate her life, not just her death," said Brooks, "just to sing and dance with the people that love her."

Others were more entrepreneurial, setting up card tables to sell silk-screened T-shirts with Houston's image and her CDs. But only the invited would get close to the church; streets were closed to the public for blocks in every direction. But their presence was felt around the church, with a huge shrine of heart-shaped balloons and personal messages that covered the street corner around the church entrance.

Houston's death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace while shocking was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.

Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like "Saving All My Love For You," `'I Will Always Love You," `'The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.

But amid the fame, a turbulent marriage to Brown and her addiction to drugs tarnished her image. She became a woman falling apart in front of the world.

Her last album, "I Look To You," debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn't have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.

Still, a comeback was ahead: She was to star in the remake of the movie "Sparkle" and was working on new music. Her family, friends and hard-core fans were hopeful.

The funeral is for invited guests only. Houston is to be buried next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J.

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  • by Wow Location: Greenville on Feb 19, 2012 at 09:14 AM
    Listen people its not nice to post bad comment about this sitution that we really dont know anything about. We are living in a time that it is really time to get on our knees and pray for these people. We see this happening everyday and it has happen to some of our closest people that we know. If you have strong feeling about it keep it to yourself because karma does come back and bite you in the but when you say something mean about someone else. Please have a heart and pray for the person and not talk ugly about them. I am a christian and proud to me and sometimes its so easy to judge without knowing the story and you have to go through things in order to tell someone about it
    • reply
      by Bubba on Feb 19, 2012 at 10:30 AM in reply to Wow
      How can you say that we don't know anything about this. The stories were in and on the news every other day of her drug and abuse. Yes, several well know people have problems everyday. Many deamons to deal with. My point is our society puts people like this far beyond where they need to be. It sickens me how 'great' she was protrayed to be when she was nothing more than a crackhead, drug user who died as a result of her drug addiction in a bathtub. That is what we praise? You bunch of idiots.
      • reply
        by wow to bubba on Feb 19, 2012 at 02:16 PM in reply to Bubba
        I was not saying she never had issues I was stateing that we are not sure why it all happen until we get the fial say so lets not judge. Its so easy to point the finger and yes so true she was wrong but we dont have to keep downing her for her wrong doing. Lets just say kind word and keep it moving. Mother has always said if you have nothing nice to say then dont say anything but your opinons are welcome but not so mean. Karma comes and get us when we least expect it and you might be caught up in a mess like she was and you might just want someone to hear your side and because of your past they might talk down about you
    • reply
      by Formerly O.L.I. on Feb 19, 2012 at 01:56 PM in reply to Wow
      Smiles...somehow, I understand what you are saying. Have a Blessed Sunday.
      • reply
        by Wow on Feb 19, 2012 at 02:20 PM in reply to Formerly O.L.I.
        I thank you if you understand. In this life there will be some ups and down and we dont know the story but prayer does change things no matter what the case is. I pray for the family because when they are all alone today they will think about their love one that they lost. Its something that takes time and we have to pray
        • reply
          by Formerly O.L.I. on Feb 19, 2012 at 03:42 PM in reply to Wow
          Thank you also; I do understand. Have a peaceful week.
  • by Shon Location: Greenville on Feb 19, 2012 at 09:14 AM
    Those that are so magnificently gifted with talents like Whitney are faced with much scrutiny all their lives because they are able to touch so many...so the Devil and his entourage of demons hounds them with enticing temptations that very few can resist. I know Whitney got distracted but she had a strong foundation of faith and I know that is what kept her from dying a long time ago. God knew what he was doing when he chose to take her away. I believe she would have been proud of her homegoing service and I know she is happy to be through with the troubles of this world.
  • by WOW Location: Greenville on Feb 19, 2012 at 04:37 AM
    Some of comments amaze me. But then again ignorance is bliss. I guess its okay to idolize Elvis all these years, people are still dressing like him wanting to be him to this very day. His legend continues to live on right now. But oh its okay because he's white and was a junkie. If you all weren't so ignorant, you would realize that she's being remembered for the good she did in the world, not the bad. That's right she is dead, and there's nothing no one can do for her now. But thank God we don't have a heaven or hell to put her in. So comment as you wish. God has the last say so over all lives and only she and he knows where she stood with him before she died. No one in this life is perfect we are all flawed to some degree and saved by grace. But I guess you all aren't, you just sit on your high horse and continue to comment self righteously like everything you've done up until this point was right. That's the true ignorance.
    • reply
      by Bubba on Feb 19, 2012 at 08:01 AM in reply to WOW
      Uh, WOW...Even God the Almighty would say himself that she's a CRACKHEAD.
      • reply
        by WOW on Feb 19, 2012 at 11:10 AM in reply to Bubba
        Uh Bubba, God wouldn't be God if he thought that. He'd be idiot......like you. I see your morals and values shine on this website. LOL
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Feb 19, 2012 at 02:17 PM in reply to WOW
          don't look down on God...
      • reply
        by Formerly O.L.I. on Feb 19, 2012 at 02:01 PM in reply to Bubba
        Bubba, you really need to scurry along to your Church now. It's not necessary to leave your mean comments about a person you care nothing for. Scurry along now; go praise Jesus in your own way. Maybe, maybe, he'll have mercy on you too, when your time comes.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 19, 2012 at 12:25 AM
    How can someone you have never or never would have met affect your life? Someone please explain to me how she touched your life. She sang songs on your flipping radio. She wasn't a role model for Gods' sake, she did nothing for you. Bottom line is we should worship her because she was black and famous. Well it's not going to happen. Michael Jackson was a child molester, now he's a saint because he died. Whitney was a drug addict, but she's a saint because she died. It's ignorant and stupid.
    • reply
      by Get Over It on Feb 19, 2012 at 06:14 AM in reply to
      Good post. Not in my house or on my watch, period.
    • reply
      by Anti-NAACP on Feb 19, 2012 at 09:31 AM in reply to
      Amen. Thank you.
  • by Jerome Location: Windsor on Feb 18, 2012 at 08:43 PM
    Please stop patronizing tis crackhead!! Its not news, unless you a tabloid tv station. I never could stand the no talent non-star.
  • by Crack head on Feb 18, 2012 at 08:12 PM
    I can't believe we have stooped to an all time low and lower the American flag for a has been boozed up crack smoking junkie. Please stop the insanity.
  • by Watcher Location: Bertie on Feb 18, 2012 at 07:34 PM
    Whitney was a beautiful woman with an unbelievable voice and I have enjoyed that voice. Though I am a little tired of all the coverage, I don't condemn those who want to see it. Those of you who post such hateful comments should keep your thoughts to yourself. You must be miserable people leading wretched lives...God bless you.
  • by Who cares on Feb 18, 2012 at 06:17 PM
    This is not news.....
    • reply
      by ~ALPHA female~ on Feb 18, 2012 at 08:22 PM in reply to Who cares
      Obviously you care... you commented!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Feb 19, 2012 at 12:20 AM in reply to ~ALPHA female~
        what a stupid name...
  • by Biker Dude on Feb 18, 2012 at 06:08 PM
    Whitney Who?
    • reply
      by Formerly O.L.I. on Feb 19, 2012 at 03:46 PM in reply to Biker Dude
      Biker Dude; consider that someone YOU hold in high esteem dies. I'll look for your comments, and try to be compassionate about it, even if it is YOU.
  • by Michele on Feb 18, 2012 at 04:07 PM
    Whitney was a "Starlet" in my eyes just as many of you view M Monroe. It is what it is. If you don't like Whitney then don't look at her!! I don't care for Prince william or his wife, so when they come on the tv or across my computer I just go to something I'm interested in. What ever you want to call Whitney, she was one awesome singer!! and no one can take that from her. Peace
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 18, 2012 at 05:10 PM in reply to Michele
      Relax. War.
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