February 18th, 2012
11:27 AM ET

Live blog: Remembering Whitney, a homegoing service

On February 11, Whitney Houston was found lifeless in her Beverly Hilton suite. Her death, on the eve of the Grammys, has dominated the news the way her music dominated the charts. Where were you this week if you didn't hear the thump of a single drum beat and then, "And, I-eeeeyeee–will always looooooveeee youuuuu"?

You were not on this planet, for sure. If you are somewhere still in space, you're not aware of the massive outpouring of grief and goodbyes Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in New Jersey at the legendary singer's funeral. The service was streamed on the Web and broadcast live on television. Join the conversation #whitneycnn or watch CNN Presents "Death of a Diva" at 8 p.m. ET tonight.

[Update 4 p.m. ET] The service has ended. A hearse carrying Whitney's body is making its way along the streets of Newark where the 48-year-old grew up.

[Update 3:41 p.m. ET] The service is wrapping up. Her casket is being carried down the aisle. There is a single voice filling the church. It's Whitney's. The opening line to "I Will Always Love You" plays. We defy anyone to not cry right now. As the mourners exit, some who appear to be family are having trouble walking. You can hear someone weeping hard.

Outside the church, there isn't a horde of fans. The media has been kept at a distance. The street is blocked off. The gold casket is being loaded into a hearse. Whitney is scheduled to be buried nearby on Sunday at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey. It feels like we've just seen an intimate service as the family wanted, not a celebrity spectacle.

[Update 3:26 p.m. ET] Marvin Winans wasn't lying when he said he wasn't about to give a speech. He was just going to preach. And he's giving us a true, animated sermon. "God had a purpose before he ever created a person," he said. Winans is keeping faith with what we heard at the start. This was going to be a service and a celebration of Whitney, not a concert. Winans is sweating. His voice is up and down octaves, dipping and rising and rough with emotion.

"When I get in the middle of the valley, that's not the time to leave my faith," Winans said. "If God has me in the middle of a sunny afternoon, then he has to have me in the middle of a dark night." Those are undoubtedly comforting words to the people listening who are hurting.

Iconic filmmaker Spike Lee, who attended the service, tweeted: "Stevie Wonder Sang To Whitney In Heaven With "LOVE'S IN NEED OF LOVE TODAY. May Her Soul Rest In Peace In Our Father's Kingdom."

[Update 3:15 p.m. ET] By this time, the service has lasted for more than three hours. Gospel giant Marvin Winans is once again at the pulpit. He praises New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for ordering that flags around Whitney's home state be flown at half-staff.

Songstress Estelle has tweeted: "My GOD the Winans I remember "Tomorrow" growing up. Perfect send off."

[Update 3:06 p.m. ET] Carvin and Marvin Winans are singing their song, "Tomorrow," which Whitney, or as they recalled, "Nippy," used to sing. Marvin said that's how they met Whitney, because they were signed in the 1980s to the same talent agency and learned she was singing it. When Carvin heard that, he tried night and day to get in touch with the rising superstar. Carvin sings while his brother plays the piano. The Winans were a popular gospel group from Detroit.

[Update 2:54 p.m. ET] Rickey Minor, Whitney Houston's musical director, is saying that he believes God sent her to him. He jokes that he loved Whitney, not because of her 5 foot 10 height, or her cocoa brown skin, the way she wore those elegant gowns or because she could sing. He loved her because she was Whitney. She was special.

[Update 2:46 p.m. ET] Mourners behind Dionne Warwick are wiping tears as Whitney's cousin talks about how full her life was with "Nippy's" friendship and love. Nippy was Whitney's nickname. CeCe Winans is up next, singing "Don't Cry for Me." The song was written by her brother Bebe Winans. Here's Whitney singing the song awhile ago.

Meanwhile we've confirmed that Bobby Brown arrived with about nine people and wanted them to all sit together. He couldn't be accommodated and left. People are tweeting that people should keep in mind how much Brown has lost and to be kind.

[Update 2:42 p.m. ET] R&B singer R. Kelly is singing "I look to you."

[Update 2:39 p.m. ET] After Stevie brought everyone to their feet, Pat Houston makes her way to the front. She is Whitney's sister-in-law and manager. "She was one with a charmed and beautiful life, a life [sometimes] misunderstood," she said. Houston talked about the way the superstar was perceived negatively by some. None of that mattered, she said.

"In the final analysis it was always between her and God," Houston said. "It was never between her and the world, anyway."

We're getting word that Jennifer Hudson, who did a fantastic tribute to Whitney at the Grammys, is in the audience, along with Lela Rochon, an actress who co-starred with Whitney in "Waiting to Exhale."

As Pat Houston speaks, we're reminded that there are superstars in the church, but they were just friends to Whitney and her family.

[Update 2:30 p.m. ET] Bobby Brown has reportedly left the church. There are reports that Brown had a large entourage he wanted to bring in and be seated with but he couldn't be accommodated and left.

[Update 2:10 p.m. ET] Stevie Wonder is at the piano, singing and telling everyone, "We loved her so much." Breaking the sadness for a moment, Stevie admits that he "had a little crush on Whitney." He's launching into "Ribbon in the Sky," personalizing the lyrics by singing, "One day in 1963 we were blessed so incredibly with this voice..."

We can only imagine how emotional the audience in the church is. We know from Twitter and Facebook that everyone watching it from afar is incredibly moved. One of Whitney's Facebook fan pages is filled with comments. "Thanks to the Houston Family for sharing with us this moment, for letting us be part of that family..." one poster wrote.

[Update 2:01 p.m. ET] Ray Watson, Whitney's bodyguard, is at the pulpit. He's wearing a suit and dark sunglasses. Watson is telling a funny story about her wanting to drive them on a long trip. He was mystified about why she wanted to do that rather than fly. He's getting laughs as he explains that he was afraid of flat tires and service stations because he was protecting an icon. On their trip, he said he told her not to get out of the car when they stopped. Then, he returned to their last moments together. When he learned that she died, his world collapsed. "I lost a friend, a boss, but her spirit came to me and said, 'You are free.' In those 11 years, I was by her side," he said.

[Update 1:58 p.m. ET] Bobby Brown has left the service, according to CNN's Don Lemon, who spoke with police at the church.

[Update 1:47 p.m. ET] Dionne Warwick, Whitney's cousin and a heavyweight in the music industry, is introducing the speakers. She introduces Clive Davis. The music mogul put Whitney on the road to stardom. "You wait for a voice like that ... a smile like that ... a presence like that," he said, recalling in 1983 the first time he heard Whitney. Her voice "shattered" him. Davis said he and Whitney were hanging out in his suite at the Beverly Hilton last Tuesday, and he was struck, when she was applying a bit of makeup, how beautiful she still was.

He tells Whitney's daughter Bobbi Kristina, "Your mother loved you so much. Always be proud of your mother." We haven't seen the 18-year-old yet.

Have you learned anything new about Whitney? @CNNShowbiz is getting so many messages from people loving the personal stories they're hearing.

[Update 1:34 p.m. ET] Alicia Keys is crying as she sits at her piano. Her eyes are a deep red. She tells everyone that Whitney "crept into everyone's heart." Whitney would call for no reason at all, just to say hi, Keys says. "She made us feel strong and loved and capable," Keys said, recalling how Whitney mentored her and other young artists.

How many people out there have had to break out the Kleenex? Send us an iReport.

Costner is trending on Twitter. A lot of people feel moved by what he said. Kelley Carter tweeted, "Costner for the win!"

[Update 1:29 p.m. ET] Costner tells everyone about the insecure moments Whitney had, those times few people saw, when despite her fame she wondered if she was good enough. He joked about a makeup snafu on set, and times in which he was surprised that she had doubts about playing the iconic "Bodyguard" role of Rachel Marron. He asked the famous people in the crowd if they knew what he was talking about. He's had those moments, too, he said, the shared burden of fame. Everyone is on their feet, clapping for Costner when he finishes.

[Update 1:16 p.m. ET] "This feels right," Kevin Costner says, referring to the feeling of love in the church. He promises to tell some stories. Costner explains that "I Will Always Love You" wasn't the first choice as the main song on "The Bodyguard" soundtrack. He goes on to say that though it might not be obvious, he and Whitney had a lot in common. They both grew up in a Baptist church. This elicits a warm response from the crowd as they clap and laugh. Costner also says when "The Bodyguard" was being cast, there were concerns from movie industry insiders that it would be too controversial to pair a black woman with a white man in a love story on screen. He gave that some thought, he said, and then fought harder for her to get the role. She was at the prime of her career. Rachel Marron was Whitney Houston.

[Update 1:12 p.m. ET] The service is moving right along. Whitney's close friend, gospel singer the Rev. Kim Burrell, is doing a heartfelt rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" personalized for the lost superstar.  The song begins, "She was born in Newark." People are on their feet, swaying.

[Update 1:04 p.m. ET] Bishop T.D. Jakes, who was a producer on Houston's last movie project, "Sparkle," is at the pulpit. He's doing what he does best, preaching with heart. "Death has not won," he said. Jakes tells them one day they'll be driving down the street and they'll hear her voice. People are shouting, "Amen!" Whitney may have left them physically, he says, but her spirit will never go away.

[Update 12:55 p.m. ET] BeBe Winans is talking. He considered Whitney a sister. His voice is cracking. "What I'm going to miss is crazy Whitney," he said. The audience laughs and claps. He's getting the first laughs of the service before he launches into song. That's a true celebration of her life, being able to smile recalling those intimate memories of the superstar. Bebe is sobbing at the end of his song, "I really miss you."

Fans on Twitter are watching the service. "I'm pretty sure CNN never had "church" before. AMAZING!!!!!" SandyPattyP tweeted.

[Update 12:50 p.m. ET] Whitney's casket is at the front of the church. Sunlight streams on it. Filmmaker Tyler Perry delivers a rousing sermon focusing on how nothing could separate Whitney from the love of God. The mourners wave their hands in testimony. Perry might want to consider leading a church because he had many clapping and on their feet.

[Update 12:46 p.m. ET] Gospel great Donnie McClurkin performs a stirring rendition of "Stand" that already has the church on its feet. "Stand and be sure God has a plan," he sings.

[Update 12:35 p.m. ET] The church is absolutely hushed as pastor Joe A. Carter tells them Whitney is "the only one that could bring all of us together."

"Whitney, today is your day. We celebrate. Today is your day, Whitney. We came here to celebrate and this is how we celebrate, we have church," he said, as people sitting behind him on the stage nod their heads and clap. Some of them say, 'Yes!' as he continues.

"The loving people you see , this family, they love the Lord. And that is their faith that is holding them together," Carter says in a baritone. "It's not about anybody but Whitney today. If you love God, clap for Jesus. He reads the 23rd Psalm, just as the choir just sang.

[Update 12:20 p.m. ET] Cameras have caught Bobby Brown, Whitney's ex-husband, arriving at the church. While Brown stands outside, the pastor assures the mourners for the first time and welcomes everyone. They will honor a "mighty God," he says. The mood is somber. The church band is playing. People are swaying while a choir member's gorgeous voice sings Psalm 23. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Brown is inside the church and has walked past Whitney's casket. His eyes are red. He lowered his head and walked toward the back of the church. He's not sitting with Whitney's family or friends, or other celebrities at the front of the church.

[Update 12:18 p.m. ET] We've received a statement from Aretha Franklin on why she was unable to perform. "Regretfully I am so sorry that I was unable to be with you at Whitney's service today. I had every intention of being there but unfortunately I had terrible leg spasms and locked muscles until 4 a.m. this morning following my concert last night, which I've been having for the last few days ... my heart goes out to my dear friend Cissy, Dionne, Bobbi Kristina and the rest of the family."

[Update noon ET] The choir is making the walls shake inside the church. Singers are clapping, raising their hands. They are belting "Grateful," shaking their heads yes, yes, yes. Every note is punctuated with an emphatic hand gesture. "My heart...." they sing. People are shouting, "Thank ya!" and "Hallelujah!" One singer wipes her tears. The choir begins another song, their voices seemingly more joyful than before. They clap in unison singing, "I honor you Lord."

What do you think of the service so far? Does it remind you of your own worship experiences? "I feel like this coverage is giving people a look into a world they've never experienced," tweeted Nina Parker, a reporter with entertainment show 'The Insider" who follows @CNNshowbiz.

Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King are walking in together. Mariah Carey is taking her seat.

[Update 11:45 a.m. ET] Performances are under way. Actress and groundbreaking rapper Queen Latifah is singing inside the church. A choir dressed in white joyfully sings and claps, reminding that this service is as much a celebration of Whitney's life as it is a time to mourn her passing. It must be hot in the church. Many in the choir are fanning themselves. Outside the church fans are probably a little chillier. Donna Holmes, 33, drove 90 minutes to stand outside and honor the singer she loved so much. "To me, it's a legend lost," Holmes told the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper.

There are reports that Whitney's ex-husband Bobby Brown has arrived. Singer Mary J. Blige, actor Forest Whitaker, actress Vivica Fox, singer Brandy, star lawyer Star Jones and journalist Diane Sawyer have arrived. Ray J, Whitney's friend and supposed boyfriend, is also there now. Filmmaker Spike Lee is at the church. Twitter is exploding with fans and stars alike sending 140 characters to Whitney. "Joining the church through my TV. I know they are honoring her home with a beautiful, spiritual send-off," actress Debi Mazar tweeted. Actress Holly Robinson Peete tweeted that Whitney was "a gift to the world."

[Update 11:21 a.m. ET] The Rev. Jesse Jackson is on CNN explaining that Aretha Franklin, considered Whitney's godmother, is unable to perform at the service because she performed last night at Radio City Music Hall and sang "I Will Always Love You" and "Greatest Love of All" in a tribute to Whitney. It was just too much for Franklin to perform back-to-back, Jackson said. Whitney called Franklin "Aunt Ree."

Jackson reminded that Whitney was raised with incredible gospel and R&B singers, including her mother, Cissy Houston, and her cousin Dionne Warwick. "She honed her skills among the best singers," he said. Cissy Houston was her daughter's "first music critic," Jackson said.

Jackson was joined by First Hope Baptist Church's senior pastor DeForest Soaries, who emphasized that the service is "not a concert" but is intended to be a celebration of Whitney. The church holds about 300 people.

[Update 11:02 a.m. ET] New Hope is wrapped in brightly colored balloons and flowers stretching around the street corner, memorials left by fans over the past day. Black SUVs can be seen driving slowly down the street. A crowd has gathered, but they are invited guests. It's quiet. It's somber and respectful. The Houston family has kept the media a distance from the church. They say the service reflects who Whitney was - a girl from New Jersey whose voice was nurtured in the church and who is coming home to the church.

[Update 10:53 a.m. ET] Aretha Franklin will not perform today. Though it was hoped to be the emotional high point of the service, Franklin is reportedly ill and cannot make it, her rep says.

[Update 10:40 a.m. ET]: Many celebrities who were friends with Whitney and her family have started to arrive. Those expected include legendary singer Chaka Khan who considered Whitney to be a little sister. Alicia Keys will perform a medley of Houston's most beloved hits.

BeBe and CeCe Winans, gospel greats who were like family to the Houstons, will be there. Kevin Costner, who co-starred in "The Bodyguard," and Whitney's "Waiting to Exhale" co-star Angela Bassett will be there. Singer Brandy and her brother Ray J will join the mourners. Stevie Wonder will sing "Ribbon in the Sky." Aretha Franklin, Whitney's godmother, will perform.

soundoff (600 Responses)
  1. Amanda King

    Rest in Peace dear sweet Whitney. Rest in your father's arms, and lead the heavenly choir. Praise God for your life, legacy, and your music. We will all see you again on the other side. May God wrap his loving arms around Bobbie Kristina, Mrs. Cissy Houston, and the entire family and closest friends, and give them all strength.

    Love you Whitney

    February 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ann Moore Cao

    I will always love you...
    So long, Whitney. RIP.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maureen

      We must remember for the sake of the younger generation, that in spite of Whitney's enormous talent, she CHOSE a life of drugs and addiction, wasting the talent that the good Lord gave her! What a shame to have it all and trade it in for a "high". After looking at the "hero" we have made of both greats, Whitney and Michael Jackson in their drug induced deaths, what message are we truly giving to the younger generation?

      February 18, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LaLa

    This is truly so sad. Addiction is so powerful and after seeing so many talented people die so close to one another, when will we get them the help they truly need. We make jokes about them after so much that they did for the world. I love and respect her talent, her family and everyone that she touched. I hope we actually try to help the next person, instead of just watching them die in front of our eyes.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Angie

    Whitney R.I.P. This death was not right, as was MJ, as was my family members, etc! The rise and fall of these stars, is just disgusting. Managers, hello, wakeup! These managers who oversee a star, the “cash cows” need to pull the plug when a star is spiraling down. Everything is Money driven, and who you know, the price of fame!
    WE LOVE YOU ! God bless your family ! "ALWAYS in our HEARTS"

    February 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mac805

    Will someone please pass the popcorn?

    February 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Katie M

    Last week we lost another true music legand. I have always been a fan of Whitney Houston, her music was the soundtrack of my youth. As a black women I was so proud to see her beautiful face on the cover of magazines, and her videos being played on MTV. Thank you Ms. Houston for the beautiful music you gave to the world. Rest in peace DIVA!

    February 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Had Enough

    Unbeliveable coverage for another star that wasted her life and talent on drugs & alcohol

    February 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beverly

      turn it off then!

      February 18, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • KH

      If she wasted her life and did not touch people, then why are you and others watching CNN? Why did every major network pay a tribute to her. Perhaps that's because God is now using her to bring the Lord into yours, mne and our homes? For in the Bible, God used a donkey. If her Bible was worn then she must have read it and had a personal relationship with God. How worn is your Bible?

      February 18, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dubrats

    how can she R.I.P. when the circus is in town. pitiful spectacle.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Aniya

    To day is the wake of an icon Mrs.Whitney Houston. The world will be different with out an intelligent outstanding women.We cant go a day with out saying she change people live. She did things that people wish they could. We will always love you an artist.I wish the family hope to get by thought this time of need.#4EVER MRS.WHITNEY HOUSTON.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. I Speak for Everyone

    Thanks for giving us the chance to see the service on your channel but every time there is a break in the service we DO NOT NEED TO HEAR THE MEDIA TALKING. You all have said enough. Just let her fans enjoy this.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cj

    I would like to give my condolenses to the Houston family, also Bobby Kristina and Bobby Brown. There are no words that can express the feelings that you are experiencing now! I've been a fan of Whitney's since day one! She was one of a kind and she will be forever missed in my heart! Bobbi Kris I know what it's like to lose a mother at such a young age, I will admit it hurts like hell, but it DOES get better overtime! Just hold on to the goodtimes that you and your mother had, because if the world didn't know anything, the world knew that she LOVED you! I will pray for you God bless you!!!!!
    Cissy Houston I would like to say that we lost our son back in 2009(my stepson) and i can relate to your pain! You are a perfect example of what a mothers love is all about! Loving unconditionaly no matter what! I just want to say that time heals all wounds! She is in a better place now, with our Lord and Jesus Christ! Bobby Be strong for U and your daughter, She is really going to need your love and support, Whitney loved you hard I will pray for U too!!!!! God Bless!!!! I wiil keep her alive tthrough her music! She broke the mold there will NEVER be a Whitney Houston!!!!!!!! R.I.P. Whitney!

    February 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. prettyblck1

    R.I.P Whitney Houston words alone cannot express the way I feel when I hear your music.You were a true inspiration and only God could judge anyone and with that being said I know that your soul rests in his arms, so shine and share that beautiful smile with the rest of Gods children in heaven......

    February 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"

    It'll get real bad when funeral homes require a CHEM 10 panel before they put the formaldehyde to you.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ellen

    Leave it to Whitney Houston to show us the true power of the Gospel Choir - and how amazing to be able to greive and praise through music. Her god-given talent now lies with him. Prayers and love to the Houston family especially Whitney's daughter.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. liz

    We love you whitney you will be missed. My prayers to the family. Love you whitney may you be in peace. Liz

    February 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
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