Aretha Franklin learned about Whitney Houston's death much the same way most of America did: on TV.
"I had just finished watching George Clooney in 'The Descendants,' and I flipped back to the regular TV and maybe two minutes after I did it came across the screen," Houston's longtime friend told TODAY's Al Roker on Friday. "I just jumped up off the side of the bed."
The Queen of Soul will be just one of several big names attending Houston's private funeral on Saturday in Newark, N.J. She told Roker that Houston's mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, asked her to sing at the service, but she's not sure what song she'll choose just yet. Stevie Wonder is also set to perform, according to TODAY's Jeff Rossen; other star names expected to attend include Houston's "The Bodyguard" co-star Kevin Costner, her mentor Clive Davis, Tyler Perry, R. Kelly, Alicia Keys and cousin Dionne Warwick.
Her former husband, Bobby Brown, is also expected to be there despite rumors; Franklin noted that it's his "responsibility to step up to the plate and be responsible (for daughter Bobbi)." And as to whether Brown could be considered to blame for Houston's problems, Franklin remained neutral: "I really don't have an opinion on that," she said.
Franklin remembered meeting Houston when she was around 10, when the little girl came to visit her at her recording studio. She first heard the girl sing in the late 1970s, and "when she hit the soprano, I said, 'Oh, this little girl can sing! OK, Cissy's baby can sing!'"
Fame like Houston's, acknowledged Franklin, brings on particular pressures: "Parents have to really talk to their children before they leave home," she said. "She left home with all the right things; she just kind of lost her way along the way somewhere."
Houston's voice ultimately touched millions, and some of those fans are eager to be a part of her funeral. According to Rossen, some have already lined up outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark church where Houston's service will be held. He added that police are asking fans to stay away and are closing off the streets within a six-block radius to help keep crowds down.
Franklin said the news of Houston's death came as a real shock, particularly since she had just seen some previews of "Sparkle" in which the singer looked "fresh, she looked healthy, and she looked gorgeous. And I thought, 'Yes, she has conquered her challenges' and was on the way."
No one knows yet what caused Houston's death, but Rossen reported that police in Los Angeles now have her medical records and are speaking to her doctors, though foul play is not suspected. In the days before her death, Houston visited doctor's offices at least twice.
But Franklin kept up a spirited defense of Houston and her choices. "She was having her problems, she was having her challenges, but a lot of people have challenges of all kinds. ... You cannot define a person on just one thing. You can't just forget all these wonderful and good things that a person has done because one thing didn't come off the way you thought it should come off."
Franklin noted that one of the last songs Houston is known to have sung was "Yes, Jesus Loves Me." "When God loves you what can be better than that?" she told Roker. "She had this little twinkle in her eye. She didn't just smile with her lips."
The Queen of Soul shared a nursery rhyme, custom fit for the fallen singer: "Twinkle, twinkle, superstar / We don't wonder where you are. Up above the world so bright / Like a diamond in the night. Twinkle, twinkle, she stood alone / I can't believe that she's gone."
More of Al Roker's interview with Aretha Franklin can be seen on tonight's "Dateline," at 10 p.m. on NBC.
TODAY.com will offer a live video stream of Houston's funeral on Saturday. It is set to begin at noon ET.
Will you tune in to see what else Aretha Franklin has to say about the late singer? Let us know on Facebook.
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