Originally posted: 02.18.12 – Updated 02.19.12
I have been working on a piece entitled: The Grammys… A Microcosm of Our Culture and the Progressive Agenda Behind It… I am also very concerned and saddened about another media superstar having died without enough focus as to why and to why things don’t change! But those subjects are both for another day, perhaps tomorrow. Today I watched the 4-hour service on TV and was glad I did.
The service was touching, poignant, and inspiring!
Just one week after her untimely death, singer Whitney Houston was eulogized by family and friends at a private service at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey that as a compromise for fans allowed one camera in the church to be shared and broadcast for the country and the world to see. At age 11, Whitney began singing solos in front of the New Hope Baptist congregation. Her mother, Cissy Houston, a celebrated gospel singer, was the choir leader there.
It was an intimate and moving tribute to the woman who grew up singing at this same church surrounded by family and faith. The service was emotional, respectful, religious, family oriented, humorous and “spine tingling” as one commentator mused.
For those who have never participated in this kind of rousing Baptist service, this four hour “Home Going “ ceremony for Whitney Houston was a welcome relief from the speculation and finger pointing during the week after Houston’s death at age 48.
A program featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read “Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God.” Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother and daughter filled the program.
“I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long,” Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program.
“And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years.Rest, my baby girl in peace,” the letter ends, signed “mommie.”
Through this special ceremony, America was able to view Whitney Houston and members of her generation as real people with real lives, with an unmistaken impact on each other and our culture. It was also a tribute to African American culture and the contributions of black American artists to music and American life.
It really was a “who’s who” of musical performers, many adapting lyrics in tribute to Houston, who died a week ago at age 48. In addition to the those speaking or performing, Jennifer Hudson (who had delivered a breath-taking tribute to Whitney at the Grammys), Ray J (who spent time with Houston during her last days), Monica, Brandy, Jordin Sparks, Oprah Winfrey, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, T.D. Jakes, Spike Lee, Darlene Love, Queen Latifah, Star Jones and Houston’s former husband, Bobby Brown, among others. Brown walked to Houston’s casket with his head down before the service began, touched and placed a kiss there and left. Security guards said Brown was upset that he would have to sit separately from the people he arrived with. Mel Gibson was also invited to the funeral, but did not attend. Gibson had tried to help Houston in some of her worst days, a gesture her family was always grateful for.
Virtually everyone in the program spoke of Houston’s Baptist background and beliefs. Patricia Houston, the singer’s sister-in-law and former manager, said Houston retained her love for God. Tyler Perry said. “There is a grace that kept on carrying her. … Whitney Houston loved the Lord.”
There were no shots of Whitney’s mother, Gospel singer Cissy Houston, her daughter Bobby Kristina or the family as they sat in the pews during the service to afford them their privacy.
Houston’s cousin, Dionne Warwick, acted as an emcee of sorts for the service, which featured words of faith, personal stories of Houston and music from people who knew Houston as colleagues, family and friends. She also shared a few words about how her “Nippy,” with a poem, with these words, “if my parting has left a void, then fill it with remembered joy…be not burdened with times of sorrow…my life’s been full, I’ve savored much. .. God wanted me now, he set me free.” (Photo: Bobby Kristina and Whitney)
Poem Recited by Dionne Warwick at Service:
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free
I’m following the path God has laid you see.
I took His hand when I heard him call
I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work, to play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way
I found that peace at the close of day.
If my parting has left a void
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss
Oh yes, these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full, I savored much
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and peace to thee
God wanted me now; He set me free.
Then, the entire congregation rose to its feet as CeCe Winans, Bobby Kristina’s Godmother, performed “Don’t Cry for Me,” She had appeared earlier with BeBe Winans as he joked about the crazy (funny) side of Whitney.
Warwick also added that when Whitney Houston sold over 1 million copies of the Star Spangled Banner, she asked her…. “So what is next? The phone book?”
Ricky Minor, current leader of the Tonight Show band, also spoke of Houston and the days when, as young people, both were trying to make a mark in the music business . “I love Whitney Houston,” he exclaimed, as he went on to discuss her looks, her voice, her style and “so much more.” The turning point in his relationship with her, he said, was Houston’s performance of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. He remembered that Houston asked him to help her put a new twist on the song as she rehearsed her performance. “I am here, Whitney, because you were there,” he said.
Kevin Costner delivers touching memories of Whitney Houston
Photo: Houston and Costner “The Body Guard.”
Actor Kevin Costner was one of the invited speakers; delivering a poignant eulogy. He spoke of Houston’s beauty and talent, with several touching and humorous anecdotes about working with her on the film “The Bodyguard.” Costner spoke of his co-star as someone who “still wondered, ‘am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?’”
“It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end,” Costner said. Costner spoke of Houston’s insecurities and desire to be a success and the demands of fame and the fact that when the Body Guard was made some twenty years ago, it was not easy for a black woman to star alongside a white man.
He talked about their connection, having grown up in a Baptist Church with a mother who was an organist and the choir director.
Costner commented that though any man could have played the role that he played in the film, the only woman who could have played the female lead was Houston. He received a standing ovation after he spoke of Houston’s courage, including at her audition for the Body Guard, “which she nailed”, he said.
Alicia Keys sings for Whitney Houston and Clive Davis remembers
“Whitney’s an angel,” sang invited guest Alicia Keys, “We’re never going to forget you… so God you’re home,” with Houston mother Cissy Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina sitting with other family members in rows behind the podium on the church altar.
Clive Davis, the man who discovered Houston and served as her mentor throughout her career spoke of being moved by the service. Whitney considered him her ‘industry father’. He told the congregation about being orphaned as a teenager and feeling his mother’s guidance throughout the rest of his life.
“You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime,” he said, referring to meeting Houston for the first time. David spoke of sensing time with Houston in the week before her death, “She was one beautiful woman,” he said.
Photo: Clive with Whitney at ‘I Look To You’ Album Preview
“She was never arrogant and she was always grateful and appreciative,” Davis said. He also reminisced about Houston’s screen debut in the film “The Bodyguard (Blu-ray)” along with Houston’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl.
“Memories, vivid, indelible memories,” Davis said listing Houston’s songs, films and videos. “Music was her passion. Whitney lived music. Whitney loved music,” he told the congregation, noting Houston’s “natural genius in interpreting songs.”
“Personally, all I can say is that I loved her very much. She was truly one of a kind… when I needed her she was there for me.” Davis also reached out to Bobbi Kristina, consoling Houston’s teenage daughter with words of hope.
“Ribbon in the Sky” sung by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder sang and played for Whitney Houston, sitting behind a beautiful black grand piano at the front of the church. “This is such an emotional moment…I wanted to stop and give all praise to God for allowing me to be in life at the same time as Whitney,” he said.
Wonder also spoke of working with Houston in the recording studio, saying that he “always had a little crush on her.” In his distinctive soulful voice, Wonder sang one of Houston’s favorite songs,” Ribbon in the Sky”, adapting the words. His lyrics spoke of being “blessed with Whitney’s voice… what God gives is never a coincidence… it was always meant that you were a voice from heaven.”
Wonder then sang one of his own favorites as the congregation clapped to the beat and sang along, as the gospel choir dressed in white swayed back and forth behind him. “Can’t you hear Whitney telling us… God’s going to come and we got to be ready,” he sang.
It was a beautiful moment that seemed to unite the attendees, black and white, young and old, rich and poor. Houston could not have created a more touching tribute herself.
R. Kelly also sang, “I Look to you,” one of Houston’s songs from her most recent album. Backed by a gospel choir, his words were powerful and emotional, “And when melodies are gone, in you I hear a song, I look to you,” he sang.
Rev. Marvin Winans, gospel singer told “Mama Houston” and the Houston family that “you brought the world to church today” by holding the service at the New Jersey Church. Winans delivered a humorous and down to earth homily in which he called Houston family friends and family to the podium.
Rev. Winans and The Winans Family performed a gospel song called “Tomorrow” that Winans said Houston’s once performed early in her career. Winans then delivered the homily. It began as a gospel song, in traditional style, with members of the congregational chiming in.
Winans reached out to the congregation and with his deep baritone, delivered a direct and dramatic sermon about the Bible and life’s “priorities.” Dressed in black and red robes, with sweat pouring off his brow, Winans wrapped up the service with some old fashioned gospel truths. “Sometimes we are believers behaving badly”, he said.
- “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” he told the congregation, “The life that we live is our gift to God.”
- “Walk according to what you believe,” he concluded.
Houston’s Godmother Aretha Franklin was to perform at the service as well and was even announced by Dionne Warwick, but cancelled at the last minute because of health changes. Franklin sent her regrets for not being able to come. Warwick said Franklin loved Whitney as if she were her own.
With that he offered prayers for Whitney Houston, “Let is leave re recognizing that Whitney left us too soon, impacted by her life saying that I want to finish what you started.. we will not leave here bitter or upset, let the church say Amen, God has spoken, so let the church say amen.”
These words were echoed in song, by the white robed gospel choir and the entire congregation. “Let the Church Say Amen” they sang, as Whitney Houston’s coffin was escorted back down the center aisle, followed by the family and then the celebrities.
It was a beautiful and hopeful moment, fitting for a singer or a lost soul. And then, Houston best known hit was played as the casket was slowly rolled down the center aisle and then lifted up by the pallbearers followed by Cissy Houston, the rest of the Houston family and friends slowly filed out.
“I will always love you,” she sang. It was if her spirit was in the church, right there and then, in one precious moment.
Before the service began, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson told reporters that he had spoken to Ms. Houston shortly before her death. “She was prepared to sing that night,” he said, referring to the night she died. “Things were looking up,” he added. “We reveal our successes; we conceal our pain.”
He defended the family’s decision to keep the service private. “They have given Whitney to the world; they want her at home in her most natural setting, close to her mother,” he said. “In her most challenging times, this was home to her.”
People from the neighborhood gathered outside and created a wall of balloons and flowers around the grounds of the church. Houston just finished a new film, her fourth, Sparkle, that her fans can look forward to.
The hearse carrying the body of Whitney Houston, covered in roses tossed by fans as it passed by, reached its destination on Sunday, 02.19.12, a day after the televised “Home Going” Service where the singer was finally laid to rest after a brief, private ceremony.
Fans and onlookers gathered along the hearse’s route in several locations to watch the motorcade escort Houston’s body from the Newark funeral home to the cemetery about 20 miles away in Westfield; losing a week of loss and mourning. Houston was laid to rest, buried next to her father, who passed in 2003.
Fans gathered first near the funeral home Sunday morning, some slowly jogging alongside the hearse as it departed on its journey toward Houston’s gravesite. Several fans shouted “We love you, Whitney” as the hearse, displaying a black and white photograph of the singer in one of its windows, slowly drove away…
Rest in Peace, Whitney Elizabeth Houston