It was an emotional night for soul singer Bobby Brown as he performed Saturday night before thousands just hours after learning that his ex-wife Whitney Houston had died in Beverly Hills.
"First of all, I want to tell you that I love you all," he told fans gathered at a nearly sold-out 7,500-seat venue in northern Mississippi. "Second, I would like to say, 'I love you, Whitney.' The hardest thing for me to do is to come on this stage."
Brown took the stage as part of the New Edition reunion tour at the Landers Center in Southaven, close to Memphis, Tenn. He said he decided to go on with the performance because fans had shown their loyalty to the group New Edition for more than 25 years. He performed about 10 songs over more than hour — "My Preogative" and "Mr. Telephone Man" among them — before he appeared visibly shaken on stage.
Brown suddenly appeared overcome with emotion as the concert wound down, wiping his face with his vest as the group prepared to sing a ballad. When the song began, he joined in, but his voice cracked. He then waved to the fans and walked off stage. The show ended shortly afterward.
Houston and Brown had a tumultuous 15-year marriage that ended in 2007.
In 1993, they had a daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Ten years later, police responded to a domestic violence call from Houston about Brown. Police found Houston with a cut lip and bruised cheek. She was in and out of drug rehabilitation during the mid-2000s, and appeared to hit a low point with her unsteady appearances in the 2005 reality TV show "Being Bobby Brown." She filed for legal separation the following year and the couple divorced in 2007.
Before New Edition took the stage, Landers Center executive director Todd Mastry had indicated Brown would go on as scheduled but wouldn't be available to talk with the media.
Mastry said he hadn't spoken with Brown, but had been backstage. Asked the mood there, he said, "It's what you would expect it to be when something like this happens — respectful."
Singer Kevon Edmonds paid tribute to Houston on stage and said his thoughts and prayers were with her family, according to Mastry.
New Edition began its show with the five members coming onstage without Brown. He joined them to a standing ovation. They were all wearing burgundy red coats with black pants and white shirts, and Brown wore a black hat. As they began to perform, one group member said, "This one is for Whitney."
During an intermission, one of Whitney Houston's early hits, "You Give Good Love," played over the speakers. Fans stood up and began singing along with the song.
Khalilah Hollis, 34, of Horn Lake, Miss., said she was already in the building for the concert when she found out through Facebook that Houston had died.
"It's really sad that she passed away. She was an icon," Hollis said. She said that when she heard the news, she thought that perhaps Brown would not perform. But she was glad when he did go on.
She said Brown's words about Whitney were touching.
"He probably didn't want to go into details because he probably would have broken down," Hollis said.