Pop star Whitney Houston's funeral service will be held Saturday in the New Jersey church where she first showcased her singing talents as a child, her family choosing to remember her in a private service rather than in a large event at an arena.
The owner of the Whigham Funeral Home in Newark said Tuesday that the funeral will be held at noon at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. Gospel singer Marvin Winans, a Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend, has been chosen to give the eulogy, his son said.
The funeral home said that no wake would be held and that there would be no public memorial at Newark's Prudential Center, the sports arena that the family had discussed as a possible venue. The funeral service will be by invitation only, Carolyn Whigham said, reflecting the family's desire to keep the memorial more personal.
"They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell," she said.
"The family thanks all the fans, the friends and the media, but this time is their private time," she said.
A hearse arrived late Monday at the funeral home under heavy police escort from Teterboro Airport, where Houston's body was transported from the Los Angeles area.
The New Hope Baptist Church was where Houston began singing as a child, where her mother — Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston — led the music program for many years and where her cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, sang in its choir.
Houston was found Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in California by a member of her staff about 3:30 p.m., just hours before she was supposed to appear at a pre-Grammy Awards gala. She was 48.
Officials said she was underwater and apparently unconscious when she was pulled from a bathtub. An autopsy was done Sunday, and authorities said there were no indications of foul play and no obvious signs of trauma on Houston's body. It could be weeks, however, before the coroner's office completes toxicology tests to establish cause of death.
The singer had struggled for years with cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her behavior had become erratic.
Fans honour singer outside funeral home
A white tent was set up leading into the funeral home's rear entrance, and two opulent golden sarcophaguses stood at the front entrance. Dozens of Houston fans went to the funeral home, where they played her songs, sang, lit candles to remember her and hoped to get a glimpse of her casket.
Houston was born in Newark and was raised in nearby East Orange. City officials were awaiting the family's arrival to complete the funeral planning.
A picture of Houston appeared Monday night on the electronic board outside Newark's Prudential Center, which hosts college and professional sporting events and seats about 18,000 people. One of the nation's busiest entertainment venues, it was rumoured as a potential site for a memorial, but a New Jersey Devils game Friday night posed a logistical challenge to holding a funeral there.
'An inspiration to everybody'
On Monday, mourners left flowers, balloons and candles for Houston at the wrought-iron fence around the tall brick church, which sits near the edge of an abandoned housing project near the train line leading to New York City.
"She was an inspiration to everybody," said Gregory Hanks, an actor who grew up in the neighborhood and who dropped off a bouquet of flowers.
|Whitney Houston's family is asking that any donations in her memory be sent to the arts-focused New Jersey public school that she attended as a child and that is now named after her. In lieu of flowers, they say mourners should donate to the Whitney Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts in East Orange. She attended the school as a girl when it was named the Franklin School and was a regular visitor for many years afterward.|
Hanks said he saw Houston perform at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center years ago.
"I grew up listening to her as a little boy, and to hear her sing, you knew she was special," the 26-year-old said.
Sandy Farrow, a technology consultant from Mitchellville, Md., who was in the area visiting relatives, said she was a senior at Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange when Houston was a freshman.
"We felt like she put East Orange on the map," she said, adding that Houston's death came as a shock.
"We lost somebody who I thought, after all her troubles, was coming back," Farrow said.
Across the street from the church, Bashir Rasheed set up shop with a duffel bag full of T-shirts reading "In Memory of Whitney Houston 1963-2012." He said he had sold 24 shirts at $10 apiece within a few hours.
Grammy viewership up
Houston's death is a sad rewind of what befell Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. It took three months for a London coroner to rule that Winehouse drank herself to death last July. A powerful anesthetic was quickly linked to Jackson's June 2009 death. Three months ago, Jackson's doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Houston's death tinged the Grammy ceremonies with sadness. It also probably boosted viewership, which was 50 per cent higher than last year, with nearly 40 million viewers tuning in to the program on CBS.
A sensation from her first album, Houston was one of the world's best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, turning out such hits as I Wanna Dance With Somebody, How Will I Know, The Greatest Love of All and I Will Always Love You. But as she struggled with drugs, her majestic voice became raspy, and she couldn't hit the high notes.
Houston left behind one child, daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, from her marriage to singer Bobby Brown.
Winans, in his role as a pastor, married Houston and Brown. The Winans and Houston families have been friends for years, and Houston performed with Winans' sisters CeCe and BeBe, members of one of gospel music's first families.
Winans' office at Perfecting Faith Church in Detroit and his son, Marvin Jr., confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday he will eulogize Houston.
Houston was especially close to CeCe and BeBe Winans and performed with both of them.