NEWARK, NJ (CBSNewYork) — Some of the biggest names in entertainment packed the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark on Saturday to say goodbye to music legend Whitney Houston.
“We’re here today, hearts broken. But with God’s strength, we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston,” Pastor Joe Carter said at the start of the service. “Whitney, today is your day.”
Houston’s flower-covered casket was placed at the center of the church where the superstar got her start as a child singing in the choir.
As guests arrived, the choir dressed in white and gold sang quietly “Whitney, Whitney, Whitney.” In the front row, Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina clutched her grandmother, Cissy Houston.
Mourners, there by invitation only, included an all-star roster of music and Hollywood celebrities, including Clive Davis, Kevin Costner, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Dionne Warwick and Chaka Khan as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Gov. Chris Christie, among many others.
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“And just made us feel like strong, and capable and loved,” Keys said.
The gospel choir opened Houston’s funeral in song. Mourners were given a program called “Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God.” It featured a picture of Houston looking upward on the front and pictures of her as a child with her mother and of her daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
One of the first to take the stage was Newark Mayor Corey Booker who said while it is a sad day, it’s also a day to remember Houston.
“We are here to mourn our loss and celebrate her life,” he said. “God is in Heaven and with Him is one of His angels, Whitney Houston.”
Filmmaker Tyler Perry said Houston had a miraculous life and “a grace that kept on carrying her all the way through. It was the same grace that carried her home.”
“And before I could get anything out to encourage her, she would say ‘but the Lord’,” said Perry.
Kevin Costner, Houston’s co-star in “The Bodyguard,” teared up as he spoke of his longtime friend. He said Houston overcame doubts about herself to become great.
“The Whitney I knew despite her success and worldwide fame 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 made her stumble in the end,” he said. “So off you go Whitney. Off you go, escorted by an army of angels to your Heavenly Father and when you sing before him, don’t you worry — you’ll be good enough.”
Costner told mourners the story behind the film and the song she made a hit.
“It wasn’t supposed to be in the movie. The first choice was ‘What Becomes Of A Broken Heart’?” he said.
“Whitney, if you could hear me now, I would tell you, you were not just good enough, you were great,” he added.
Music mogul Clive Davis spoke of Whitney’s love of music and her rise to stardom.
“You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime,” he said.
But he also had a message for Houston’s daughter.
“Bobbi Kristina, always be proud of your mother,” he said. “She loved you so very much.”
Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, CeCe Winans and R. Kelly also took the stage and paid tribute to the superstar in song.
Houston’s godmother Aretha Franklin was scheduled to sing, but did not attend. Franklin’s representative said she was sick and decided not to go.
Fans were kept far away from the funeral. A large fence was placed around the church to keep the media and fans from getting too close.
But since the news of her shocking death broke last Saturday, her fans have been mourning the loss of their icon and gathered as close as they could Saturday to honor her life.
“It’s devastating,” said fan Faye Shannon from Pleasantville, New Jersey. “She was a beautiful person, always has been, outspoken.”
Some fans returned to the place entrusted with Whitney Houston’s body for one final night, the Whigham Funeral Home.
“She’s home. She’s home and I’m very grateful to her mother and her family for allowing it to happen this way, that the community and Newark and around the world can have closure with her because she was like family,” Peggy Lacy of Newark told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin.
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“Continue to rejoice because as we saw earlier today it was more or less a returning home it was a celebration for her, so we can go ahead and put aside our sorrows but she’ll always forever remain in our hearts,” said Jahrell Thompson of Hillside, N.J.
It’s been one week since Houston’s death. The 48-year-old singer was found lifeless in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last weekend.
She was last seen the Thursday before looking disheveled and there were reports she was drinking heavily in the days leading up to her death.
But fans are remembering her music instead of her person struggles.
“I just wanted to be near her,” said fan Marie Altabelli from Bloomfield, New Jersey. “I never got to see her alive.”
Hedwig Bentol flew into Miami with her friend and left flowers and balloons at the church.
“We know that she didn’t know us, but we felt like we knew her through her voice, through her music and that beautiful smile she has,” said Bentol.
As Houston’s casket was carried out of the church, one of her most famous songs, “I Will Always Love You,” was played. Houston’s mother Cissy, had to be helped as she walked up the aisle as Houston’s daughter began to cry.
Houston will be buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield next to her father, John Russell Houston.
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