Sat February 18, 2012
Fans Flock To Newark For Whitney Houston Memorial Service
It was at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston first learned to sing, and it was there that friends and family gathered on Saturday to say goodbye to the pop superstar.
The star-studded service lasted more than three hours. Among those in attendance were Dionne Warwick, Kevin Costner and Alicia Keys.
Stevie Wonder performed his song "Ribbon in the Sky," while friends and family offered remembrances. Patricia Houston, the singer's sister-in-law, characterized Houston as a woman whose battles with addiction could not keep her from giving her fans what they wanted.
"Even when she was tired and lost, she gave and gave and gave some more," she said.
Whitney Houston was born in Newark, and the city has laid claim to her ever since. Though her family moved to a nearby suburb when she was 4, the Newark city council meetings are still preceded by Houston's performance of the Star-Spangled Banner.
On Saturday, hundreds of fans — many of them from Newark — gathered in the streets near the church to pay their respects.
"We love Whitney. We love her. I am Newark-born, Whitney was Newark-born," Felicia Nace said. "I have a lot of respect for her work and [I watched] her climb to her heights from where she was."
Many of the fans were disappointed to see barricades put up by police to keep crowds several blocks away from the church.
"The fan base supported her 100 percent. That's what made her the superstar she was and still is now for us," Edward Thomspon said. "Let the fans get closer and show the love. We got tears outside the perimeters."
Wearing a T-shirt with Houston's image on it, Maurice Thompson agreed with his brother's sentiments.
"We [are] pushed to the side. We [are] like, three, four blocks away. I cried my eyes out last night. I love Whitney," he said. "All due respect to the family, I feel as though we should be able to somehow grieve with them. All you can see is the steeple to the church. Come on."
Before Saturday, there had been talk of holding a public service in a nearby arena, but those plans did not materialize. Some fans said they felt a private ceremony was the appropriate choice for the family.
"I think that this was the best thing for her family to have this in privacy," Nikki Hughes said. "The world had her for 40 years. Let them lay her to rest in peace like this."
Despite the police barricades, several street vendors had set up shop, selling posters, T-shirts and DVDs. Sabrina Hoskins set up a table with Houston merchandise near her pick-up truck, which blasted a mix of Houston's hit songs.
"Whitney had a voice like a bird, like a soaring bird. And when she sang, it was like the world was uplifted," Hoskins said. "I love her, and I pray for her daughter, because she's so young to [have] lost her mom. I guess God said it was time to come home."
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Friends and family gathered to say goodbye to Whitney Houston today in the church where her singing career began. Dionne Warwick, Alicia Keys and Kevin Costner were among those who showed up for the star-studded memorial service.
But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, some of the fans who gathered in the streets of Newark felt left out of the day's events.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Whitney Houston learned to sing in the choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, and that's where her family decided to hold a memorial service for the city's favorite daughter, while fans around the world watched live online and on television.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) I want to give praise to the Father for Whitney.
ROSE: Stevie Wonder headlined a long list of musical tributes, interspersed with remembrances from friends and family. Houston's sister-in-law Patricia spoke about Whitney as a woman who tried to give her fans what they wanted despite her well-publicized struggles with addiction.
PATRICIA HOUSTON: Even when she was tired or a bit lost, she gave and gave and then gave some more.
ROSE: Whitney Houston was born in Newark. Her family moved to the nearby suburb of East Orange, New Jersey, when she was 4, but Houston is still revered here, where her performance of the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays before the beginning of city council meetings. Hundreds of fans gathered in the streets near the church to pay their respects, including Felicia Nace.
FELICIA NACE: We love Whitney. We love her. I am Newark-born. Whitney was Newark-born. I have a lot of respect for her work. And just to watch her climb from where she was to her heights. So, yeah.
ROSE: Hundreds of Newark residents tried to pay their condolences to the Houston family in person, but many were disappointed to find that they couldn't get anywhere near the official funeral. Police set up temporary barricades to keep crowds several blocks away from the church. That did not sit well with Edward Thompson.
EDWARD THOMPSON: The fan base supported her 100 percent. That's what made her the superstar she was, OK? And still is now for us. She's that superstar. Let the fans get closer, you know, and show the love. You know, we got tears outside the perimeters.
ROSE: A few of those tears belonged to Thompson's brother, Maurice. He wore a brand-new T-shirt with Whitney Houston's picture on it.
MAURICE THOMPSON: We're, like, pushed to the side. We're, like, three, four blocks away. I cried my eyes out last night. You know, I love Whitney. All due respect to the family, I feel as though we should be able to somehow grieve with them. All you can see is the steeple to the church. Come on.
ROSE: For a while, there was talk of a public memorial service in a local arena. But some fans, like Nikki Hughes of Trenton, felt the private ceremony was the right thing to do.
NIKKI HUGHES: I think that this was the best thing for her family to have this in privacy. I mean, the world had her for 40 years. You know, let them lay her to rest in peace like this, you know?
ROSE: Even with the wide perimeter around the church, there were a few street vendors trying to sell posters, T-shirts and DVDs. Sabrina Hoskins of Camden, New Jersey, set up a table with Whitney merchandise a few feet from her pickup truck, which was blasting Houston's hit songs.
SABRINA HOSKINS: Whitney had a voice like a bird, like a soaring bird. And when she sang, it was like the world was uplifted. And I love her, and I pray for her daughter, you know, because she's so young to lost her mom. I guess God said it was time to come home.
ROSE: At the end of the service, Whitney Houston's casket was carried out of the church to her own recording of "I Will Always Love You."
Joel Rose, NPR News, Newark, New Jersey.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")
WHITNEY HOUSTON: (Singing) I will always love you. I will always love you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.