Whitney Houston remembered at hometown funeral
A coffin holding the remains of singer Whitney Houston is carried into the New Hope Baptist Church before her funeral services in Newark, N.J. on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — The biggest names in entertainment clapped hands, swayed to gospel hymns and sang along with the choir at Whitney Houston's hometown funeral Saturday in the church where the future pop star once wowed the congregation as a young girl.
"We are here today, hearts broken but yet with God's strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston," the Rev. Joe A. Carter told the packed New Hope Baptist Church after the choir behind him sang "The Lord is My Shepherd."
Mourners including singer Jennifer Hudson and Houston's mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, stood, swayed and clapped along in the aisles. Gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans and the Rev. Kim Burrell joined with pop stars like Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and R. Kelly in paying tribute to the 48-year-old pop superstar who first began singing in the Newark church.
"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime," said music mogul Clive Davis, who shepherded Houston's career for decades.
The service had lighthearted moments too — Kevin Costner imagining a young Houston using her winning smile to get out of trouble, Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick offering short insights about the singer.
Others were more mournful; singer Ray J., who spent time with Houston during her last days, broke down crying. His sister, singer Brandy, put her arm around him. Cissy Houston and Houston's daughter, 18-year-old Bobbi Kristina, clutched each other in the front of the church. Toward the end of the service, Bobbi Kristina and Ray J. embraced at length and spoke. Others gathered near the front of the church and hugged each other.
The most powerful moment was reserved for the end. As Houston's silver casket was carried out, her hit "I Will Always Love You" played. Bobbi Kristina began crying, and the sobs of Houston's mother rang throughout the church.
"My baby!" she wailed.
Wonder and Oprah Winfrey were among the biggest names gathered to mourn Houston, along with Hudson, Monica, Brandy, and Jordin Sparks — representing a generation of big-voiced young singers who grew up emulating her.
Costner, her co-star in "The Bodyguard," which spawned her greatest hit "I Will Always Love You," remembered a movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, who "still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?'"