Some 1,500 invited guests descended upon Newark, N.J. to pay their final respects to music legend Whitney Houston on Saturday, with Kevin Costner, Tyler Perry, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys paying tribute to the pop diva. The funeral, called her "homegoing" ceremony on the invitations to the service, took place at New Hope Baptist Church, the same church where Houston first sang as a young girl.
"Whitney, you are the only one that could bring all of us together," Rev. Joe A. Carter said during his opening remarks. "Whitney, today is your day. We celebrate."
Following an opening from Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rev. Donnie McClurkin's rendition of "Stand," Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick introduced filmmaker Tyler Perry, who discussed Houston's devotion to the Lord. "I'm completely thankful to God for all that he has done in her life," Perry said. "God was for her, and she is resting, singing with the angels."
Warwick then introduced a very emotional Bebe Winans, a longtime family friend and gospel singer who lightened the mood when he recounted a story of a younger Houston who, at the height of her career, wanted to sing backup for him and his sister CeCe Winans because she knew they were poor. "I'm gonna miss crazy Whitney," he said. After the laughter died down, he then sang "I Really Miss You."
"In moments like this, it feels like death has won," Bishop T.D. Jakes said following Winans. "You will find that people that you really love, they may leave you outwardly, but they never leave you inwardly."
After Rev. Kim Burrell honored Houston with a personalized rendition of "A Change Is Gonna Come," Kevin Costner stepped up to the podium to pay respects. The actor recalled his time with Houston on the set of The Bodyguard, how the song "I Will Always Love You" initially wasn't meant to be in the film, and how he and Houston bonded over their Baptist backgrounds. "Whitney returns home today to the place where it all began, and I urge us all inside and outside, across the nation and around the world to dry our tears, suspend our sorrow, and perhaps our anger, just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney."
Costner went on to discuss Houston's journey in getting cast in The Bodyguard and how production was postponed for a year while she went on tour. However, those involved in the making of the film had doubts about her and decided she needed a screen test. "Whitney was scared," he said. "Arguably the biggest pop star in the world wasn't sure if she was good enough. She didn't think she looked right... I held her hand and told her she looked beautiful... that everyone there wanted her to succeed... Whitney, if you could hear me now, I would tell you, you weren't just good enough, you were great."
Check out a clip of Costner's speech:
Aretha Franklin was scheduled to perform at the service, but she later released a statement explaining that she had suffered leg spasms the night before and therefore was unable to attend the services. Alicia Keys stepped in, recalling how she and Houston used to call each other "Mima." "She just crept into everybody's heart," Keys said through tears before singing "Prelude to a Kiss."
Longtime mentor Clive Davis then discussed Houston's chart-topping career, with her record-breaking seven consecutive No. 1 hits. "We just felt utter disbelief. I would ask her, 'Are you pinching yourself?'" He expressed to Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, to always be proud of her mother, as Houston loved her very much. In closing, he said, "Everyone in heaven, including God, is waiting, and I just know you're going to raise the roof like no one else has done before."
Following comments from Ray Watson, Houston's brother-in-law and bodyguard, Stevie Wonder paid tribute to Houston, whom he revealed that he had a crush on, by singing a personalized version of "Ribbon in the Sky" followed by "Love's in Need of Love Today."
Houston's manager and sister-in-law, Patricia Houston, noted that Whitney's life was misunderstood "even by herself." She also addressed Houston's mother Cissy, reassuring her that if God was unable to help Whitney through her issues, then Cissy should not feel like she failed her in that regard either. "The legacy that she left was music, but what she left for you was her love for God and she had it and she was absolute," she said.
Afterward, R. Kelly sang "I Look to You," Warwick recited a poem to express her feelings about Houston, gospel singer Cece Winans sang Houston's "Don't Cry for Me," and Houston's music director Rickey Minor counted the many ways he loved her. "Not a voice, the voice," he said. "Because you were there, I am here."
Rev. Marvin Winans, who married Houston and Bobby Brown in 1992, concluded the service with a heartfelt eulogy that kicked off with the Winans family performing "Tomorrow." "Father, we thank you for this life of Whitney Elizabeth 'Nippy' Houston," he said. "Let us leave here recognizing that Whitney left too soon."
Houston's "I Will Always Love You" played as the pallbearers carried the casket out of the church.
Among the other guests in attendance were Houston's family, including daughter Bobbi Kristina, as well as Mariah Carey, Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey, Clive Davis and Mary J. Blige. Houston's ex-husband Bobby Brown was reportedly turned away from Houston's funeral. HLN's Showbiz Tonight Twitter feed reported that Brown had arrived with an entourage of nine people, which could not be accommodated.
At one point, Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted: "I am at Whitney's funeral. I spoke with Bobby Brown trying to calm him down and not distract from the services. Today is about Whitney! I am going back in the services, I did my best out here. Can't tweet from inside the sanctuary, I hope the press will not distort the day."
Did you watch Houston's "homegoing"?