Whitney Houston's Funeral: Tears and Emotional Tributes
It was an emotional farewell to tragic Whitney Houston at a private funeral service in her native New Jersey on 18 February 2012. With US flags at half mast across the state, grieving friends and family members headed to the singer's childhood place of worship, the New Hope Baptist Church, in Newark to mourn the loss of the music icon, who was found dead in her hotel room bathtub at the Beverly Hilton on 11 February, aged 48.
Whitney’s family – her 18-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, ex-husband Bobby Brown, her cousin Dionne Warwick and mother Cissy were all there. Bobby stayed for only 20 minutes, before leaving the church
Cissy shared her final message to her daughter inside, which read, "I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years. Rest, my baby girl, in peace."
Celebs including Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, Vivica A. Fox, Forest Whitaker, Spike Lee, and Oprah Winfrey joined mourners at the church. Whitney's on/off boyfriend, R&B singer Ray J, and his sister Brandy were also present for the memorial.
The ceremony opened with a performance by a mass choir singing The Lord is My Shepherd as Pastor Joe A. Carter greeted mourners.
Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and minister Donnie McClurkin then sang Houston family favourite Stand, and filmmaker Tyler Perry stepped up to the podium and told the crowd, "Say whatever you want, God was for her and she is resting, singing with the angels."
Gospel star BeBe Winans fought back tears as he broke into a rendition of Home, while Bishop T.D. Jakes, who produced Houston's upcoming movie Sparkle, delivered a heartfelt speech and singer Kim Burrell belted out a specially-dedicated cover of Sam Cooke classic A Change Is Gonna Come to her late friend, remembering the singer's roots, rise to success, and untimely death.
Kevin Costner, who co-starred with Whitney in Bodyguard broke his silence about the singer’s death by saying, "Whitney returns home today to the place where it all began. And I urge us all inside and outside, across the nation and around the world to dry our tears, suspend our sorrow, and perhaps our anger, just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney."
"I was your pretend bodyguard once, not too long ago and now you're gone, too soon, leaving us with memories, memories of a little girl who stepped bravely in front of this church, in front of the ones that loved you first, in front of the ones that loved you best, and loved you the longest. Then bolder you stepped into the white hot light of the world stage, and what you did is the rarest of achievements, you set the bar so high, that professional singers, your own colleagues, they don't want to sing that little country song (I Will Always Love You), what would be the point? Now the only ones who sing your song are young girls... who are dreaming of being you one day... So off you go Whitney, off you go."
Costner's speech received a standing ovation from mourners.
An emotional Keys then took to the piano to perform Prelude to a Kiss and choked back tears as she said, "I was just thinking about the way that it's so obvious that she just crept into everybody's heart and the way that she was such a beautiful human being. Really, really caring, beautiful, thoughtful, human being."
Whitney’s longtime mentor and music producer Clive Davis followed: "I can't tell you how moved, touched, inspired I am today by feeling the spirit in this great church and feeling the faith, it's helping me with my grief and my heavy heart... Personally, all I can say is that I loved her, very much. Whitney was purely and simply, one of a kind."
Musical tributes continued with R&B star R. Kelly, who crooned I Look to You, and Stevie Wonder, who paused to say, "This is such an emotional moment, I just want to stop and give our praise to God for allowing me to be in life at the same time as Whitney."
The ceremony was brought to a close with final goodbyes by the tragic beauty's sister-in-law and former manager Patricia Houston and singer Warwick, as CeCe Winans - Bobbi Kristina's godmother - brought down the house with an uplifting performance of Don't Cry.
Winans ended the service by singing a portion of Houston's favourite church hymn Jesus Loves Me and her brother, Pastor Marvin Winans, delivered a touching eulogy and rousing sermon.
The crowd then rose to stand for the final procession as Houston's casket was carried out of the building to her classic hit I Will Always Love You. A heartbroken Ray J was seen reaching out to touch the casket as it passed by his church pew and had to be comforted by his sister Brandy as he broke down in tears.
Whitney will be laid to rest on Sunday, 20 February next to her father John Russell Houston, Jr. at the Fairview Cemetery.