Cissy Houston's desire to have a traditional home-going celebration for her daughter, pop icon Whitney Houston, who died last week, was fulfilled during the nearly four hour service held Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J. New Hope is Houston's childhood church where she first sang as a child.
Actor Kevin Costner, who co-starred with Houston in their 1992 blockbuster film, "The Bodyguard," offered many touching private moments with Houston, with whom he shared a special bond.
Costner said he and Houston traded stories of growing up in Baptist churches and he remembers the singer being nervous about taking on her first major movie role. He said she froze up during her first screen test and had to return to her trailer.
Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard."When he consoled her, he was surprised to see her confronted by her insecurities. "Whitney was scared," Costner said. "Arguably the biggest pop star in the world didn't believe she was good enough. Didn't think she looked right. I held her hand and told her she looked beautiful and that everybody wanted her to succeed."
After encouraging her for 30 minutes, Houston went back for a second chance and amazed the casting agents and producers, securing the role.
Costner said some of the executives were initially hesitant about considering Houston in the film. "I was reminded that this would be her first acting role," he said. "Maybe we should think about another singer. Maybe someone white. Nobody ever said it out loud. But there would be a lot riding on it. Maybe a more experienced actress. It was clear I really had to think about this."
Costner said he was ultimately so confident that Houston was the right fit that he asked that the production be delayed a year to wait for Houston to finish a tour.
Stevie Wonder photo: Jackson LeeHouston's feature in the film made the movie, Costner said. "It's a lot of leading men, a lot of guys could have filled that role," he said. "But you, Whitney, I believe were the only one who could have played Rachel Marron at that time."
Though Houston's godmother, the queen of soul Aretha Franklin, was not able to attend and sing as planned, there were numerous touching performances and remarks from her close friends.
Gospel artist Kim Burrell was originally scheduled to sing a cover of Whitney's "I Believe in You," a rendition the late legend was said to love. But as Burrell took the pulpit she asked for permission to instead offer another selection.
Burrell sang a rousing personalized cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" that was ironically recorded in 1963, Houston's birth year. Burrell's version referenced Houston being born in Newark, being heaven sent and added that a "change had to come." The congregation stood up to applaud.
Stevie Wonder altered the words of his song "A Ribbon in the Sky" in honor of Whitney, singing, "No more Whitney do you have to cry. You'll always be our ribbon in the sky." The attendees were standing when he moved into his second song, "Love's in Need of Love Today."
Alicia Keys, who produced several songs on Houston's last studio album, 2009's "I Look to You," dedicated a piano rendition of her ballad "Send Me an Angel" to Houston. Additionally, Keys discussed how Houston mentored her and other new stars. "She reached back to so many people," Keys said. "She reached back to me, Monica, Brandy, Jordin, all these beautiful young artists. So many artists, and just made us like feel strong and capable and loved us."
Alicia Keys photo: Jackson LeeThe legendary gospel family, the Winans, played a significant role in the ceremony. Rev. Marvin Winans delivered the eulogy and brother and sister duo BeBe and CeCe Winans performed separately.
BeBe preceded his performance with a candid story of his fun-loving friend Whitney Houston who surprised him and his sister with custom-made costumes for their first major headlining tour. She wanted to go on the road with them to sing background vocals.
When they resisted her help she replied, "'Y'all broke right? I'm rich, right? So I can buy what I want for y'all, right?'" BeBe said, "That is the Whitney I'm going to miss."
Before delivering the eulogy, Rev. Winans recalled learning in the 1980s that Houston was performing his family's song "Tomorrow" on tour, prompting a meeting. Winans called more than a half a dozen of his family members on stage to sing the song.
Clive Davis, the music veteran who discovered and executive produced all of Houston's music, directed a statement to Houston's mother, saying he was astonished by her daughter's talent. "You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime," he said. "A face like that, a presence like that for a lifetime, and when a person embodies it all, it takes your breath away. That's the way I felt in 1983 when in middle of your act at Sweetwaters she stepped forward and shattered me with her version of 'The Greatest Love of All.'"
Davis said when he spent time with Houston the week before she died, she told him that she was ready to make a comeback, was swimming every day, and would be ready by August.
Mary J. Blige photo: Jackson LeeHouston's sister-in-law, Pat Houston, extended individual thanks to family and friends and described Houston's final resting state for those who had not viewed her body. "Imagine her in her performance of 'The Greatest Love Of All' and the way she looked," she said.
Houston's former musical director Rickey Minor recalled a request Houston had for him when preparing for her rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" for Super Bowl XXV in 1991. "'Rickey, did you see Marvin Gaye sing the national anthem?'" he recalled her saying. "'He took his time, and it had a beat under it. Can I do that?'"
Houston's bodyguard of the past 11 years said she spent her last days talking a lot about the Bible and was listening to gospel artist Fred Hammond the day she died.
The star-studded program also included selections from Donnie McClurkin ("Stand"), R. Kelly ("I Look To You," which he wrote for Houston's 2009 album of the same name) and CeCe Winans ("Don't Cry For Me" and "Jesus Loves Me"). Bishop T.D. Jakes, Tyler Perry, New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Joe A. Carter and New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker also offered remarks.