Whitney Houston goes home for the last time

Stevie Wonder leads tributes to a troubled star as 1,000 mourners cram New Jersey church where the singer trained her voice

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The Independent Online

At the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where a teenage Whitney Houston trained her extraordinary voice in the gospel choir, they call a funeral service a "homegoing".

The reference is to returning to God, but for Houston, whose death one week earlier stunned the music world, her funeral service at the church yesterday was a homegoing of another sort. This was the place where her mother, Cissy Houston, was a director of the choir, and where the young Houston ran through the aisles and earned the nickname Nippy.

Family and church friends filed into the pews alongside music moguls and superstar singers to pay their respects. And the choir bellowed out gospel standards between religious speeches and tearful recollections from the stars who worked with Houston.

Among those who spoke were Kevin Costner, who starred alongside Houston in the film The Bodyguard. Costner recalled how they swapped stories of misbehaving in church as children, forging a "private bond", and he hinted at the demons that afflicted her, and her doubts about whether she deserved her fame. "Call it doubt, call it fear," he said. "It was the burden that made her great and [what] caused her to stumble in the end."

In a reminder of some of the dramas in her life, Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, was involved in a dispute over where he and his entourage would sit. Religious leaders tried to calm him, but he walked out as the ceremony was beginning. Brown, blamed by many in Houston's family for her alcohol and drug abuse, was invited only at the last minute.

Among the 1,000-strong congregation were the singers Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Roberta Flack and Jennifer Hudson. The Rev Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, was also there. Alicia Keys, R Kelly and Stevie Wonder sang personal tributes.

One absentee was Aretha Franklin, who Houston affectionately called "Aunt Ree". Franklin, 69, had been scheduled to perform, but was kept at home by health problems.

Clive Davis, the record label boss who shepherded Houston's career, said: "You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime, you wait for a face, a smile, a presence like that, for a lifetime, and when one person embodies it all, it takes your breath away."

Dionne Warwick, Houston's cousin, offered words of support to Houston's 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, while Tyler Perry, the actor and director, told the congregation: "There was a grace that carried her from heaven down through Cissy Houston, a grace that brought her up through singing. The same grace that led her up to the top of the charts."

Houston's recording of "I Will Always Love You" was played as her casket was carried out, causing her mother to break down and cry.

Houston's death, in a Beverly Hills hotel room on the eve of the Grammys last weekend, remains unexplained. She was found in the bath, with prescription pills, including Xanax for anxiety, in the room with her. However, a cause of death will not be known until the results of toxicology tests are revealed. She will be laid to rest today at Fairview Cemetery, the same place her father is buried.