An emotional service and concert at New Hope Baptist Church recalls the life and influence of chart-topping diva Whitney Houston.
Gold limousines are certainly a rare site at New Hope Baptist Church in New Jersey, but it seems fitting that Ms. Houston was given such a royal sendoff. Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, and gospel singer Kim Burrell were among the many singers who traveled to Newark for this significant occasion.
The Rev. Al Sharpton remarked to the New York Times that it was fitting to come back to “what produced her in the first place” in order to remember her life and career.
The service, which included many musical performances, was scheduled to last two hours. However, the star-studded memorial lasted over four hours and featured musical performances by pop artists, gospel singers, and church choirs. Perhaps this is a testament to the unwillingness of Ms. Houston’s friends, the record industry, and the world, to let her go.
Ms. Houston’s former husband Bobby Brown did, in fact attend the service. It was noted that his presence was strangely brief and he did not speak. He left the funeral, which featured an illuminated sign reading, “We Will Always Love You” before the service even began.
Whitney’s bodyguard Ray Watson offered some emotional insight into the last hours of her life. Watson described Whitney as a sister, not just a boss. His voice trailed off as he described the impact of finding her body. She died listening to her favorite gospel singer at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles on Feb. 11. She was discovered by Watson in the partially full bathtub. The cause of death was not immediately clear and is still unknown.
Clive Davis, the founder of Arista Records and one of Whitney’s early mentors also spoke. His eulogy brought up Houston’s desire to get clean and sober, and expressed grief for what might have been.
Jazz and R&B enthusiast Seymour Kushner will be the first to say that such commemorative concert events are “an unbelievably moving experience.” There was certainly a range of emotions present that day.
Alternating grief and joy from the guests and participants of the service, sadness, frustration, and devotion from the legions of fans kept outside by armed guards. However, when the gold hearse emblazoned with a large “W” passed, the joy and gratitude of the fans at getting one last site of their hero became clear.