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Houston's life, faith celebrated

Close to 1,500 family and friends gather at New Hope Baptist Church to celebrate the life of Whitney Houston on Saturday. (Source: CNN) Close to 1,500 family and friends gather at New Hope Baptist Church to celebrate the life of Whitney Houston on Saturday. (Source: CNN)
Whitney Houston, 48, died Feb. 11. (Source: MGN) Whitney Houston, 48, died Feb. 11. (Source: MGN)

(RNN) – The statement of Whitney Houston's sister-in-law, Pat Houston, embodied the messages of hope, sadness and faith delivered during Saturday's memorial.

"My last conversation with her was at the Beverly Hilton," Pat Houston said. "We were having lunch. She had concerns about information she had heard about her. And I reminded her that in her 20s, she gave the world her life with her golden voice. In her 30s and 40s, she gave her life to her husband and child."

"And she was approaching her 50s, and it was time to live for Whitney. She said, 'Because He lives, I can always face tomorrow.' And she had a huge smile on that oh-so-beautiful face."

Family and friends gathered at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, to mourn Whitney Houston's loss and celebrate her life. The singer grew up going to church there and used to sing in its choir.

[SLIDESHOW: Whitney Houston remembered in star-studded service]

Stevie Wonder, R. Kelly, Alicia Keys and other singers performed before the approximately 1,500 people in attendance. Wonder's rendition of Ribbon in the Sky, with lyrics personalized for Houston, brought one of several standing ovations from the audience.

"I wanted to stop and give all praise to God for allowing me to be alive at the same time as Whitney," he said before singing.

Houston's godmother, Aretha Franklin, did not attend. CNN reported she had planned to sing but could not due to illness.

Houston's The Bodyguard co-star, Kevin Costner, was among those telling stories about their friend. Costner said the two found common ground in their Baptist church backgrounds.

He also talked about the uncertainty she felt in her casting for the movie, which was her first.

"The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?'" Costner said. "It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end."

Some indirect references were made to her erratic lifestyle in recent years, but no one ever mentioned alcohol or drugs specifically. Her bodyguard in real life, Ray Watson, was one of several who told stories of Houston that evoked laughter from the crowd.

But he also asked people to show entertainers who bring joy into their life more "dignity" and "love," a direct shot at the tabloids who followed the singer for years.

In an epilogue to her and singer Bobby Brown's disorderly life together, Brown left the memorial early. CNN reported Houston's ex-husband brought a large entourage to the invitation-only service and departed when they could not be sat.

Speakers spoke often of Houston's faith and how it remained strong through good and bad times. Tyler Perry said as soon as he met her he saw that nothing separated her from God.

"I'm completely thankful to God for all that he has done in her life," Perry said. "There was a grace that kept on and carried her all the way through."

Dionne Warwick, Houston's cousin, guided the ceremony, introducing the singers and speakers. She also read from the poem I'm Free, which she said described her feelings of "Nippy," Houston's nickname among family and close friends.

"Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free," the poem reads. "I'm following the path God has chosen for me. I took His hand when I heard him call; I turned my back and left it all."

Another friend, gospel singer Kim Burrell, re-wrote a song for Houston as well. Her rendition of Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come featured lyrics like "She was born in Newark" and "The change from mortal to immortal."

No celebration of Houston could have been complete without mentioning her voice and her beauty. Music mogul and Houston mentor Clive Davis talked about the "indelible" memories left behind through music and video.

Davis, who signed Houston in the mid-1980s, also said he got to see her confidence grow as her career blossomed in the early 1990s.

"Whitney was no longer the shy one," he said. "She was no longer the introverted one. She was there among music. She was returning to music, and that was her passion. The Lord and her religion were obviously her life-guiding force. Music as well was her passion."

The Rev. Marvin Winans was among several members of his family that participated. He, his twin brother Carvin, brother BeBe and sister CeCe all performed, and Marvin gave the eulogy.

Marvin Winans told the crowd he would not be talking; he would be preaching. And then he preached about the need to "prioritize" life and put faith first.

"You could never put God first and have God forget you and leave you," he said.

Winans closed his remarks by thanking God for giving them Whitney Houston.

"We ask... all of us that are hurting, that you would lift us up, and Father we will not leave here bitter or upset," Winans said.

And after everyone finished professing their love for her, I Will Always Love You played to close the evening.

A private viewing was held Friday for family. Houston, 48, was survived by her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown; mother, Cissy Houston; her brothers and many other family and friends.

Fans of Houston pushed several of her albums back into the Billboard Top 200 following the news of her death, including the album Whitney: The Greatest Hits, which surged to No. 6. During her career, she became one of the best-selling artists of all time, the star of several movies and earned more awards than any female singer during her career.

However in recent years, she became almost as well-known for her lifestyle and substance abuse. Prescription medicine was found inside the Beverly Hilton hotel room where she died, and reports of heavy drinking around the hotel surfaced after her death.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office announced toxicology reports would not be complete on the pop icon for six to eight weeks. Members of the Beverly Hills Police Department said foul play was not suspected in her death.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

SIDEBAR: Whitney Houston Extras


During Whitney Houston's long career, she received six Grammys, two Emmys, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards. More>>

Whitney Houston Video Coverage

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