Balloons and flowers were tied to the railings of the New Hope Baptist Church, in Newark, New Jersey, as if for a party, says The Telegraph.
The massive choir wore white and stood to start the service with an electrifying gospel song that said, “Gratefulness is flowing from my heart…”
Houston’s signature single “I Will Always Love You” echoed through the church where she once sang in the choir as a star-studded crowd bid a final farewell to the doomed diva.
Millions were watching on television, through a single camera in the church. Mariah Carey was there alongside Oprah Winfrey and Queen Latifah. Houston’s godmother Aretha Franklin had been due to sing but was too ill even to attend.
Stevie Wonder sang ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’ and said: “In my fantasy world, I had a little crush on Whitney, okay?”
Her mother, Grammy winner Cissy Houston, wailed, “My baby! My baby!” as she staggered behind her 48-year-old daughter’s sparkling silver casket at the end of a nearly four-hour funeral service that echoed Houston’s chaotic life, reports New York Daily News.
It was soulful, musical and reverent — but ultimately tinged with sadness and loss. Her 18-year-old daughter sat in the front row of the church, near a casket blanketed in white roses and purple lilies.
There had been some debate about whether Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown was invited, but he arrived late in a limo and wearing dark glasses. He was reported to have walked up to the flower-covered coffin, touched it then left the church again.
Though limousines dropped off a procession of stars, including Jennifer Hudson, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé Knowles and Angela Bassett, many in the crowd knew Houston as “Nippy” — a childhood nickname.
Her sister-in-law and manager Patricia said: “Her life was sometimes misunderstood, sometimes even by her. While life may not always be understood, we can still give to others. When she was successful she lost some friends and gained some enemies. She just kept on giving anyway.”
Before performing “Send Me An Angel,” an emotional Alicia Keys thanked Houston for being a role model to so many, saying, “she made so many beautiful young artists feel strong.”
According to People, when Stevie Wonder took to the piano, he told told mourners, “I had a little crush on Whitney okay?” before singing one of her favorites, “Ribbon in the Sky.”
Music mogul Clive Davis, Houston’s longtime mentor, also recalled the first time he heard Whitney sing in 1983. “You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime,” he said.
Kevin Costner, Houston’s co-star in The Bodyguard, also shared fond memories of working with the singer-turned-actress.
In a speech that was both somber and poignant, the 57-year-old actor recalled anecdotes from shooting 1992’s “The Bodyguard.”
The film was the pop star’s first movie role and also helped establish Houston as one of the world’s most preeminent singers, featuring a Houston-led soundtrack that sold more than 42 million copies worldwide and a career-defining performance of “I Will Always Love You,” reports The Huff Post.
“A lot of leading men could have played my part, a lot of guys could have filled that role, but you Whitney, I truly believe are the only one who could have played Rachel Marron,” he said. “You weren’t just pretty, you were as beautiful as a woman could be. People didn’t just like you, they loved you.”
“At the height of her fame as a singer I asked her to be my costar in a movie called ‘The Bodyguard.’ I thought she was the perfect choice. But the red flags came out immediately. Maybe I should think this over a bit.”
I was reminded that this would be her first acting role. We could also think about another singer, was a suggestion. Maybe somebody white… Nobody said it out loud, but it was a fair question. It was. There would be a lot riding on this. Maybe a more experienced actress would be the way to go. It was clear that I had really had to think about this,” Costner said.
Coster also shared that he and Houston had both been raised in the Baptist Church.
“[Whitney] and I had a lot in common. I know many at this moment are thinking, really? ‘She’s a girl, you’re a boy. You’re white, she’s black. We heard you like to sing, but our sister could really sing,'” Costner said, adding that one of Houston’s favorite stories of Costner involved him growing up as a young boy in church.
Pastor Marvin Winans, a Houston family friend, delivered her eulogy, bringing up members of the Winans family to the altar for an impromptu performance of their gospel hit “Tomorrow.” “We thank you for the life of Whitney Elizabeth “Nippy” Houston,” he said.
When she died, Houston was a long way from the purity and simplicity of her first ever television performance, which had been back in 1985. Then the 21-year-old sang a song called ‘Home’ with the words, “I wish I was home. I wish I was back there ….”
Those who gathered at New Hope Baptist Church yesterday had no doubt: Whitney Houston was home now.