A week after Whitney Houston’s lifeless body was found in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, a “Celebration Of Life” service was held at Whitney’s childhood church, the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. A
Before police barricaded the blocks surrounding the church, fans left flowers, balloons, candles and photographs near the church steps. A message that read, “We will always love you” was posted on the church’s marquee. Before he read the bible passage from the 23rd Psalms, New Hope Baptist Church‘s Pastor Joe A. Carter opened Whitney’s funeral stating, “We’re here today, hearts broken, but yet with God’s strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston today. Whitney, you are the only that could bring all of us together. Whitney, today is your day."
Whitney’s cousin Dionne Warwick acted as M.C., introducing special guest speakers and singers throughout the service. Donnie McClurkin took the podium and began his hit “Stand.” Pastor Marvin Winans, who would later give the eulogy stood to his feet as Donnie’s voice rang throughout the sanctuary.
Next up was Tyler Perry, who preached his euology for Whitney. He recalled the first time he met the diva, noting how rooted in faith she was. "She and I sat in a restaurant in Atlanta just the two of us for about an hour and a half just about four years ago," he recalled. "She was telling me about her life and I was very surprised at how candid and open and revealing she was. But before I could get words out to encourage her she would say, ‘But the Lord…’"
As his sister CeCe stood next to him, a teary-eyed BeBe Winans spoke about one of his fondest memories of the fallen icon. “What I’m gonna miss is crazy Whitney," he said. "She made Clive so mad because she decided in the height of her career that she was going to come sing background with Bebe and Cece.” Then BeBe began singing the song he’d written for his brother Ronald, who died in 2005, called “I Really Miss You.”
When Sparkle producer Bishop T.D. Jakes took the podium, he looked at Cissy Huston and Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina, seated on the front row. “You shared her with the world and we wanna take a moment and say thank you," he addressed them. Your hearts are heavy, taears flow down, your spirits are wounded. I feel that, too."
T.D. had some words of comfort for all of Whitney’s loved ones reminding them that although she Whitney had passed on her spirit is still with them. "Love is greater than death," he stated. "People that you really love they may leave you outwardly, but they never leave you inwardly.”
Pastor Kim Burrell was supposed to sing Whitney’s classic remake of “I Believe In You And Me" when she took the stage, but she opted to do a more personalized piece. Instead, Kim decided to perform a reworker version of the classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” by the late Sam Cooke. But before she did, she spoke. “She was special and she had a loving heart,” Kim said of Whitney. “I’m thankful today because she was not selfish. As popular and powerful as she was, she was so brilliantly liberal with who she was with others. She too saw great in me and contributed to that.”
Later, Whitney’s co-star from The Bodyguard, Kevin Cosner, spoke on how shockingly alike they were despite the fact that she was a Black woman and he’s a White man. “We both grew up in the Baptist church,” he told the crowd. “Whitney’s favorite story of mine was me sneaking into the church kitchen after communion. I liked the little glasses of grape juice that were left over. And one-by-one I would knock them back."
He imagined what Whitney’s own childhood in the church was like and speculated that how she came to the decision to be a singer. "Whitney told God that she was gonna be like Aretha, like her famous cousin Dionne and like her beautiful mother Cissy," Kevin mused, noting that she more than lived up to the legacies set before her. "And as the debate heats up this century and it surely will, about the greatest singer of the last century. As the lists are drawn, it will have little meaning to me if her name is not on it.”
The Celebration also included words and musical offerings from Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, Cece Winans, Stevie Wonder, Whitney’s longtime bodyguard Ray Watson and her musical mentor Clive Davis. “You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime,” he said. “You wait for a face like that, a smile like that, a presence like that. And when one person embodies it all, well it takes your breathe away."
Whitney’s brother Gary and his wife Pat took the podium. Pat, Whitney’s manager, spoke for the family and shared how she’s been able to cope with the loss. “When someone dies we are sad,” she said. “We are angry. We are stunned. We are often bewildered and we may even feel abandoned. But the more I think of her life the more I know that she is so safe and so precious in the eyes of God that He carefully considered the time for her to come to another level in peace."