* Aretha Franklin will sing, says it won't be easy
* Kevin Costner, "Bodyguard" co-star will speak
* Others confirmed included Beyonce, Jay Z, Elton John
(Adds details, rewrites throughout)
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK, Feb 17 A star-studded lineup
will sing and speak at pop star Whitney Houston's funeral, from
Alicia Keys and Kevin Costner to the soul and gospel music
royalty from which she hails, including her cousin Dionne
Warwick and Aretha Franklin.
Houston will be laid to rest on Saturday after an
invitation-only memorial service at the New Hope Baptist Church
in Newark, New Jersey, where Houston groomed her voice singing
in the church choir with her mother Cissy Houston, a soul and
gospel singer who once backed up Franklin.
The singer, who rose to fame with a soaring voice and hits
in the mid-1980s such as "Saving All My Love For You," died in a
Beverly Hills hotel room almost a week ago on the eve of the
music industry's Grammy Awards. She was found underwater in her
hotel room's bathtub. A cause of death has yet to be determined.
Along with her signature song, "I Will Always Love You," her
other hits included "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," and she
starred in movies "The Bodyguard" and "The Preacher's Wife."
Other top names taking part in the service include Houston's
mentor and record producer Clive Davis, singer Stevie Wonder and
Hollywood actor and producer Tyler Perry, who donated his plane
to fly her body from Los Angeles to Newark earlier this week.
Elton John, Beyonce and rapper Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey and
Bill Cosby are also expected to attend, according to reports.
It is not yet known if singer Bobby Brown, who Houston
divorced in 2007 after a tumultuous 15-year marriage
that began as Houston's music career began to slide, will
be there. The couple have a daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18,
who was in Los Angeles when her mother died.
The death of the beloved pop star who had a long history of
addiction to alcohol and cocaine stunned the music world, her
family and fans, and some of those close to her have publicly
said they thought Houston had been getting healthier.
Franklin, 69, told the "Today" morning news show on Friday
that she thought Houston was on the road to a comeback after
seeing some of the previews for "The Bodyguard" star's final
film "Sparkle" to be released later this year.
"She looked gorgeous and I thought 'Yes, she has conquered
her challenges and she is on the way'," Franklin said, before
adding that she did not know what song she would sing at the
funeral, but "It's not going to be easy."
Franklin said she imagined Houston's inability to hit some
notes in "I Will Always Love You" on her last world tour in 2010
and a poor reception by some critics and audiences would have
upset the fragile yet strong-willed singer.
"The audience was very rude but she stood there with the
heart of a champion, night after night," Franklin said. "She had
to be totally devastated. When you are a singer and you can't
sing what it is you want to sing and she had some problems in
her highest range, it is very disheartening."
Other singers confirmed to perform or speak are American
gospel singers Donnie McClurkin, Kim Burrell, CeCe Winans,
musical director Rickey Minor and gospel singer and pastor
Marvin Winans, a family spokeswoman said.
Costner, who starred opposite Houston in "The Bodyguard,"
will speak as part of the official program, the spokesman said.
Houston's close friend, singer and producer Ray J, 31, said
in a statement on Friday, "The world lost an icon but I lost my
close friend ... Your smile will live in my heart forever."
Police plan to lock down the streets near Saturday's private
funeral and have said there will be no procession from the
funeral home she is resting in to the church. They have urged
the thousands of fans expected to crowd the area to stay home
and watch the funeral which will be broadcast live.
On Friday, flowers, candles, cards and balloons hung outside
the funeral home, church and her old elementary school that was
renamed after was closed. Small shrines dedicated to the singer
dotting the school.
Such has been the outpouring of emotion that in Los Angeles,
two radio personalities of KFI AM 640 station's "The John and
Ken Show" -- have been suspended after making disparaging
comments and jokes about Houston and her drug problems.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Patricia
Reaney and Bob Tourtellotte)