NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — After all the testimonials from relatives and friends, the songs from legends and pop stars, the preaching and even laughter, the raw emotion of Whitney Houston's funeral came down to just one moment: The sound of her own voice.
As the strains of her biggest record, I Will Always Love You, filled the New Hope Baptist Church at the end of the nearly four-hour service Saturday and her silver-and-gold casket was lifted in the air, the weight of the moment was too much for her mother to bear.
Gospel singer Cissy Houston wailed “My baby! My baby!” as she was held up by two women and led out of the church behind 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.
It was the most searing scene on a day with mixed moods as family, friends and a list of celebrities — sometimes one and the same — came to the humble New Hope Baptist Church, where Whitney Houston first wowed a congregation, to remember one of music's legends but also a New Jersey hometown girl.
Houston died the previous Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif., on the eve of the Grammys at the age of 48.
She was buried Sunday next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.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 then 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, Alicia Keys, 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, but a life nevertheless that gave joy, happiness, enthusiasm, peace and beautiful music to millions of people around the world,” said her sister-in-law and manager Patricia Houston.
Kevin 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,” Costner 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 in which 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,” Perry said.
Fittingly, music played a major role in the send-off to one of the industry’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.
Photo: Whitney Houston