Stars mourn Whitney Houston at rousing New Jersey funeral

NEWARK, New Jersey Sat Feb 18, 2012 6:24pm EST

1 of 28. Pall-bearers load the casket of pop singer Whitney Houston into a hearse following her funeral service at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey February 18, 2012. Houston, 48, died in a Beverly Hills hotel room on February 11, the eve of the music industry's Grammy Awards.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Stars, family and friends mourned Whitney Houston in a spirited Baptist funeral service at her hometown church on Saturday, a week after the death of the singer whose spectacular voice made her one of the biggest pop stars of her era.

Gospel and soul music greats, celebrities and family members swayed to gospel hits and delivered tributes both sung and spoken to the crowded New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where Houston honed her wide vocal range as a young choral singer with her mother Cissy Houston, a backup singer for Aretha Franklin.

"Whitney returns home today to the place where it all began," said actor Kevin Costner, who starred opposite Houston in the 1992 hit film, "The Bodyguard."

He urged those around the world to "dry our tears, suspend our sorrow - and perhaps our anger - just long enough, just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney."

Houston, who died in a Beverly Hills hotel room last week, recorded stirring love songs and vibrant dance tunes during a 30-year career that peaked with her 1992 signature hit "I Will Always Love You" and paved the way for a generation of singers that followed.

She was among the greatest singers of the 1980s and 1990s, but later admitted to heavy use of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and prescription pills. Officials have said prescription drugs were found in the hotel room where she died.

Her death at age 48 shocked her family, fans and the music industry. Houston was found underwater in a hotel bathtub on the eve of the music industry's Grammy Awards. Her cause of death has yet to be determined.

She suffered a turbulent personal life and marriage to singer Bobby Brown, who said in a statement he left the service early after being repeatedly asked to move by security, who prevented him from seeing the daughter he shared with Houston, Bobby Kristina Brown, 18.

"This was a day to honor Whitney," Brown said. "I doubt whether Whitney would have wanted this to occur."

During the service, her cousin and famed soul singer Dionne Warwick read out a funeral poem and introduced music greats from the past and present, including Alicia Keys who said "it was so obvious the way she just crept into everybody's heart" before singing an emotional rendition of "Prelude to a Kiss."

GOSPEL AND SOUL

Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder spoke of once having "a little crush" on Houston before singing a version of his 1982 R&B hit "Ribbon In The Sky," inserting the lyrics "No more, Whitney, No more, Do you have to cry - You'll always be a ribbon in the sky."

Others spoke eloquently of Houston's passion, strong-willed spirit and once hopeful future, including Clive Davis, the founder of her label Arista Records, who discovered and molded Houston into a global pop phenomenon. He said shortly before she died, Houston had promised she was getting back into shape.

"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime. You wait for a face like that, a smile like that, a presence like that, for a lifetime. And when one person embodies it all it takes your breath away," he said. "Music was her passion. Whitney lived music. Whitney loved music."

R. Kelly performed the 2009 song he wrote for Houston, "I Look To You," and director Tyler Perry talked about Houston's "grace that led her all the way to the top of the charts." The service was dominated by gospel music, by singers Kim Burrell, Donnie McClurkin and others.

Houston's family decided against a public memorial, as was done for pop star Michael Jackson after his 2009 death, but they agreed to allow the four-hour service to be broadcast live by television networks and on the Internet.

Many of Houston's fans left cards and balloons around the church dedicated to the singer, who became a global star with her 1985 debut album, which included the hits "Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know" and "Greatest Love Of All."

Police urged fans to stay home and watch the funeral on the Internet or television, but some flew and drove from around the country to get as close as they could to the late singer.

"This is history," said fan Hedwig Berthold, 40, who flew from Miami and watched the broadcast with dozens of others in a nearby cafe. "I bought her records, I saw her concerts, I saw her in the good times. So I wanted to be here for her final farewell."

'THEY LOVED YOU'

Others gathered on the streets, including Wendy Saunders, who drove from Detroit to pay her respects to Houston and said "She meant so much to me," while Renee Taylor, from Baltimore, held a sign, "You gave us more love than we will ever need."

Houston grew up surrounded by gospel and soul music legends like Franklin - who fell ill and was unable to attend the service - as well as Warwick. She later forged new territory for a black female artist who brought R&B and gospel touches into pop music's mainstream.

After her debut, her popularity grew exponentially with her second album, "Whitney" (1987), with all four singles - "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" - hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Her music videos featuring her 1980s style and innocent, fun-loving image made her wildly popular around the world. In "The Bodyguard," with Costner, Houston played a character not far removed from her real self: an international singing sensation coping with fame.

Costner recalled during his speech that Hollywood executives were hesitant to cast Houston in her first starring role, preferring "somebody white," but she soon won everyone over. He also spoke of Houston's immense talent - and insecurities.

"The Whitney that I knew, despite her worldwide success and fame, 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," he said. "People didn't just like you, Whitney. They loved you."

She made other films, including "The Preacher's Wife," but the 15-year period when she was married to singer Brown coincided with a decline in the quality and frequency of her albums. The couple, who have an 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, divorced in 2007.

Houston's powerful voice suffered in recent years. On her last world tour in 2010, she struggled to hit the high notes.

But the service ended by focusing on the old, soaring voice she had promised to reclaim. Her inimitable "I Will Always Love You," rang out as the casket was carried out of the church.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Reaney and Gianna Palmer; editing by Anthony Boadle and Todd Eastham)

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Comments (3)
MatthewFFF wrote:
Whitney sang in an anti-drug video called “STOP THE MADNESS” back in 1985. Check it out on Youtube. This was the Nancy Reagan Just Say No to Drugs campaign. Whitney’s death is so very very sad.

Feb 18, 2012 1:53am EST  --  Report as abuse
Rania299 wrote:
So sad! But what’s worse is the fact that scammers are using Whitney Houston’s death as a way to profit. Find out what scammers are saying on Facebook that you need to be wary of: http://www.bit.ly/WhitneyHoustonDeath

Feb 18, 2012 11:25am EST  --  Report as abuse
Katabatic wrote:
Again, another human being that keeping addiction at bay is ready for a comeback. Whole and healthy. And, what happens? What is now, unfortunately, predictable.

Anna Nicole Cmith, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, Don Cornelius, and so many others, “accidental overdose”? Pill bottles strewn all over the room. Michael Jackson’s so-called medicqal examiner’s report noting pills in his stomach was fraudulent. The medical examiners office breached and the report was changed. Ann Nicole had pneumonia and was septic. Death from sepsis was probable but lets blame it on drugs. Lets have the Judge overseeing the coroner’s inquest also state publically that he wants to be a celebrity too. What the frack?
Michael Jackson – nothing to say. The multiple attempts to destroy him only to find that when he announces “This is It” that his fans are crying for joy.
And now Whitney Houston. I lived about twenty minutes from the home she had with Bobby Brown. All the fights, and everything were covered in the papers. Bobby Brown, took Whitney Houston Hostage and would not release her. Talk about the power of evil. She had a voice like no other. She was the only person that could sing Michael Jackson’s “You Wanna Be Starting Something” outside of Michael. And, that song, it’s my favorite. Check out those lyrics. Man.. they say it all.
Heath Ledger. What an actor! His portrayal of “The Joker” was perhaps a bit too good? Perhaps revealed too much about “Batman”? Thing is, he was an actor. Not a threat.
Many have died under suspicious circumstances. Only to turn into “suicide” which became passee when “accidental overdose” and “drug addict” and all of the put downs and condemnations that go with it guarantee ratings, sell papers, and hits on web pages. Whooee.. lets hear it for advertising.
Whitney Houston’s funeral .. covered for ratings and advertising dollars. Chris Christie, I am not sure he followed protocol when lowering the flag half staff. Critics.. and such. Go back to protocol. It’s in writing. Besides..the fact that governor did this was a slap in the faces of Whitney Houston and her family. A Jersey Girl? Too bad New Jersey turned their backs on their girl.. a very lond time ago.
I did not watch the funeral. And, as far as her cause of death? I’ll wait for the autoposy results. And, if nothing else, this is what Whitney Houston’s death taught me. Enough with all the junk. Wait for the medical facts. And, what happened? All the junk and clutter in my brain went away. Leave things up to the medical experts. We, including myself are NOT.
I would like to just add this about Jennifer Hudson. She does step up to sing. For Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. She is amazing she really is. She steps up for a reason. Don’t forget, several members of her family were killed, while she was competing on American Idol. I believe she steps up for them and reasons not of this world. I have the utmost respect for her while at the same time offer prayers for the Almighty presence in the Infinite Universe to Potect her and give her Stregnth.

Feb 19, 2012 10:30am EST  --  Report as abuse
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