Hollywood stars, music greats and loved ones praised the “sweet miracle” of Whitney Houston at a moving funeral service in her home town, a week after the pop singer’s sudden death.
A gold-colored hearse delivered Houston’s body to Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, where she sang as a child before her voice was shaped and nurtured into a spectacular talent that arguably made her the biggest star of her era.
Houston’s casket was adorned with flowers as actor Kevin Costner stood up to deliver an emotional tribute to the singer, whose death at the age of 48 prompted sadness, grief and respect from fans and contemporaries worldwide.
“I urge us all inside and outside, across the nation and around the world, to dry our tears, suspend our sorrow and perhaps our anger just long enough, just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney,” Costner said on Saturday.
The four-hour service ended with an audio recording of I Will Always Love You, regarded by many as Houston’s signature track and the theme of The Bodyguard, the 1992 box office smash in which she co-starred with Costner.
Costner, in a frank recollection of his time spent with Houston, told how the singer almost missed out on her role in The Bodyguard, on account of her skin color and lack of acting experience.
“We could also think about another singer, was a suggestion. Maybe somebody white. Nobody ever said it out loud, but it was a fair question,” Costner recalled of questions posed to him at the time by the movie’s producers.
“I told everyone that I had taken notice that Whitney was black. The only problem was I thought she was perfect for what we were trying to do,” he said, crediting Warner Brothers for agreeing.
Fans were respectfully asked to stay away from the church, which had a capacity of only 1,500, for fear of crowds disrupting the event, but several hundred turned up regardless.
“I just wanted to get as close to her as I could,” said Tamecca Melvin, from New Jersey. “I’ve loved her, I grew up with her. Even though she was a megastar, she was a homegirl.”
Houston’s ex-husband, soul performer Bobby Brown, with whom she had a daughter during a turbulent 15-year marriage, said he was asked to leave the service.
Brown later said in statement that he and his children “were seated by security and then subsequently asked to move on three separate occasions,” and that he was prevented from seeing the daughter he had with Houston.
“In light of the events, I gave a kiss to the casket of my ex-wife and departed as I refused to create a scene,” Brown said in a statement released to US media.