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. prettyblck1

    Well spoken!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • MamboJambo

      Pretty & Celena, now that the Whitney dramas over you can go back to collecting your fat welfare checks and supporting your five illegitimate kids. Ho-bags.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. Marie

    Will CNN air Whitney Houston's service one more time in its entirety without commercials? It was so beautiful, but the service itself started late and ran longer so I missed everything after Alicia Keyes. Please say you will....

    February 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenyatta

      Does anyone know if their will be another opportunity to watch the entire home going service of Whitney Houston?

      February 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenyatta

      I am hoping the same thing

      February 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BostonSteve

    Never a huge fan of Whitney, but what a beautiful woman. I pray for her daughter.

    February 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mary

    I've heard some very poignant qoutes from Whitney today and the one that resinates with me the most is
    " I can be my best friend and I can be my own worst enemy."
    Yet she said it all when I read this
    " Its always been between me and God not me and the world."

    We really didn't know the person but I'm so very greatful for the gift she gave me today by those words.
    🙂 Thanks Whitney

    February 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Judith B. Hale

    Wow!!! What a wonderful message Jesus sent to the World through so many Celebrities at the Memorial Service for Whitney Houston. Thanks CNN.

    February 19, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. AuntSlappie

    Whitney Elizabeth, you are "HOME" now. You are home. You are free. No more anguish, torment, pain or demons. Sing in God's choir.You are free. Through the mercy of God, you can now, Rest in Peace. AMEN!

    February 19, 2012 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
  7. Regina

    In response to various statements of CNN reporters covering Whitney Houston's Funeral: Those unfamiliar with the African American Culture and our Church MUST know that there are many styles of worship and the way we orchestrate funerals WITHIN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY. Although Whitney’s services and the Gospel was heard worldwide via the internet, CNN; non-African Americans, as well as the "under exposed" must realize that what they witnessed Saturday, is a small representation of several ways in which our splendid community of Faith worship our God.

    February 19, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • scot thompson

      I witnessed a true celebration of life/funeral service. I was reminded of my mothers funeral in 2007l. Dignified and beautiful with music, memories and prayers. But it was more than that...we were reminded that love never dies and God is love. It was like going to church. God bless Cissy and Bobbi Kristina.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cheryl

    god bless the houston family whitneys service was so moving i cant speak for everyone but i felt so good knowing that you allowed the world just one more moment with whitney i know this was your families time with her but thank you as for bobby brown how could you be so disrespectful as to bring your baby mother to your exwife funeral it was out of place if i were the houstons i would have put you out

    February 20, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diann

      It was not disrespectful for him to bring his wife due to Whitney and Bobby being divorced and some of the people were Bobbi half brothers and sisters. If Whitney did not mind him being married to some one else why are you being messy on this blog about it. Get a life and quit trying to stir up mess like the media has.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nick

    My thanks to CNN and Piers Morgan for reporting this terrible loss with dignity, candor, heart and honesty. It is a tribute to the indomitable Miss Whitney that such controlled jouralism was even possible in America today. Look at the tabloid newspapers at the checkout register of your supermarket. Shame on them! Despite our sadness which is deeper than the night, CNN and Mr. Piers together with our diva's wonderful family and friends raised our spirits, gave us love and brought us closer to our lost one and lead us all without exception nearer to our Father in heaven. I have not heard it discussed so, but Ms. Whitney showed through her work in "The Bodyguard" that love transcends all traditional boundaries. An overt love story yes, but also one of the great covert motion pictures that so subtly handled the issue of race through love. Throughout all the kingdoms of the world, every man fell in love with her and every woman admired her. What a remarkable achievement! If she stumbled on the way as has been suggested then we stumbled with her. We failed her terribly. I am glad to see CNN is exploring how we may reach out to our brothers and sisters in need and how to fulfil our responsibilities to those close to us whom we love and yet know are stumbling, for we know not how to do it. Go for it Mr. Piers. Continue to elevate your profession. You have the power to help those who want to help those in need. To Miss Whitney, thank you for the great joy you brought to my life. You improved it so much, you gave it your all and I had no right to that. I would have helped had I been able. So would we all.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      Nick, what a lovely post. Thank you.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Flippity Flappity

    So how did she die?

    February 21, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  11. arch

    AF didn't make it because he was tired! She could have made it to the service. She didn't have to sing! I love these people. They talk about how broken up the are, but they still are out there the night before singing to 'paying' fans! They are even out there the night following the burial and have no problems! It's very unfortunate this young lady died at such a young age, but she helped it come about. We will have to wait and see what the post says, (if we find out the actual truth, and until that time it is best to let rumors be and let her family rest in peace. From all the reports spreading around about her young daughter, I hope her grandma puts down the law to the young girl and gets her into some program that actually works, (not one of these celeb tv things like that idiot dr. drew...what a fake!!), so that she doesn't follow the same path as her Mom. If her Dad is clean, like all reports are saying, then he should really try and mend fences with the family so that this young girl can have, at least, one part of her immediate family! This takes both sides to bite the bullet and get this right. The one that counts here is the young daughter. Grandma isn't getting any younger and this girl is going to need some guidance as she gets older. If the Dad is truly clean and has turned the corner, then he needs to step up and take the bull by the horns and start loving his daughter from near and not far away! Do the right thing man and be a true father and not just a donor!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
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