Feb. 18, 2012 at 12:08 PM ET
Many of the biggest names in entertainment gathered Saturday to say goodbye to singer Whitney Houston in the church in Newark, N.J., where the late singer, who died on Feb. 11, started her singing career in the choir.
Pastor Joe A. Carter of the New Hope Baptist Church opened Saturday's service by telling the congregation that "we gonna have church today.
"We are here today, hearts broken but yet with God's strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston," Carter said. "Whitney, you are the only woman that could bring all of us together. Whitney, today is your day."
As the nearly four-hour long service came to an end, the Rev. Marvin Winans said in his eulogy: "Father, we thank you for this life of Whitney Elizabeth 'Nippy' Houston. We thank you that she was a dear friend, and we echo all the sentiments of those who have come to show their love. ... Let us leave here recognizing that Whitney left too soon. Let us leave her impacted by her life."
The service offered a mixture of humorous memories and deep sorrow. According to the Associated Press, as Houston's casket was carried out and her hit "I Will Always Love You" was played, her daughter Bobbi Kristina began crying, and the sobs of Houston's mother, Cissy, rang throughout the church. "My baby!" she wailed.
Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers and offering short comments about Houston between them.
Actor-director-writer Tyler Perry was among the first speakers at the service, and he reflected what he called the one constant in Houston's life -- her grace. Her described it as a "grace that kept on carrying her all the way through, the same grace led her all the way to the top of the charts. She sang for presidents." He told the congregation that no matter the trouble that she encountered in her life, Houston's faith remained constant.
Actor Kevin Costner, her co-star in "The Bodyguard" that spawned her greatest hit, remembered a movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, 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.
He also reflected on the decision to cast her in "The Bodyguard." "A lot of leading man could have played my part," Costner said. "A lot of guys. A lot of guys could have filled that role. But you, Whitney, I truly believe were the only one who could have played Rachel Marron at the time."
Gospel singer BeBe Winans chose to focus on Houston's "craziness." He described how, at the peak of her fame, she offered her singing services to him because "y'all are broke, right?"
Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called "Aunt Ree," had been expected to sing at the service, but told the Associated Press that she was having foot and leg problems following a concert she gave Friday night at New York's Radio City Music Hall and would not be able to attend.
Houston's ex-husband, singer Bobby Brown, arrived for the service, but left just minutes before the service began. In a statement released after his departure, he said he was prevented from seeing daughter Bobbi Kristina by security.
"My children and I were invited to the funeral of my ex-wife Whitney Houston," Brown said in the statement. "We were seated by security and then subsequently asked to move on three separate occasions. I fail to understand why security treated my family this way and continue to ask us and no one else to move. Security then prevented me from attempting to see my daughter Bobbi-Kristina. In light of the events, I gave a kiss to the casket of my ex-wife and departed as I refused to create a scene. My children are completely distraught over the events. This was a day to honor Whitney. I doubt Whitney would have wanted this to occur. I will continue to pay my respects to my ex-wife the best way I know how."
Singers Chaka Khan, Brandy, Mariah Carey, Roberta Flack, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson were among those in the pews. Brandy comforted her brother, Ray-J, a singer who spent time with Houston during her final days. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and actress Lela Rochon also were in attendance.
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. Her mother wrote a letter thanking her for being a "wonderful daughter," signing the letter, "mommie."
The service marks one week after the 48-year-old Houston, one of music's all-time biggest stars, was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined. An estimated 1,500 friends and family members attended the invitation-only service. Houston will be buried next to her father, John Houston, in Westfield, N.J., on Sunday.
Houston's death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace while shocking was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.
Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like "Saving All My Love For You," "I Will Always Love You," "The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.
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