NEWARK, N.J. – Friends, family and familiar faces shared their memories for fallen music legend Whitney Houston on Saturday in Newark, NJ, in the church where she sang as a child.
Houston’s aunt, the 70s singing star Dionne Warwick, introduced guest after guest, each of who provided either a heart-warming remembrance, a powerful performance, or both.
Kevin Costner, Houston’s co-star on her biggest movie, “The Bodyguard,” thanked the Houston family for inviting him and his wife, calling Houston a “sweet miracle,” before saying he and Houston had a lot in common.
“We both grew up in the Baptist church,” he said, remembering that he and the singer used to talk about getting in trouble in as children in church, as the assembled guests at New Hope Baptist laughed.
“At the height of her fame as a singer I asked her to be my co-star in ‘The Bodyguard,’” he recounted. “I was reminded this would be her first acting role. Maybe I could think of another singer? Maybe someone white?”
So sure was he of his choice, he said, he postponed the movie for a year until Houston’s tour was over. Still, Houston needed to screen test for the role. Costner said Houston’s initial test was a disaster after she put on too much makeup, which ran down her face under the lights. He asked her why she did it. She said, “I just wanted to look my best.” She went back in with a new face, “and the studio fell in love with her.”
“You weren’t just pretty, you were as beautiful as a woman could be,” Costner said. “And people didn’t just like you Whitney. They loved you.”
Music mogul Clive Davis, who discovered Houston as a teenager, recounted losing his own parents as a child, including his mother at age 47, one year younger than Houston was when she died.
After Houston broke the record for a single staying in the No. 1 spot, Davis remembered: “I would ask her, ‘Are you pinching herself?’ And she would say, with wide open eyes, ‘I’m pinching myself.’”
Actor/producer Tyler Perry recounted a dinner he had with Houston in Atlanta years ago where he first became aware of Houston's spiritual side.
"It was at that moment I knew I would do all I can to stand with her," he said. "There was a grace that carried her from heaven down through Miss Cissy Houston ... A grace that carried her to the top of the charts. The other thing I know for sure ... Whitney Houston loved the lord."
Gospel star Bebe Winans was the first of several stars to perform.
"What I'm going to miss, is crazy Whitney," Winans said before recounting a story of how Houston, at the top of her fame, said she wanted to sing backup for him on tour, "Because you're broke, right?" that had the church laughing uproariously.
Winans then gave a powerful performance, as did singer Alicia Keys. Pop superstar Stevie Wonder remembered recording a duet with Houston, saying he had had a “little crush on her,” before singing “The Ribbon in the Sky” with some lyrics changed in tribute to Houston.
Singer R. Kelly fought back tears as he sang “I Look To You,” the song he wrote for Whitney Houston’s 2009 comeback album of the same name. Gospel star Cece Winans ended her performance by singing ‘Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” which was the last song Houston ever sang in public, onstage with a friend in a club days before her death.
Several more music and entertainment stars were also there to say good-bye to their friend, including talk show titan Oprah Winfrey, singer Mariah Carey, and actor Forest Whitaker.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in attendance, as was Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Houston’s mother Cissy Houston, her much-maligned ex husband, Bobby Brown, and their daughter, Bobbi Kristina were in attendance as well. But Brown only stayed for a brief period, touching her casket, then moving to the back of the church and leaving soon after. TMZ reported that he brought an entourage of nine people, instead of his allotted two, whom the church then refused to seat.
He later said that he and his children were asked repeatedly to move, and that he wanted to avoid a possible scene.
Brown was scheduled to perform with his band in Connecticut later Saturday evening. His daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown was hospitalized twice in the 24 hours following her mother’s death. TMZ said Houston’s family would not let him near Bobbi Kristina.
Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called "Aunt Ree," had been expected to sing at the service, but fell ill.
"Regretfully, I am so sorry that I was unable to be with you at Whitney's service today," Frankin said in a statement. "I had every intention of being there. But unfortunately I had terrible leg spasms and locked leg muscles until 4 a.m. this morning following my concert last night, which I've been having for the last few days."
The service, on an unseasonably warm day under clear blue skies, marked exactly one week after Houston -- one of music's all-time biggest stars -- was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.
Houston is to be buried next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.