Farewell Whitney Houston
Newark, New Jersey (CNN) — Songs of praise and words of encouragement filled a New Jersey sanctuary where those closest to her bid farewell today to legendary pop singer Whitney Houston.
Houston’s casket, covered with a large spray of flowers, rested in front of the altar at New Hope Baptist Church, where she got her start in the choir.
“We’re here today with hearts broken, but with God’s strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston,” said Pastor Joe Carter.
Clapping and swaying mass choirs opened the midday homegoing service, performing rousing versions of gospel standards.
Houston’s cousin, Dionne Warwick, introduced director-producer Tyler Perry.
“I am completely thankful to God for all he has done her life,” Perry said of Houston. “There is a grace that kept on carrying her. … Whitney Houston loved the Lord.”
Oprah Winfrey, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Spike Lee, Kevin Costner and Houston’s former husband, Bobby Brown, were among those on hand. Brown walked by Houston’s casket with his head down.
Guests held in their hands an invitation with a cover featuring a photo of a smiling Houston. The six-page funeral program contained colour family photos and a letter from Cissy Houston, the singer’s mother.
The letter included the message, “God said ‘It’s time, Nippy (Whitney’s childhood nickname). Your work is done.'” It was signed, “Thanks for being such a wonderful daughter. Love, Mommie.”
“Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, who was scheduled to sing The Greatest Love of All at the service, has leg spasms and could not perform or attend the service, a statement released by her publicist said. Franklin performed a tribute to Houston Friday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
The service will feature performances by Stevie Wonder — singing one of his hits, Ribbon in the Sky — R&B star R. Kelly, Alicia Keys and gospel greats Kim Burrell and BeBe Winans.
Pastor Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy. Bishop T.D. Jakes will deliver remarks, along with Costner, Houston’s co-star in the movie The Bodyguard; and her mentor, music mogul Clive Davis.
Patricia Houston, the singer’s sister-in-law and former manager, will speak at the end of the service, followed by Houston’s cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, according to the program.