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Whitney Houston Funeral: Family And Friends Gather For Houston Goodbye

Posted: 02/18/12 08:55 AM ET  |  Updated: 02/19/12 03:50 PM ET

Whitney Houston Funeral

By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. -- After all the testimonials from relatives and friends, the songs from legends and pop stars, the preaching and even laughter, the raw emotion of Whitney Houston's funeral came down to just one moment: The sound of her own voice.

As the strains of her biggest record, "I Will Always Love You," filled the New Hope Baptist Church at the end of the nearly four-hour service Saturday and her silver-and-gold casket was lifted in the air, the weight of the moment was too much for mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, to bear.

As she was held up by two women, she wailed, "My baby! My baby!" as she was led out the church behind her daughter's body.

A few steps behind her was the pop icon's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, also crying uncontrollably as she was comforted by Houston's close friend, singer Ray J.
It was the most searing scene on a day with mixed moods as family, friends and a list celebrities - sometimes one in the same - came to the humble New Hope Baptist Church where she first wowed a congregation to remember one of music's legends, but also a New Jersey hometown girl.

Houston died last Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif., on the eve of the Grammys at the age of 48. Her death marked the end of a life that was marked by stunning achievements: Blessed with a voice of great power and beauty, Houston became one of pop music's most successful artists over a career that spanned nearly three decades and segued into film with hits like "The Bodyguard."

But her struggles with drugs and very public fall from grace during tumultuous times, including a union with ex-husband Bobby Brown, were among the many valleys in her life.

Both sides of Houston were recalled at the service at New Hope, which was filled with about 300 mourners, including Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Diane Sawyer and Houston's cousin, Dionne Warwick.
"She was someone with a charmed and a beautiful life, sometimes misunderstood, even by herself," said her sister-in-law and manager, Patricia Houston. "But a life nevertheless that gave joy, happiness, enthusiasm, peace and beautiful music to millions of people around the world."

Kevin Costner, her co-star in "The Bodyguard," said for all of Houston's beauty and success, she was still yearning for approval from the public - and still somewhat insecure, a superstar who "still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?'"

"It's a tree we could all hang from - the unexplainable burden that comes with fame," he said. "Call it doubt. call it fear. I've had mine. And I know the famous in the room have had theirs."

Many who spoke talked about Houston's unshakable faith in Jesus Christ, which got her through some of her most difficult times. Perry recalled a conversation where Houston would look sad when reflecting on her troubles, but then would hasten to add that God was taking care of her.

"The other thing I know for sure - and this is more important than anything that she's done in her life - Whitney Houston loved the Lord," he said.

Fittingly, music played a major role in the send-off to one of music's greatest voices.

Stevie Wonder rewrote lyrics to "Ribbon in the Sky" for Houston - "you will always be a ribbon in the sky," he sang.

So did gospel's the Rev. Kim Burrell for "A Change is Gonna Come," which Warwick said was Houston's favorite song of all time. R. Kelly brought the New Hope Baptist Church to its feet with a stirring version of "I Look to You," the title of Houston's final studio album.

And Keys, her voice breaking at times, dedicated her song "Send Me An Angel," to Houston
Brown briefly appeared at her funeral, walking to the casket, touching it and walking out. He later said in a statement that he and his children were asked repeatedly to move and he left rather than risk creating a scene.

Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called "Aunt Ree," had been expected to sing at the service, but said early Saturday she was too ill to attend. Franklin said in an email to The Associated Press that she had been up most of the night with leg spasms and sent best wishes to the family.

Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers and offering short insights about her cousin; she joked that Houston's Super Bowl performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" became almost as big as the telephone book.

Hudson, who sang "I Will Always Love You" a night after Houston's death in a Grammy tribute, mourned Houston along with Monica, Brandy, and Jordin Sparks - representing a generation of big-voiced young singers who grew up emulating the star of the '80s and '90s. Sparks stars with Houston in the remake of the 1970s film "Sparkle," due out in August.

As the funeral began, mourners fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston's casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies. White-robed choir members began to fill the pews on the podium. As the band played softly, the choir sang in a hushed voice, "Whitney, Whitney, Whitney."

A program featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read "Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God." Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother and daughter filled the program.

"I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long," Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program. "And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years."

"Rest, my baby girl in peace," the letter ends, signed "mommie."

To the world, Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame. To her family and friends, she was just "Nippy." A nickname given to Houston when she was a child, it stuck with her through adulthood and, later, would become the name of one of her companies.

A few fans gathered hours before the service as close as they could get to the church, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Miami. Bobby Brooks said he came from Washington "just to be among the rest of the fans."

"Just to celebrate her life, not just her death," said Brooks, "just to sing and dance with the people that love her."

Others were more entrepreneurial, setting up card tables to sell silk-screened T-shirts with Houston's image and her CDs. Fans were kept blocks from the church and the invitation-only funeral, but their presence was felt. A huge shrine of heart-shaped balloons and personal messages that covered the street corner around the church entrance.

Houston's death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.

Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like "Saving All My Love For You," ''I Will Always Love You," ''The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.

Her last album, "I Look To You," debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn't have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.

Houston is to be buried Sunday next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J.

--

Contributing to this report were AP Global Entertainment and Lifestyles Editor Alicia Quarles and Entertainment Writer Mesfin Fekadu.
Images from today's powerful ceremony:

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  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Fans sign artwork by artist Mark G at the funeral service for Whitney Houston on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Fans sign artwork by artist Mark G at the funeral service for Whitney Houston on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Fans mourn at the funeral service for Whitney Houston on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Fans mourn at the funeral service for Whitney Houston on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Remember Whitney Houston On The Day Of Her Funeral

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: A screen shows Whitney Houston's funeral in Times Square on February 18, 2012 in New York City. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Remember Whitney Houston On The Day Of Her Funeral

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: Newspapers are displayed at a newsstand in Times Square on February 18, 2012 in New York City. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: A makeshift memorial is seen prior to the funeral services for Whitney Houston at the New Hope Baptist Church on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Media set up for the funeral service for Whitney Houston outside near the New Hope Baptist Church on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012 in her room at The Beverly Hilton hotel. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Remember Whitney Houston On The Day Of Her Funeral

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: People gather outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem on February 18, 2012 in New York City. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Guests arrive for the funeral services of Whitney Houston outside New Hope Baptist Church on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Rev. Jesse Jackson is interviewed by the media at the funeral service for Whitney Houston on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Newark, New Jersey Prepares For Whitney Houston's Funeral

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: Cards and flowers are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside the Whigham Funeral Home on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Private Viewing

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown arrives at Whigham Funeral Home for a private viewing for her mother Whitney Houston on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Laid To Rest In Hometown Of Newark, New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: A poster of Whitney Houston is seen near her funeral at New Hope Baptist Church on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • The hearse carrying the body of singer W

    The hearse carrying the body of singer Whitney Houston leaves the Whigham Funeral Home on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey, en route to a private funeral at the New Hope Baptist Church. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mourners walk with a sign toward the are

    Mourners walk with a sign toward the area near of New Hope Baptist Church where funeral services are to be held for singer Whitney Houston on February 18, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Newark, New Jersey Prepares For Whitney Houston's Funeral

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: A fan pays respect at a makeshift memorial outside 'The New Hope Baptist Church' on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Newark, New Jersey Prepares For Whitney Houston's Funeral

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: A pair of Whitney Houston's shoes on display at the Whigham Funeral Home on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Newark, New Jersey Prepares For Whitney Houston's Funeral

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: Cards and flowers are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside 'The New Hope Baptist Church' on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Newark, New Jersey Prepares For Whitney Houston's Funeral

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: A young fan pays respect at a makeshift memorial outside 'The New Hope Baptist Church' on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Private Viewing

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: Motorcade arriving at the Whigham Funeral Home for a private family viewing for Whitney Houston on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Whitney Houston Private Viewing

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown arrives at Whigham Funeral Home for a private viewing for her mother Whitney Houston on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11, 2012. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

  • Messages left at a memorial for singer W

    Messages left at a memorial for singer Whitney Houston set up outside New Hope Baptist Church on February 17, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Funeral services for the singer are planned for February 18 at the church. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • People gather to view a display for sing

    People gather to view a display for singer Whitney Houston at the New Hope Baptist Church February 16, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey where the funeral will be held for the pop star on February 18. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A fan of US pop diva, Whitney Houston, s

    A fan of US pop diva, Whitney Houston, signs a giant mural with a portrait of her idol displayed at a mall in Manila on February 17, 2012, as part of the mall's tribute to the pop legend who died on February 11, aged 48 in a Beverly Hills hotel. Pop diva Whitney Houston will be laid to rest on February 18, after a private funeral service at the New Jersey Baptist church where she grew up singing in a gospel choir. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Henry Hamilton, principal of the Whitney

    Henry Hamilton, principal of the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, looks on during an interview outside the school on February 16, 2012 in East Orange, New Jersey. The funeral on February 18 for pop superstar Whitney Houston will be broadcast live from the New Jersey Baptist church where she grew up singing in a gospel choir, the funeral home owner said. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Filed by Melissa Jeltsen  |