Fans gather outside Faith Hope Baptist Church in New Jersey to be near the… (Jason DeCrow / Associated…)
Reporting from Newark, N.J. — Three hours before Whitney Houston's funeral was to begin Saturday, about three dozen fans gathered at a corner four blocks up the street from the New Hope Baptist Church, the closest police permitted them to be.
Catherine Graham Ross peered through a pair of opera glasses toward the church at the flashing lights of police cars, past metal barricades and yellow police ropes, and said she understood the need to keep people back.
"They're hurting and they need their time," she said, referring to Houston's family. "We're hurting too. She touched so many people."
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"To most of the country she's an icon, but here she's a hometown girl," one man in the crowd added as others chimed in with their own memories of how they enjoyed singing "Greatest Love of All" and other popular Houston songs in the shower, in the car or -- in Anastasia Mobley's case -- into her hairbrush.
"I don't mind being four blocks back. I don't mind being six blocks back," she said. "Just to be here and show support for the family is important."
The invitiation-only funeral, set to begin at 9 a.m. PST, was to be officiated by New Hope Baptist's pastor, the Rev. Joe A. Carter. Delivering the eulogy was pastor and Grammy-winning gospel singer Marvin Winans. CNN reported that Aretha Franklin, Houston's godmother, would sing at the service.
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Among the other confirmed attendees: Chaka Kahn, songwriter Diane Warren, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, singer Darlene Love, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Antonio "L.A." Reid, Ray J and Brandy.
The first video glimpse inside the church about two hours before the service showed that Houston's flower-draped casket had already arrived.
Fans will be able to watch a live stream of the funeral service on television networks.
But fans, like Greg Packer -- who woke up before dawn and drove about an hour from his home in Huntington, N.Y., to Newark -- were kept far away from the church.
Packer, who arrived at the public-spectator area at 7:30 a.m., was among the first there.
"It's important to be out here with the fans, amongst the fans," said Packer, who was dismayed that no public service had been arranged.
At least, he said, the city could have offered a big screen somewhere for people to watch the proceedings. "They should have allowed everyone to see it."
As the morning wore on and the sun warmed the street, the crowd grew more lively. A group of women began belting out Houston hits. A young boy paraded around with a sign that read, "We will always love you Whitney."
Three men appeared with bags full of Whitney Houston T-shirts and posters, which they rapidly began selling to eager buyers: $10 per shirt and $5 per poster.
When two police officers on horseback came into view a block away, some in the crowd grew excited and thought it was the casket arriving. "She must be coming!" someone said.
But the horses clopped on, and the wait continued.
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