By Chloe Miller ’14
It’s been just over a week since Whitney Houston was tragically found dead the night before the Grammy Awards at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. This past Saturday, Feb. 18, close family and friends gathered at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, to pay their condolences. Houston grew up at this church, and got her start singing there in the choir. The church reportedly only seats about 300 people, so the guest list was a very selective group of Houston’s closest family members, friends, and colleagues, including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Kevin Costner, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, and more. The service lasted three and a half hours and included eulogies and performances by many powerful people.
Many of the performers took classic gospel songs and added in lyrics to emphasize Houston’s life and pay tribute to the star. Kevin Costner, who grew up with Houston at the New Hope Church and cast her in her first film role in “Bodyguard,” gave a heartfelt remembrance speech, as did stars such as Tyler Perry, and Clive Davis. Musical numbers included a solo by BeBe Winans, who performed “Home,” “I Believe in You and Me,” sung by Rev. Kim Burell, “A Ribbon in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder, and a soulful medley by Keys. The funeral ended with Houston’s own pop hit “I Will Always Love You”as her casket was carried away.
The funeral was marked by some drama among family and friends. Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, was invited to the funeral but ended up leaving before the service was over due to a small conflict. Aretha Franklin was scheduled to perform a solo, but called in sick to the funeral. Emotions ran high as the grief over Houston’s death was voiced openly.
The funeral’s program was a six-page color spread celebrating Houston’s life. It included her obituary and several pages of color photos from all points in Houston’s life. The program closed with a heartfelt letter from Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, which included the lines “You were a child of God” and “He came for you.” The letter closed with “Rest my baby girl in Peace; you’re now in the arms of Jesus.” The service also included reflections by family members such as Houston’s cousin Dionne Warwick and her sister-in-law Patricia Houston.
Fans crowded the outside of church in the time before and during the funeral, but the family asked fans to kindly respect their privacy and join in the celebration of Houston’s life through a live streaming of the event available online. This way, the service remained intimate and private, but millions of Houston’s grieving fans still felt they were able to take part.
Houston’s cause of death has still not officially been released, although there is a lot of specualtion about drug and alcohol use. The singer, who rose to stardom in the 90s, had been known to battle substance abuse.