NEWARK, N.J. --- We will always love her.
On Saturday, Whitney Houston’s family and friends put on a production that trumpeted the famed and iconic singer. There was sadness, yes. And the tears were plentiful.
But the laughter resounded. And the musical praise sent the musician’s legacy soaring.
Yes, our hearts cried with the realization that she was gone. But lest we forget, this was a celebration. Ripe in the tradition of the black church, Houston was sent home to heaven.
“You (Cissy Houston) brought the world to church today,” said Pastor Marvin L. Winans, a longtime friend who said that Houston was like a sister and was asked by Houston’s mother to deliver the homily.
And that’s exactly what this was.
In all it’s glory. And for the entire world to see.
Much of the service was rooted in this rich tradition – through song, through scripture and through praise.
The invitation-only ceremony hit just the right note.
About an hour before the service began, the media got the word that Aretha Franklin, who was to deliver an emotional rendering of “Greatest Love Of All” would not be singing because she was ill. Franklin’s presence was missed.
But there was plenty of rafter-shaking performances that helped to send off the singer who was tragically found in her Beverly Hills hotel room just a week ago. Houston was 48.
Appropriately, Houston was returned to Newark, NJ and her services were held at the church where the superstar singer first got her start.
Houston fans were respectful, and for the most part understood her mother, Cissy Houston’s wishes to allow the family to say goodbye privately. Police barricades blocked fans and media from blocks away, but even still the turnout of Houston faithful was few and far between.
Most took to the internet or live TV to watch the services, to see superstars and Houston close friends like R. Kelly, BeBe Winans, Stevie Wonder, Donnie McClurkin and Alicia Keys take the stage and pay tribute to the legend.
A who’s who of the music industry turned out for the service. Valerie Simpson, L.A. Reid, Brandy, Queen Latifah, CeCe Winans, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey and ex-husband Bobby Brown also were in attendance. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Vivica A. Fox, Ray J, Mary J. Blige and Forest Whitaker also were guests at the homegoing ceremony for Houston.
This was far from the media circus that we saw at Michael Jackson’s funeral just a few years ago in an arena in downtown Los Angeles. Yes, there were media outlets from around the world here to capture whatever glimpses they could of Houston’s send-off. But the paparazzi was kept at bay while the praise and worship service took place inside; one lone camera provided by the Associated Press documented the service.
The ceremony opened with the New Jersey Mass Choir singing Hezekiah Walker’s “Grateful,” an uplifting, soul-stirring rendition of the gospel tune.
The church’s minister of music spoke first, welcoming everyone to the church.
“We gone have church today. Because we believe in a mighty god. He’s awesome thorugh it all. It is well with my soul,” Minister A. Curtis Farrow said before welcoming Newark mayor Corey Booker.
Booker stood over Houston’s coffin, and said “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. As the heavens reverabrat with joy and gladness. Joy cometh in the morning.”
The choir ran through familiar staples like “The Lord is My Shepard” and “Restoreth My Soul.”
The church’s pastor told the congregation that “this is how we celebrate. We have church.” Pastor Joe A. Carter said that Saturday was Houston’s day.
“Hearts broken, but with God’s strength, we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston,” he said.
Grammy winner and Houston pal, Donnie McClurkin sang his hit “Stand,” a song made for an occasion like this, given it ministers and pleads to stand up through the pain. The congregants leapt to their feet while he sang and belted out “hold on! Don’t give up!” in the course of his song.
Filmmaker Perry energized the crowd with his personal tales of Houston’s grace and spirituality.
“I know this grief,” he said before launching into a story of how the two of them first met and talked at a restaurant four years ago.
Perry said that he was shocked to discover her candor and how revealing she was.
“As I would see her talk about this, I would see this heaviness come upon her.,” he said, adding that he would look for words to encourage her. “She would say but the Lord. And the conversation went on. We would talk a little bit more. Just when I was about to step in ... she would say ‘but my Lord and savior Jesus Christ’ … from that moment to now I’ve been standing with the family. I’m completely thankful to God for