NEWARK, New Jersey - The biggest names in entertainment clapped hands, swayed to gospel hymns and sang along with the choir at Whitney Houston's hometown funeral Saturday in the church where the future pop star once wowed the congregation as a young girl.
"We are here today, hearts broken but yet with God's strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston," the Rev. Joe A. Carter told the packed New Hope Baptist Church after the choir behind him sang "The Lord is My Shepherd."
Mourners including singer Jennifer Hudson and Houston's mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, stood, swayed and clapped along in the aisles as gospel singers CeCe and BeBe Winans and the Rev. Kim Burrell joined with pop stars like Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and R. Kelly in paying tribute to the 48-year-old pop superstar who first began singing in the Newark church.
"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime," said music mogul Clive Davis, who shepherded Houston's career for decades.
Others were more mournful; singer Ray J., who spent time with Houston during her last days, broke down crying. His sister, singer Brandy, put her arm around him. Cissy Houston and Houston's daughter, 18-year-old Bobbi Kristina, clutched each other in the front of the row. Toward the end of the service, Bobbi Kristina and Ray J. embraced at length and spoke. Actor Kevin Costner, her co-star in "The Bodyguard" which spawned her greatest hit, "I Will Always Love You," remembered a fledgling movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, who "still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?'"
"It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end," Costner said.
Wonder and Oprah Winfrey were among the biggest names gathered to mourn Houston, along with Hudson, Monica, Brandy and Jordin Sparks.
Houston's mother was helped by two people on either side of her as she walked in. Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, briefly appeared at her funeral, walking to the casket, touching it and walking out. Security guards said Brown was upset that he would have to sit separately from the people he arrived with, and left.
Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and offering comments about Houston in-between.
Houston's voice, a recording of "I Will Always Love You," closed the funeral. Mourners fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston's casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies.
Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called "Aunt Ree," had been expected to sing at the service, but she was too ill to attend.
The service marks one week after Houston, one of music's all-time biggest stars, was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.
Houston was to be buried next to her father, John Houston, in Westfield, New Jersey.
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