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A poignant, spiritual funeral service for Whitney Houston

February 18, 2012|By Tina Susman and Ricardo Lopez
  • The coffin holding the remains of singer Whitney Houston is carried to a hearse after funeral services Saturday at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J.
The coffin holding the remains of singer Whitney Houston is carried to a… (Mel Evans / Associated Press )

Reporting from Newark, N.J. and Los Angeles —

In a hometown funeral service that resonated with gospel hymns and preaching that “brought the world to church,” Whitney Houston was remembered Saturday for her beauty, vulnerabilities -- and her powerful gift of voice.

As Whitney Houston’s private funeral unfolded Saturday full of passionate eulogies, some poignant and some humorous, it became clear it was a service steeped in spirituality.

New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., was filled to capacity with celebrities, family and friends for what was described as “home going celebration.”

Outside, dozens of fans had gathered in the early morning hours to say farewell, but were kept several blocks away and when the service began most quietly left, perhaps to watch a live video stream of the event on a computer or television.

"You were a beautiful as a woman could be," said Keven Costner, Houston's costar in the 1992 movie "The Bodyguard."

Costner, among the first of 16 speakers and singers, told those assembled he fought for Houston to stay on in her role in the film, even when Houston was overcome with moments of self-doubt.

Brushing his forehead lightly as he voice broke, Costner said he believes that Houston was "escorted by an army of angels" to God. And "when you sing before Him, don't worry. You will be good enough."

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston's funeral

Houston was also remembered by music mogul Clive Davis, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys.

But despite the star-studded attendance, the service followed the lines of a typical, Baptist funeral.

Pastor Marvin Winans thanked Houston’s mother, Cissy, for having the funeral in the pop star's hometown and acknowledged the sacred theme of the service.

“Thank you for your willingness to forget about everything else and have this service here," Winans said. "That took a lot of courage. Because of that, you brought the world to church.”

When the congregation’s white-clothed gospel choir sang, many of those in attendance waved their hands. They responded with applause when a clergy member said:

“Glory to God! God be praised!”

As speakers took to the podium, introduced by Houston's cousin, Dionne Warwick, each shared tales that offered unique perspectives on the late singer.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston's death

Gospel singer BeBe Winans pointed out that while the eulogies had focused on Houston's talents, he said he would miss "crazy Whitney."

Clive Davis, dressed in a dark suit, also shared his story about his first meeting with Houston and recounted how he was floored by the singer's voice.

"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime," he said, recalling the first time he heard her sing. "You wait for a face like that, a smile that, a presence like that for a lifetime. When one person embodies that all, well, it takes your breath away."

The private funeral brought out thousands of family members, friends and fans to the church on a sunny day.

Houston's silver casket draped with white flowers and flanked with two huge white floral sprays stood in front of the main podium for the duration of the nearly three-hour service.

As the crowd left and pall bearers carried Houston's casket on their shoulders, her voice and her famous song resounded through the church:

"I Will Always Love You."

ALSO:

Houston funeral: Who's performing and speaking?

Outside Whitney Houston's funeral: 'We're hurting too'

Whitney Houston's mother says, 'Rest, my baby girl, in peace'

Susman reported from Newark. NJ. and Lopez from Los Angeles.

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