Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston’s mother, paid an emotional tribute to her beloved daughter today as family, friends and some of the biggest names in the music world gathered at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, for the singer’s funeral.
Among the mourners at today’s highly-charged service, were singers Chaka Khan, Brandy, Roberta Flack, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson. Singer Ray J, who spent time with Houston during her last days, broke down crying. His sister, singer Brandy, put her arm around him.
After a brief welcome by City Mayor Cory Booke, Pastor Joe Carter took to the alter to read some scripture and start the celebration of Whitney Houston’s life.
Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin was the first soloist to sing. He performed Stand which was a request from the Houston family. As he came up to sing he briefly stopped to greet Whitney Houston’s mother Cissy and her daughter Bobbi Kristina who are sitting next to each other on the front row of the church.
Members of the congregation stood up and started raising their hands and praising as Donnie McClurkin sang to the congregation accompanied by the large gospel choir.
Dionne Warwick, who is officiating the service and introducing the guests to the congregation, told Donie McClurkin after his performance: “This song means a lot to Cissy and a great deal to Whitney so thank you.”
She then invited Tyler Perry to come and say a few words.
Tyler Perry started by saying: “It was Pat [Whitney’s sister-in-law] that introduced me to Whitney. I met her a few years ago. She told me about things that she went through. I saw this sadness and heaviness.
“But before she would say what was bothering her she would interrupt and say <<But the Lord… But my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ>>. I’m thankful for all that God has done in her life.
“There was a grace that followed her through her life. There was a grace that kept on carrying her. She loved the Lord.”
Tyler Perry ended by saying: “God bless you family. We love you Whitney.”
Dionne Warwick said: “That’s someone who truly knew Whitney. He loved the lord and still does.”
She then invited gospel singer Bebe Winans to come up and sing.
Bebe Winans and his sister CeCe Winans came up to the altar. CeCe was a close friend of Whitney Houston’s and is Bobbi Kristina’s Godmother.
“Whitney invited us over to her home and we sat in her closet. It was a huge closet,” Bebe Winans said.
He told the story of how Whitney Houston changed her tour so they would be the ones to headline instead of her which made “Clive Davies” mad.
Bebe Winans said that Whitney Houston was doing it because they were “poor” and she was “rich” and she wanted to help them and get them more exposure.
He told the story through tears and laughter at how giving their long term friend was.
Bebe Winans sang a heartfelt rendition of I Really Miss You. The lyrics of which speak of how much he will miss her “wit, charm, just want to hold you in my arms”.
“I’ll miss her voice when she will call. I’ll miss her smile most of all. I’m gonna miss you.”
During the song, his voice broke as he became emotional and he ended the song in tears.
Dionne Warwick then invited renowned pastor Bishop T. D. Jakes to the pew who met her on the set of the remake of Sparkle, Whitney Houston’s final movie which will be released in August, which he helped to produce.
“I really the dichotomy at this time. Surrounded by friends and admirers enthralled by the beautiful Whitney Houston. But that’s not what brings you here because you knew who she was. Not what she did. You shared her with the world and we just want to take a moment to say thank you,” he opened up with saying.
He embarked on a sermon where he talked about the Bible speaking of love being stronger than death.
“One day you’ll be driving and hear Whitney’s voice in your head, something that she said or did, and you’ll giggle. They may leave you outwardly but they never leave you inwardly.”
Kim Burrell was next to take to the altar. The gospel singer and pastor says Whitney Houston helped her in the start in her career.
She was supposed to sing I Believe In You and Me, a favourite of Whitney Houston’s, but she instead did a personalized version of A Change Is Going To Come, where she sang that a change had to come in Whitney’s life.
Her lyrics were directed to Cissy Houston and sang about how she would get on her knees and pray for her daughter during all the trials and tribulations in her life.
“Whitney a change has come,” she ended the song and then went and gave Cissy Houston a huge hug.
The Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner got up to share memories of his time with his beloved friend.
Kevin Costner started by saying: “I would like to thank Cissy and Dionne for the honor of being here. Everyone treating my wife and I so gracefully.”
“The song I Will Always Love You almost wasn’t. She was meant to sing What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. So what becomes our broken hearts.
“For a moment we should dry our tears, suspend our sorrow and anger. Never forgot that Cissy and Bobbi Kristina are sitting among us.
“Your mother and I had a lot in common,” Kevin Costner said to Bobbi Kristina.
“He’s a boy, she’s a girl. I’m white, she’s black. You’d think we had nothing in common but we did.
“We both grew up in a Baptist church. My grandmother led the choir and played the piano.”
Kevin Costner told stories of his childhood in the church that Whitney Houston enjoyed him telling her when they worked together including him “drinking grape juice” in the back of the church.
He laughed: “I can see her as a skinny girl running around this place, using her smile to get out of trouble and Cissy having enough of it. Whitney said she was waiting no whisper, her mother Cissy and cousin Dionne.
“As I’m sure of Whitney’s place in musical history. I’m also sure of how she felt about her mother. Was she good enough. Could I have done better. Did they really like me or were they just being polite because they’re scared of you Cissy?”
The actor spoke about how there was initial anxiety about Whitney Houston, a black woman, to play alongside Kevin Costner.
He said that there was a sigh of relief when it turned out that Whitney Houston was going to be able to do The Bodyguard because she was going to be one tour. But Kevin Costner said he would wait a year for so she would be available.
“Whitney was nervous and scared that she wasn’t good enough for the role. But I told her I would be with her every step of the way.
“I wanted to tell her that the fame was rigged. That I didn’t care how the test went, that she could fall down and start speaking in tongues. That somehow it was a kind of acting method.
“The Whitney I knew despite her worldwide fame always worried. Am I good enough. Am I pretty enough. Will they like me. The part that made her great and the part that made her great was also the part that made her stumble.
“A lot of men could have played my role. But you Whitney were the only person who could have played Rachel Marron. People didn’t just like you Whitney. They loved you. I was your pretend bodyguard once. And now you’re gone too soon.
“What you did was the rarest of achievements. You set the bar so high. That your colleagues don’t even sing that little country song. What’s the point.
“I think Whitney would tell you, little girls wanting to become singers. Guard your bodies and guard the precious miracle you have.”
Fighting back tears Kevin Costner said: “Off you go Whitney, off you go. Escorted by an army of angels to your heavenly father. When you sing before him. Don’t you worry. You will be good enough.”
Singer Alicia Keys was next to perform and, introducing her Dionne Warwick said she was “a young lady that Whitney adored”.
Alicia Keys was tearful as she walked to the piano and spoke about her friendship with the singer.
“We called each other Meema. She was such a beautiful human being. Call you for no reason at all but just to say hi. And that’s rare I think sometimes.
“I feel like in so many ways she reached back to me and to Michael and Brandy and Jordin and all these young artists and made us feel strong and capable and loved. I think she is an angel to us. She has been an angel to us.”
Alicia Keys then sang a medley of songs on the piano starting with Send Me An Angel, changing the lyrics to Whitney is an Angel.