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.


February 18th, 2012
04:16 AM ET

Syrians plan to protest, hold joint funeral near al-Assad's palace

Resolute in the face of their government's bloody, incessant crackdown, opposition activists are planning a massive protest and joint funeral Saturday - not far from President Bashar al-Assad's palace

"Protesters are planning a funeral for three martyrs that were killed by Assad forces. The place we are going from is only two kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the Assad palace," opposition activist Abo Yasser said.

Across town, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun is scheduled to meet with al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem "to explore ways to boost bilateral ties" and discuss the situation in Syria, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • China • Syria • World