On a sunny and beautiful Saturday afternoon, Whitney Elizabeth Houston was remembered during a star-studded and emotional "home-going" ceremony at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J. The 3 and 1/2 hour ceremony featured several anecdotes, hymns and remarks dedicated to the late pop icon who was affectionately called "Nippy."
R&B/soul artists Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Kim Burrell and R. Kelly were among those who sung at the funeral. In addition, eulogies were given by Houston's mentor Clive Davis; her former music director Rickey Minor; actor Kevin Costner, her manager/sister-in-law Patricia Houston and Ray Watson, her security guard for the past 11 years. Celebrities like Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey were also in attendance.
Houston’s mother, Cissy, did not speak at the service, but penned a heartfelt letter to her daughter that appeared in the funeral’s program. It read:
"I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long, and I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years. God said it's time Nippy; your work is done. How I love you, Nippy, and how I miss you, your beautiful smile, your special little things you used to say to me and sometime you'd call just to say, 'hi Mommie, I love you so much.' I loved you so much more'."
Also, Houston's Godmother Aretha Franklin was supposed to perform at the service but canceled at the last minute because she was feeling ill. Bobby Brown, Houston's ex-husband, was also in attendance but abruptly left after he became visibly upset by the way his guests (9 people in all) were reportedly treated at the funeral.
Aside from that, the "Home-Going" was a fitting tribute to America's most beloved pop star.
Some of the standout performances were Alicia Keys performing "Prelude to a Kiss" and Stevie Wonder swapping out the lyrics to "Ribbon in the Sky" and singing, "Whitney's An Angel in the Sky." Another tearful moment came when R. Kelly performed "I Look to You," a song he written for Houston on her 2009 album of the same name. Kelly also co-wrote songs with Houston for the Sparkle soundtrack, which, posthumously, will be the singer's final songs before she died.
After a sermon by pastor Marvin Winans, who read scriptures from Matthew 6:25-34 (“Nothing left to be said”), the silver casket was carried by six pallbearers out of the church with "I Will Always Love You" playing in the background.
"Very very moving. That's the word...it had something for everyone," said soul veteran Roberta Flack after the ceremony.
A private burial service for Houston will be held on Sunday (Feb. 19) at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, N.J. The pop icon will be laid to rest in a plot adjacent to her late father, John Russell Houston, who died in 2003.
I wrote a recap of performances and speakers at my other blog Beats 'N' Tumblin