Whitney Houston's Funeral - The Tributes

by 8:57 AM PST, February 18, 2012

Whitney Houston's friends and family traveled to Newark, NJ this morning to pay respects to the dearly departed icon.

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From Kevin Costner to Clive Davis, those who knew her best spoke while artists like Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys offered up musical tributes to the fallen star.

The proceedings began around 11:30 am ET when a choir -- clad all in white -- began singing a variety of spiritual hymns as the congregants took their seats.

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At 12:17, Curtis Pharaoh, the minister of music at New Hope Baptist Church, introduced Newark Mayor Cory Booker who said, "We are here to mourn our great loss, but celebrate her life. God is in heaven and with him is one of our angels, Whitney Houston."

Rev. Joe Carter then said, "Whitney, you are the only one that could bring all of us together. Whitney, today is your day. We celebrate," before reciting the 23rd Psalm.

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Whitney's cousin, Dionne Warwick, introduced Tyler Perry, who offered up some words of expression. Perry recounted the first time he met Whitney, roughly four years ago, when the two shared a meal and their life stories. "It was at that moment I knew I would do all I could to stand by her," he said.

"There was a grace that carried her from heaven down through miss Cissy Houston, a grace that brought her up through singing, the same grace led her all the way to the top of the charts. There was a grace that kept on carrying her," an emotional Perry said. "God bless you Whitney, we love you so much."

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Warwick then introduced a very emotional Bebe Winans, who said that the thing he would miss the most is "crazy Whitney." It was just one of touchingly humorous moments that peppered the incredibly personal preceding.

Following an inspired reworking of A Change is Gonna Come by Rev. Kim Burrell, Warwick introduced Kevin Costner. Choking back tears, Kevin explained just how much he had in common with his Bodyguard co-star. They both grew up in the Baptist church, were both heavily involved with choir and spent much of their childhood in the church. 

"Whitney if you could hear me now, I would tell you, 'You weren't just good enough, you were great. You sang the whole damn song without a band. A lot of leading men could have played my part, a lot of guys could have filled the role. Whitney I believe you were the only one that could have played Rachel Marron at that time. You were as beautiful as a woman could be. People didn't just like you Whitney, they loved you."

Alicia Keys fought through the tears to perform Prelude to a Kiss for Whitney, who she used to call "MeMaw." In fact, it was a nickname they called one another, so when Alicia's son -- Egypt -- called her that en route to the funeral, Alicia says she felt Whitney's spirit surrounding her.

Whitney's longtime mentor Clive Davis shared stories of their decades-long friendship next -- from professional triumphs to personal struggles, Clive revealed a side of Whitney that few had previously seen and reminded us all just how tremendous loss the music industry has suffered. "Always be proud of your mother," he told Bobbi Kristina from the podium. "She loved you so much. She defined not only true talent, but heart and soul as well. She will forever be looking after you."

"This is such an emotional day," Stevie Wonder said as he sat behind the piano. "I just want to give praise to God just for allowing me to be on the earth at the same time as Whitney," he added before delivering a chill-inducing rendition of Ribbon in the Sky. That was followed by Love's In Need By Love Today, which had everyone in the congregation swaying on their feet.

Pat Houston spoke next, followed by R. Kelly performing Whitney's I Look To You. Then came time for Dionne to recite a beautiful poem:

"Don't grieve for me, for now, I'm free. I'm following the path that God laid for me. I took his hand when I heard him called. I turned my back and left it all. I could not stay another day to laugh, to love, to work or play. Tasks undone must stay that way. I found my peace at close of day. If my parting has left a void, then fill it with remembered joy. A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss, oh yes, these things I too will miss. Be not burdened at times of sorrow. I wish you sunshine on tomorrow. My life's been full, I've savored much; good friends, good times, a loved ones touch. Perhaps my time seemed all too brief. Don't lengthen it now with undue grief. Lift up your hearts and share with me, God, God, God wanted me now. He set me free."

Cece Winans then brought the house down with an exceedingly emotional performance of Don't Cry For Me. She then led the congregation in a group sing of the chorus from Jesus Loves Me. "Everybody, all over the world, sing it," she proclaimed.

The tributes, performances and tears were capped off with an inspirational sermon from Rev. Marvin Winans. The celebration of Whitney Houston's life came to a conclusion with her performance of I Will Always Love You being pumped through the loudspeakers as her casket was wheeled down the aisle. A fitting send-off for the much-beloved legend.