EAST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Whitney Houston grew up in East Orange. On Monday, the Garden State school that bears Houston’s name paid tribute to the late singer.
Dozens of children honored the vocal legend.
The entire student body at the Whitney Houston Academy walked out in single file Monday morning in a somber procession from the singer’s elementary school to her childhood home on Dodd Street.
1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports
“When I heard what happened I could not believe it. It took me a while to get myself together,” said Principal Henry Hamilton, who first met Houston when she was 6 years old.
Students held signs and dried their eyes as their principal spoke about Houston.
“She was a fine person. We’re sad, but I’m proud to have been there for her. I’m hoping, and I believe we did have some impact on her life,” Hamilton said.
The students began their day walking five blocks to the home on Dodd Street. It is where she lived with her mother, father and two brothers for much of her childhood.
Music was in her blood. She sang at the New Hope Baptist Church in nearby Newark as a teenager. Her mother, Cissy, sang back-up for Aretha Franklin, who became Houston’s godmother.
Houston’s resounding rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV played as the flag was lowered to half-staff. The children then released white balloons that soared into the heavens.
Her pictures are plastered on Principal Hamilton’s walls as a reminder to his students about what they are capable of achieving.
“It makes me feel that I can become, I can do whatever I feel that I need to do,” seventh grader Nayannah Croner told CBS 2′s Jessica Schneider.
“I think that I can achieve whatever I want, just like she did,” said eighth grader Hailey Diasallen.
Houston was a regular visitor at the school, which was renamed for her in 1997. She attended the renaming ceremony and had been back several times since to visit the students.
Meanwhile, Houston and her family lived for the better part of two decades on North Gate Road in Mendham Township. People in the area have left flowers and notes outside the gate to the estate.
Janet Sweda lives in the next town over. She stopped by to pay her respects.
“I saw Whitney Houston once down over at King’s shopping center — just down the road. She was always a very nice person, always stopped, autographs for people, no problems, just a very nice person,” Sweda said.
“We would see her out sitting with Bobbi Christina waiting for the summer bus to go to camp and a mom like the rest of us. She was delightful,” neighbor Caroline Petrie said.
The superstar spent her down time like many neighbors. She shopped in town and oftentimes ate at The Black Horse Tavern.
“She had a beautiful air and people would just want to go and say hello, shake her hand,” said general manager Michael Horty.
Horty said Houston’s favorite dishes included lobster and chicken pot pie.
Even though Houston moved away a few years ago, residents said she’ll be missed.
“I feel very saddened that someone with that degree of talent, that degree of beauty and wealth really could not make it in life,” Lisa Pantel said.
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