Stars mourn Whitney Houston at rousing New Jersey funeral

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Soul, gospel and pop music greats from the past and present are set to mourn Whitney Houston on Saturday, one 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." She was due to be honored by family and friends at a funeral service in her native Newark, New Jersey.

There was a heavy police presence outside the invitation-only funeral on Saturday and streets were cordoned off. Houston's body was expected to leave a nearby funeral home under tight security en route to the church. Fans have been urged to stay home and watch the funeral on the Internet or television.

Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick will sing and speak at the New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston sang as a child in the choir with her mother, Cissy Houston, who was a backup singer for Franklin.

Hollywood stars Kevin Costner and Tyler Perry and Houston's mentor, record producer Clive Davis, were also scheduled to speak. Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Beyonce and Bill Cosby were expected to attend the service.

Houston's family decided against a public memorial, but fans were expected to crowd the streets around the church and nearby cemetery where she is due to be buried.

Many 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.


Houston's grew up surrounded by gospel and soul music legends like Franklin and Warwick. She later forged new territory for a black, female artist who brought R&B and gospel touches into pop music's mainstream.

After her debut, her popularity grew exponentially with her second album, "Whitney" (1987), with all four singles - "Didn't We Almost Have It All", "So Emotional", "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" - hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Her music videos featuring her 1980s style and innocent, fun-loving image made her wildly popular around the world. In the 1992 movie "The Bodyguard," co-starring Costner, Houston played a character not far removed from her real self: an international singing sensation coping with fame.

She made other films including "The Preacher's Wife," but the 15-year period when she was married to singer Brown coincided with a decline in the quality and frequency of her albums. The couple, who have an 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, divorced in 2007.

Houston's powerful voice suffered in recent years. On her last world tour in 2010, she struggled to hit high notes.

She spoke publicly about her struggles with addiction. In a 2002 interview, TV journalist Diane Sawyer asked Houston what was the "biggest devil" among her failings. Houston answered: "Nobody makes me do anything I don't want to do. So the bigger devil is me, I am either my best friend or my worst enemy."

(Additional reporting by Angela Moore and Jennifer Marostica; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Paul Simao)


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