Whitney Houston’s funeral service began in New Hope Baptist Church shortly after noon today.
Dressed in white, dozens of gospel singers performed traditional gospel songs including Grateful, by Hezekiah Walker, in keeping with a traditional “home-going” service which is common among the African American community. It is based on death being a time of rejoicing because the person is going on to a better place.
After a brief welcome by City Mayor Cory Booke, Pastor Joe Carter took to the alter to read some scripture and start the celebration of Whitney Houston’s life. Pastor Joe Carter said: “Whitney you are the only woman who could bring all of us together, Whitney today is your day.”
Some mourners stood in the aisles in the full church. Others were more mournful. Singer Ray J, who spent time with Whitney Houston during her last days, broke down crying. His sister, singer Brandy, put her arm around him.
A program featuring a picture of Whitney Houston looking skyward read “Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God”. Pictures of Whitney Houston as a baby, with her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston and daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown filled the program.
“I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long,” Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program.
“And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years.”
“Rest, my baby girl in peace,” the letter ends, signed “mommie”.
Whitney Houston’s flower-covered casket arrived this morning at the church where her powerful voice first wowed a congregation as family made final preparations to remember the pop superstar in her hometown.
Mourners at the New Hope Baptist Church, including the Rev Jesse Jackson, fell quiet as three police officers escorted Whitney Houston’s silver casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies, a couple of hours before the service.
It is thought the Houston family arrived in four limousines and was given a police escort with motorcycle outriders and two police cars at the front and the back of their convoy.
Whitney Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown arrived shortly before noon. It was reported earlier this week that the singer’s family had banned him from attending the service.
But on account of his connection with daughter Bobbi Kristina, Bobby Brown was later told he would be able to pay his last respects to Whitney Houston – who he was married to for 14 years.
According to CNN, guests held in their hands an invitation with a cover featuring a photo of a smiling Whitney Houston. The six-page funeral program contained color family photos and a note from Cissy Houston, the singer’s mother.
The funeral service marks exactly one week after the 48-year-old Whitney Houston -one of music’s all-time biggest stars – was found dead in Beverly Hilton Hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.