More stars were gathered in a church yesterday than attended last weekend’s Grammy Awards ceremony. It was a setting where star entertainers exhibited total respectful dignity … an Oscar winner riveted the audience with a moving tribute … a casket emitted a mysterious glow … and a global audience were glued to their TV sets. It was almost surreal.
What’s more, these stars were gathered in this church to participate in a service that fully acknowledged and glorified God.
When singer Whitney Houston unexpectedly died last week a shocked world grieved, and we are still grieving. Houston was a true star who never gave the impression that she thought she was a star. Perhaps that is one reason she was so loved. She seemed accessible, approachable and huggable. She belonged to the people.
Her mother Cissy Houston decided to hold the service in New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the family’s home Church, rather than a large arena where thousands would come. That decision could not have been better. The family and very close friends could have a private service while the world was able to watch. The church setting also greatly affected the overall decorum.
The best use of media ever observed was demonstrated as a CNN camera was allowed inside to televise the service live so that all of her fans could take part while her family and close friends were able to have a sense of intimacy and privacy. And in this setting, the entertainment world was at its absolute best with everyone focused only on God and Houston.
The camera in the balcony was not obvious as it zoomed in and out discreetly. There was no impression of a media event. It was very subtle.
The almost four-hour service, which began at noon EST, captivated the audience both in the church and around the world. Time was not even a consideration.
Speaker after speaker — all high-powered people — mesmerized the crowd with humorous stories, touching tales and personal insights that were fascinating and informative.
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Kevin Costner told how he, too, had grown up in the Baptist Church and how he wanted Houston to star in his film “The Bodyguard.” She was afraid to try it, not knowing if she would be good on film. Besides, she had to go on tour for a year. Costner put off the shoot until her tour was over. He was that sure that she was the only one who could play the role effectively.
Another hushed observation entered the discussions. This story would focus on an inter-racial love interest. Costner related that one studio executive actually said that Houston is black and he should get a white woman for the female lead. Costner answered that hehad taken notice that she WAS black (laughter), and she is the only one to play the role.
And the theme song, “I’ll Always Love You,” originally recorded by Dolly Parton, almost didn’t make it into the film. Costner persisted and that song became an all-time hit and identifying song for the movie.
Singer Dionne Warwick talked about when Houston sang The National Anthem at the Super Bowl the CD version sold more than a million copies. Warwick then said she was waiting to see Houston sing the phone book.
The Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, was present as well as N.J. Gov. Chris Christie who ordered all flags to be flown at half staff in Houston’s honor. The love shown in the many tributes of her offered by those she worked with including the man who discovered her, Clive Davis, who became her “Industry Father,” brought tears to listeners.
An incredible observation: This writer noticed a glow coming from half of the casket that was placed down front before the altar. Take a look at the tape, and you will see it. No special spotlight could be seen shining on it or even sun streaming through a window at that angle. No, that glow did not seem to be coming from the … outside.
Rev. Marvin Winans, who closed the service with the rousing song, “Let The Church Say Amen,” made this comment: “By having the service here, Cissy brought the whole world to church today.” A big amen to that.
As they started the very formal moving of the casket down the aisle to the hearse outside, a recording of Houston’s hit song, “I”ll Always Love You,” began to play. That’s when everybody lost it. Especially when seeing Costner slowly walking down the aisle behind the casket. Wow!
Yes, Houston will be greatly missed. Her passing has left a hole in our hearts that could never be filled by another, nor should it be. That space is uniquely hers. And it will be filled with enough wonderful memories of her to last us for the rest of our lives. And her music will live on.