Whitney Houston Remembered in New Jersey Hometown for Graciousness, Talent

Mourners from the world of music and film as well as those from around the block came to pay tribute to singer Whitney Houston at the New Jersey church where she sang as a girl and where her family came yesterday to bury her.

Under sunny skies, a crowd of about 1,300 gathered outside New Hope Baptist Church in Newark (9982MF) and at restaurants and other meeting places throughout the city to watch the almost four-hour service on television. One bold-face name after another sat in the pews: Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce Knowles, Jesse Jackson, Alicia Keys.

The funeral, by invitation only, was broadcast on CNN. Singer Dionne Warwick, Houston’s cousin, introduced the speakers, including filmmaker Tyler Perry, preacher T.J. Jakes and record producer Clive Davis, Houston’s mentor. At times, they addressed Houston’s mother, Cissy, and her ex-husband, Bobby Brown and their daughter.

Actor Kevin Costner, Houston’s leading man in “The Bodyguard,” spoke of their work on the film and how they passed time comparing their upbringings in the Baptist church. He had cast Houston as the film’s leading lady even though she had no prior acting experience, and he spoke of her apprehensions before saying goodbye.

“So off you go, Whitney, off you go,” he said, pausing to compose himself. “Escorted by an army of angels and your heavenly father. And when you sing before him, don’t you worry, you’ll be good enough.”

‘People Are People’

The 48-year-old pop singer was found in a bathtub “underwater and apparently unconscious” on Feb. 11 at the Beverly Hilton hotel by a member of her staff. Beverly Hills Police are investigating her death. Houston struggled with substance abuse in the later years of her career.

Outside the church, some vendors hawked black memorial Whitney Houston T-shirts for $10 each. Police blocked off traffic as fans lined the procession route and media from as far away as Asia and Europe interviewed spectators.

Ronald Davis, 54, a firefighter from Burlington County in New Jersey, drove up to Newark yesterday morning. He said Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was his wedding song at his first marriage.

“She was a part of my life,” he said. “People are people. They make mistakes. Society looks at the bad, and forgets all the good they’ve done. I’m glad she’s at peace now.

“As a firefighter, I see death all the time. This one actually really hit me.”

A Gracious Person

Linda Baker, 62, of West Orange, New Jersey, said her brother Billy babysat for Whitney when she was growing up. A singer, he later toured with Houston. Baker said when her brother got sick, Houston helped pay his medical bills and kept him on the payroll until a year before his death in 2006.

“She was a person with a big heart,” said Baker.

Tamara Stubbs, a 34-year-old preschool teacher from Raleigh, North Carolina, spent 12 hours on a Greyhound bus to make it to Newark by 6 a.m. yesterday. She found a spot to stand a couple blocks from the church.

“Everyone said you’re crazy, don’t go, you won’t see anything,” she said. “But I’m happy because I got a lot closer than I thought.” She said she’s been a Houston fan since she was 8, “and I felt like I had to be here.”

Rudolpho Manacap, a personal assistant who lives in Princeton, New Jersey, was dressed in a yellow T-shirt that said, “We Will Always Love You.” He said that as a boy growing up in the Philippines he was surrounded by Houston’s music.

Manacap, 37, said he supported the decision by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who attended the service, to have flags lowered to half-staff for Houston. The move touched off a controversy on Twitter, with some saying the honor shouldn’t have been bestowed on a singer with a drug problem.

“She deserves” the recognition, he said. “She fought for sure with all of that and she was with the wrong friends. But we need to honor her.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Katia Porzecanski in New York at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net; Jeff Kearns in New York at jkearns3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sylvia Wier at swier@bloomberg.net

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