WESTFIELD, New Jersey — Whitney Houston was laid to rest Sunday at a brief private ceremony in New Jersey, the end of a weekend that saw the pop star’s family and friends gather at a star-studded funeral to mourn her loss while celebrating her career.
Fans and onlookers gathered in several places along the route the motorcade took from the Newark funeral home to the cemetery about 20 miles away in Westfield, where Houston was buried next to her father, who died in 2003.
The 48-year-old singer died Feb. 11 in California, hours before she was to attend a pre-Grammy Awards party. No cause of death has been determined.
On Saturday, she was mourned at an invitation-only funeral at the church in Newark where she sang in the choir as a child. She was remembered by the biggest names in the music: Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys sang, and industry mogul Clive Davis was among those who spoke, as was Kevin Costner, Houston’s co-star in “The Bodyguard.”
The funeral was closed to fans, who were not allowed within blocks of the church. Still, many came to Newark to take part in what ways they could, some from as far as Miami and Washington, D.C.
Fans gathered again near the funeral home Sunday morning, and some even slowly ran alongside the hearse as it began the journey to Houston’s gravesite. Several yelled out “We love you, Whitney” as the hearse, which had a black and white headshot of the star in a window, slowly drove away.
Barbara Davis, 53, of Newark, said she had been waiting outside the funeral home since 8:30 a.m., hoping to get a glimpse of Houston’s final trip.
“To be here at her home-going is an honor and a blessing,” Davis told The Star-Ledger of Newark.
Also among the crowd was Newark resident Eva Aquino and her two granddaughters, ages 10 and 13. All three stood on a street corner as the hearse passed by, and they used cellphones to snap photos of the procession.
The girls were wearing T-shirts and buttons of Houston that their grandmother had bought from vendors outside the funeral home Saturday.
“We came here and bought all these things of her to cherish the memories,” said 13-year-old Nalani Velez of Kearny.
The burial came a day after an emotional, nearly four-hour service at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church that ended with the strains of Houston’s biggest record, “I Will Always Love You,” filling the church.
Her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston wailed, “My baby! My baby!” as she was held up by two women and led out of the church behind the casket bearing her daughter’s body. A few steps behind her was the pop icon’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, also crying uncontrollably as she was comforted by Houston’s close friend, singer Ray J.
Her death marked the end of a life of stunning achievement. Blessed with a voice of great power and beauty, Houston became one of pop music’s most successful artists over a career that spanned nearly three decades and segued into film with hits like “The Bodyguard.”
But her life was not without struggles. An addiction to drugs and a tumultuous union with ex-husband Bobby Brown saw her tumbling from grace.
Both sides of Houston were recalled at the service at New Hope, which was filled with about 300 mourners, including Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Diane Sawyer and Houston’s cousin, Dionne Warwick.
“She was someone with a charmed and a beautiful life, sometimes misunderstood, even by herself,” said her sister-in-law and manager, Patricia Houston. “But a life nevertheless that gave joy, happiness, enthusiasm, peace and beautiful music to millions of people around the world.”
Costner, her co-star in “The Bodyguard,” said that for all of Houston’s beauty and success, she was still yearning for approval from the public and somewhat insecure, a superstar who “still wondered, ‘Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?’”
“It’s a tree we could all hang from — the unexplainable burden that comes with fame,” he said. “Call it doubt. Call it fear. I’ve had mine. And I know the famous in the room have had theirs.”
Many who spoke talked about Houston’s unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. They said it got her through some of her most difficult times. Perry recalled a conversation where Houston would look sad when reflecting on her troubles, but then would hasten to add that God was taking care of her.
“The other thing I know for sure — and this is more important than anything that she’s done in her life — Whitney Houston loved the Lord,” he said.
Fittingly, music played a major role in the send-off to one of music’s greatest voices.
Stevie Wonder rewrote lyrics to “Ribbon in the Sky” for Houston — “you will always be a ribbon in the sky,” he sang.
So did gospel’s the Rev. Kim Burrell for “A Change is Gonna Come,” which Warwick said was Houston’s favorite song of all time. R. Kelly brought the New Hope Baptist Church to its feet with a stirring version of “I Look to You,” the title of Houston’s final studio album.
And Keys, her voice breaking at times, dedicated her song “Send Me An Angel” to Houston
Brown briefly appeared at the funeral, walking to the casket, touching it and walking out. He later said in a statement that he and his children were asked repeatedly to move and he left rather than risk creating a scene.
Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers and offering short insights about her cousin; she joked that Houston’s Super Bowl performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” became almost as big as the telephone book.
Over her career, Houston sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like “Saving All My Love For You,” ”I Will Always Love You,” ”The Greatest Love of All” and “I’m Every Woman.” Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.
Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records. Her last album, “I Look To You,” debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn’t have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.