Whitney Houston Funeral: Family, Friends and Stars Celebrate Singer's Life

Whitney Houston Funeral Fan - H 2012
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Whitney Houston Funeral Fan - H 2012

Tyler Perry, cousin Dionne Warwick and "The Bodyguard" co-star Kevin Costner paid tribute to Houston at her childhood church in New Jersey.

Friends and family members gathered at Whitney Houston's hometown church, the New Hope Baptist Church, in Newark, N.J. to celebrate the singer's life on Saturday.

"Whitney, today is your day," pastor Joe A. Carter declared.

Singer and Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick introduced Tyler Perry, who recalled the time he first met Houston four years ago. Remembering her candidness all those years ago, Perry said that he saw a heaviness with Houston as she told her stories, but just as he would provide encouragement, he said, "She would say, 'But the lord.' The conversation went on, we'd talk a little bit more and she would get into this sadness and just when I'm about to step in, she would say, 'But my lord and savior Jesus Christ and his amazing grace.' "

Perry added: "It was at that moment that I knew that I would do all I can to stand with her and from that moment until now, I've been standing with her and the family."

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Houston's The Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner expressed a story about how the singer's iconic ballad "I Will Always Love You" almost never was. He gave insight to why he and Houston were one in the same, including the fact that he too grew up in a Baptist church. Costner recalled one of Houston's favorite stories of his, of his six-year-old self knocking back the leftover grape juice after communion.

"it was easy for us to laugh. Church was what we knew. It was our private bond," said Costner, who fought for Houston to co-star in The Bodyguard, so much so that the project was postponed so she could fnish her tour.

He added moments later: "As the debate heats up this century -- and it surely will -- about the greatest singer of the last century, as the lists are drawn, they will have little meaning to me if  her name is not on it."

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Houston's longtime producer and mentor, Clive Davis, took the stand to give a eulogy, reminiscing on the time the two spent together. He said Houston played him some new cuts from her upcoming film Sparkle last week.

"It was like old times and she looked at me and quietly said, 'I want you to know I’m getting in shape. I’m swimming an hour or two a day and I’m committed to get my high notes back -- no cigarettes -- plenty of vocal exercising -- Clive, I’ll be ready by August,'" Davis recalled.

"Well, Whitney I’m gonna hold you to it.  Everyone in heaven -- including God -- is waiting.  And I just know you’re gonna raise the roof like no one has ever done before," he added.

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A tearful Alicia Keys said a few words before performing "Send Me an Angel," observing: "She was a really, really caring, beautiful human being. Call you for no reason at all, just to say hi. That's rare."

R.Kelly performed Houston's 2009 single "I Look to You," hitting all the high notes, while Stevie Wonder took to the piano for "Ribbon in the Sky."

"What I'm going to miss is crazy Whitney," an emotional Bebe Winans -- who sang "I Really Miss You," with sister CeCe Winans close by -- remembered, recalling a moment he and Houston shared that showed her true personality.

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Gospel singer and pastor Rev. Donnie McClurkin sang "Stand," a request made by the Houston family. Kim Burrell belted out a personalized song for Houston, bringing the church to its feet.

The mood was lively and uplifting in the church prior to the start of the service, which began at approximately 9:18 a.m. PST/12:18 p.m. EST, with the gospel choir -- made up of the New Jersey Mass Choir and New Hope Mass Choir -- singing selections for the attendees. Newark mayor Cory Booker welcomed attendees to the city, saying, "With [God] is one of our angels, Whitney Houston."

But the service was not without some drama: Houston's ex-husband and the father of her 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, walked out of the church moments before the ceremony was to begin. He was upset because he could not sit with his nine-person entourage in the family section, and touched Houston's casket before departing in a black Cadillic SUV, according to reports.

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In a powerful speech during the televised tribute, Houston's manager and sister-in-law, Patricia Houston, said despite career hardships and jealousy toward Houston, the pop superstar managed to "deliver" through kindness, forgiveness and professionalism.

"She knew deep down in the final analysis it was always between her and God," she said. "It was never between her and the world."

At the end of the four-hour ceremony, Houston's casket was carried out to the tune of "I Will Always Love You," leading a procession of family members including a grief-stricken Cissy Houston. The singer was then transferred to a gold-colored hearse that had a black-and-white glamour shot of the singer propped up in the rear passenger side window.

Houston will be buried Sunday at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield N.J., alongside her father, John Russell Houston, who died in 2003.

Check out a clip of Keys' musical tribute: