Whitney Houston’s flower-covered casket arrived Saturday at the church where her powerful voice first wowed a congregation as family made final preparations to remember the pop superstar in her hometown.
Mourners at the New Hope Baptist Church, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston’s silver casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies, a couple of hours before the service. 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.”
Family prepared a service where singer Dionne Warwick, Houston’s cousin, music mogul Clive Davis, who shepherded Houston’s career for decades, actor Kevin Costner and sister-in-law Patricia Houston were to speak; and Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, R. Kelly and gospel stars CeCe and Bebe Winans were to sing. Houston’s voice, a recording of her biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You,” was to be played at the end.
Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called “Aunt Ree,” was expected to sing at the service, but she is too ill to attend, said a person close to the Houston family who was not authorized to talk about Franklin’s decision and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The service marks exactly one week after the 48-year-old Houston — one of music’s all-time biggest stars — was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.
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. To them, she was a sister, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.
Elton John, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce and Jay-Z, actor-producer Tyler Perry and “American Idol” musical director Rickey Minor were all expected to attend Saturday’s invitation-only service. Her ex-husband Bobby Brown also is expected to attend, along with the couple’s only child, Bobbi Kristina.
The funeral is for invited guests only. Houston is to be buried next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J. Live video of the funeral will begin at 9:00 A.M. PT.