Whitney Houston Funeral Ends after 4 Hour Tribute in NJ


Music greats and Hollywood icons joined Whitney Houston's family on Saturday at a church in her hometown to pay tribute to the pop diva one week after her sudden death shocked the world, reports AFP.
A gold-coloured hearse delivered Houston's body to Newark's New Hope Baptist Church, where she sang as a child, about two hours before the service started, as police on horseback stood sentry outside.
"We are here to mourn our loss, but to celebrate her life. God is in heaven, and with him is one of our angels, Whitney Houston," Newark Mayor Cory Booker said as the service opened to joyous singing from the New Hope Mass Choir.
Streets near the red-brick church, which has been adorned with floral tributes, candles, balloons and condolence cards in recent days, were sealed off as the memorial service was by invitation only.
The church has a capacity of only 1,500 and fans were respectfully asked to stay away for fear of crowds disrupting the event, but several hundred turned up regardless.
"I just wanted to get as close to her as I could," said fan Tamecca Melvin, from New Jersey.
"I've loved her, I grew up with her. Even though she was a megastar, she was a home girl. She always kept that persona... and I loved that about her," Melvin told AFP.
Soul queen, Aretha Franklin and Motown legend, Stevie Wonder also sang at the service.
Houston's "Bodyguard" co-star Kevin Costner addressed the gathering of relatives, friends, churchgoers and colleagues from the entertainment world.
Houston's death in Los Angeles on the eve of the Grammy Awards last weekend at the age of 48 prompted sadness and an outpouring of grief and respect from fans and contemporaries across the world.
Clive Davis, Houston's producer and early mentor, will be at the funeral as will the late star's cousin and fellow singer Dionne Warwick and civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Also present was British music icon Elton John, along with US diva, Beyonce and her rapper husband, Jay-Z, while Grammy winners, Alicia Keys and R. Kelly performed.
Pastor and gospel singer Marvin Winans, a friend of Houston's from Detroit, gave a heart rendering eulogy.
Winans conducted the marriage ceremony of Houston to the soul singer Bobby Brown in 1992, a union that ended in divorce 15 years later after an emotionally combustible relationship.
Ties between Brown -- who had daughter Bobby Christina, now 18, with Houston -- and the dead singer's family remain strained, but he was at Saturday's service and was also involved in some sort of incident, which saw him leaving the service early after accommodation could not be found for his entourage of nine.
Houston will be buried on Sunday at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey next to her father, John Russell Houston, who died in 2003, ABC News reported, citing law enforcement sources.
Gospel star, Donnie McClurkin said it would be tough for him to "sing on top of the loss" of someone was not just a worldwide pop idol, but a family friend.
"It's a different scenario altogether," he told CNN. "It's going to really take some time to get over this one."
Houston sold more than 170 million records during a near three-decade career, and in later years she fought a long and public battle against substance abuse.
Speculation has raged since her death that the singer may have succumbed to a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol, although official results from her autopsy may not be made public for up to eight weeks.
Saturday's private service is meant to be a homecoming and celebration of Houston's astonishing career, though some fans had hoped for a large public memorial event at a nearby stadium and were angry at being held back.
"It's a disgrace," said Greg Packer. "All the streets have been blocked, it is very difficult to come here. The family should have done a public memorial, something."
But family friend Deforest Soaries, a reverend who has known the Houstons for decades, said such a huge event would become a "spectacle" that "would not be consistent with the values of this family, this tradition and the values of Whitney herself."
"This is not a performance, this is a worship experience," he told CNN.
The service, which lasted three hours and forty-five minutes climaxed with her hit song from ‘The Bodyguard’ “I Will Always Love You”, being played as her casket was led out of the church.

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