* Houston sang in church choir in 1970s
* Family 'devastated by the loss'
* Daughter taken to hospital for bout with anxiety
(Recasts; adds details)
By Steve Gorman and R.T. Watson
LOS ANGELES, Feb 12 From the New
Jersey church where Whitney Houston's singing career first took
flight to the Beverly Hills hotel where her life abruptly ended,
family and fans of the pop diva expressed their grief on Sunday
with prayer, tears and raw anguish.
Houston's only child, daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown,
18, was taken by paramedics from the hotel to nearby
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Sunday suffering from anxiety,
Beverly Hills police and fire officials said.
A fire department spokeswoman declined to disclose any
information about the daughter's medical condition but said she
was "awake and talking" at the time she was transported.
Brown, who was reported by celebrity news website
TMZ.com to have been enraged at authorities at not being allowed
into the hotel room where her mother's body was found, was
treated at the hospital for stress and released, a source close
to the family told Reuters. A hospital spokeswoman declined
At the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey,
Houston's hometown, fans and admirers gathered to celebrate her
life during three Sunday services, portions of which were
devoted to the singer and her family.
Cards and flowers were tied to the railings of the church,
where congregants hugged and cried at the entrance. Among those
paying their respects was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil
"The suddenness of it all leaves us traumatized," said
Jackson, who watched Houston grow up and sing at New Hope. It
was in that red brick church on a quiet backstreet near downtown
Newark where Houston's career began as a soloist in a gospel
choir in the 1970s.
"We must lean on our faith. Our hearts are heavy today,"
CAUSE OF DEATH A MYSTERY
Houston, whose soaring voice lifted her to the top of the
pop music world, but whose personal decline was fueled by years
of drug abuse, died on Saturday afternoon in a fourth-floor
room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel . She was 48.
Police and the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office were
continuing their investigation to determine a cause of death,
which came on the eve of the Grammy Awards at the same hotel
where Houston's mentor, record mogul Clive Davis, was holding an
annual pre-event party.
Police said there was no immediate sign of foul
The Los Angeles Times, citing an unnamed source briefed
on the case, reported that investigators were trying to discern
whether she might have drowned in a bathtub shortly before she
was set to attend the pre-Grammy gala.
The Times said Houston, disheveled, sweaty and smelling
of alcohol, was behaving erratically when she stopped by the
Hilton two days earlier, accompanied by her daughter, for
rehearsals. She was seen flailing her hands frenetically,
skipping around the ballroom and wandering aimlessless through
the lobby, the newspaper said in its online editions.
Houston's death was expected to be a central focus of Sunday
night's Grammys, and Jennifer Hudson was scheduled to sing a
tribute during the program.
Houston's family expressed their grief in a brief statement
issued on Sunday.
"We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Whitney. This
is an unimaginable tragedy and we will miss her terribly," it
said. "We appreciate the outpouring of love and support from her
fans and friends."
EX-HUSBAND 'DEEPLY SADDENED'
In a separate statement issued through People magazine,
Houston's former husband, R&B singer Bobby Brown, with whom she
had shared a long struggle with substance abuse, said, "I am
deeply saddened at the passing of my ex-wife, Whitney Houston."
Brown, who is Bobbi Kristina's father, was described by an
unnamed relative as "beside himself" with grief, according to
On the West Coast, the First AME Church of Los Angeles, the
city's oldest African-American congregation, held a special
moment of silence in Houston's memory.
"Many of us were rooting and pulling for her because she has
been a blessing to this generation with talent, with a special
anointed voice," Pastor John Hunter told parishioners. "We will
miss her. This world will miss her."
Up to 200 people attended the Newark church's services,
where Denise Dean, 57, recalled once hearing Houston sing. Dean
said she still has her faded autograph on an old checkbook.
"We prayed for the family," Dean said afterward.
Coroners removed Houston's body from the Beverly
Hilton after midnight through a back door to avoid the crush of
media set up to cover her death.
Typically, coroners conduct an autopsy within a day or two,
at which point they might release some preliminary information
about the death. If drugs or alcohol are involved, however, an
official cause of death would not be released until after
toxicology tests, which could take six to eight weeks.
By late Sunday afternoon, neither police nor coroners
officials had offered an update. But TMZ reported that the
autopsy had been completed.
Houston's songs were already dominating Internet music sales
early on Sunday. Her album "Whitney Houston - The Greatest Hits"
was the top seller in the music category on Amazon.com, and her
signature hit, "I Will Always Love You," was the No. 1 download
Over the course of a 30-year career in which she established
herself as one of the most-admired and influential singers of
her time, Houston won six Grammys, 30 Billboard awards and 22
American Music Awards.
The soundtrack for the hit movie in which she starred, "The
Bodyguard," was among the best-selling film soundtracks ever.
By the early 1990s, Houston's success on stage was
accompanied by an increasingly troubled personal life. In 1992
she married singer Bobby Brown and their tumultuous 14 years
together were marred by drug abuse and domestic violence.
The last 10 years of Houston's life were dominated by drug
use, rumors of relapses and trips to rehab.
(Additional reporting by R.T. Watson, Mary Slosson, Jill
Serjeant, Dan Whitcomb and Piya Sinha-Roy.; Editing by Steve
Gorman, Dan Burns and Stacey Joyce)