Stars gather to mourn Whitney Houston

Family, friends and fans gathered to mourn Whitney Houston at her funeral today, a week after the sudden death of the singer whose spectacular voice and best-selling albums made her one of biggest pop stars of her era.

Houston, who died in a Beverly Hills hotel room last week, recorded stirring love songs and vibrant, dance tunes during a 30-year career that peaked with her 1992 signature hit “I will always love you.” Guests arrived to honour her at an invitation-only funeral service in a modest neighborhood in her native Newark, New Jersey.

“Her legacy is her powerful music,” Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist and one of the first guests to arrive, told reporters outside the red-brick church where the service was to be held.

A golden hearse carrying Houston’s body left a nearby funeral home on Saturday and arrived at the New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston developed her voice as a young gospel singer in the choir with her mother, Cissy Houston, who was a backup singer for Aretha Franklin.

There was a heavy police presence outside the funeral and streets were cordoned off. Police have urged fans to stay home and watch the funeral on the Internet or television, but some turned up early outside police checkpoints to get as close as they could to the late singer.

“She meant so much to me. I used to literally sit in my room and sing her songs,” said Wendy Saunders, 42, a fan who drove from Detroit to pay her respects to Houston. “She was so real and that’s what I liked about her.”

Soul, gospel and pop music greats were set to sing and speak at a service that was expected to last three hours. They included Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Franklin, R. Kelly and Houston’s cousin Dionne Warwick.

Hollywood stars Kevin Costner and Tyler Perry and Houston’s mentor, record producer Clive Davis, were speakers during the service. Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Beyonce and bill Cosby were amongst those in attendance.

Houston’s family decided against a public memorial, as was done for pop star Michael Jackson after his 2009 death, but they agreed to allow the service to be broadcast live by television networks and on the Internet.

Many of Houston’s fans in the past several days have left flowers, cards and balloons dedicated to the singer who became a global star with her 1985 debut album that included the hits “Saving all My love for you,” “How will I Know” and “Greatest love Of all.”

Houston was among the greatest singers of the 1980s and 1990s, but her personal life and marriage to singer Bobby Brown was tumultuous. she admitted to heavy use of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and prescription pills.

Her death at age 48 shocked her family, fans and the music industry. Houston was found underwater in a hotel bathtub on the eve of the music industry’s Grammy Awards. A cause of death has yet to be determined.

Stars gather to mourn Whitney Houston

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