News and Views
Whitney Houston Funeral: Bobby Brown Reportedly Leaves Service As It Begins
Whitney Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown dramatically stormed out of her funeral yesterday after a bust-up with her family.
Brown, blamed by many for Whitney’s descent into drug addiction, turned up to the service with an entourage of nine people with him.
He walked up to her coffin, touched it and then insisted the nine people should sit with him in the family section of the New Jersey church where Whitney first sung in public as a little girl four decades ago.
But Whitney’s family refused – and insisted his hangers-on would have to sit separately.
And at that point volatile Brown stormed out, looking visibly upset as his and Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina sat behind the coffin.
R&B singer Brown, in a dark suit and tie and black-rimmed glasses left with his entourage in convoy of people carriers. However, he later returned on his own and entered though a side-door.
Brown later said in a statement that he and his children were seated but asked repeatedly to move. He said he left because he did not want to create he a scene.
There had been speculation all week as to whether Brown would attend the funeral, held a week after the troubled singer was found dead in a hotel bathtub.
The couple had a volatile 14-year marriage that ended in a bitter divorce in 2007 with much of her multi-million dollar fortune squandered on drugs.
Last night the Reverend Al Sharpton, a veteran civil rights activist, told on Twitter how he was at the service and had tried to defuse the situation. He said: “I spoke with Bobby Brown trying to calm him down and not distract from the services. Today is about Whitney.”
On a day of huge emotion, 1,500 friends and family packed into the redbrick New Hope Baptist Church church in Whitney’s home town of Newark, New Jersey, to pay tribute to the I Will Always Love You star.
Grieving mother Cissy Houston, a successful singer in the 1960s and 70s, tightly clasped the hand of Whitney’s 18-year-old daughter Bobbi as they sat behind the coffin.
In an emotional letter to her daughter in the order of service, Cissy wrote: “I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long.
‘And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years.”
Cissy, who has led the 200 member Youth Inspirational Choir at the Newark church for the last 50 years, signed the letter simply as “Mommie”.
The service began with the New Jersey gospel choir – all dressed in white singing with a five-minute upbeat performance of Glory to God as mourners filed in.
Celebrities included Whitney’s soul star cousin Dionne Warwick, her Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and R. Kelly.
As the band played softly, the choir sang in a hushed voice, “Whitney, Whitney, Whitney.”
A programme featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read “Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God.”
Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston and daughter, Bobbi Kristina filled the program.
Mayor of Newark Cory Booker opened at 5pm UK time, midday in Newark, by saying: “We’re here to mourn our loss but celebrate her life. God is in heaven but with im is one of our angels WH.
“We are here to mourn our loss, but to celebrate her life. God is in heaven, and with him is one of our angels, Whitney Houston… We thank you for gathering here, and I again, want to say, we love you Whitney Houston. Thank you.”
But just minutes in, her ex-husband Bobby was seen looking distraught and left the service in tears with his son Landon Brown.
The church’s pastor Rev Joe A Carter led the congregation in prayer at the beginning of the service and paid tribute to Whitney.
He said: “We’re gathered here, hearts broken yet with God’s strength we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston.
“Whitney you’re the only one that could bring all of us together, Whitney today is your day, we celebrate – today is your day.”
He acknowledged Whitney’s heartbroken family – her daughter Bobbi Kristina, wearing dark glasses and mother Cissy, sitting directly behind the pulpit.
He told the mourners: “The loving people you see, this loving family… their faith is holding them together. We want to support and strengthen this family in this hour.”
A female soloist led the choir in a beautiful rendition of Psalm 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd”, before family friend Rev Donnie McLurkin sang a passionate tribute.
Whitney’s cousin Dionne Warwick introduced her friend – producer and director Tyler Perry, who gave a short speech.
He said: “I was surprised how candid and open she was. She talked about things that were tough and would talk about things that had come upon her.”
“We would talk more she would go back into sadness. It was then I knew I would do all I could to stand with her and her family.
“There was a grace that carried her down through Cissy Houston and in her singing. The same grace led her to the top of the charts.
“She sold all these albums and sang for presidents and a grace kept carrying her through.
“But Whitney Houston loved the Lord. Nothing was able to separate her from the love of God. It was this same grace that carried her home.”
Gospel legend Bebe Winans struggled to maintain his composure as he told how he would miss “crazy Whitney”.
He said she had a closet “as big as this church”and told a story of one of their early tours together when Whitney bought costumes for a huge cast of performers.
He had the mourners in stitches as he told them: “She told me, ‘You’re my brother and Y’all broke, right? I’m rich right? So I can buy whatever I want for Y’all.”
And he sang: “I’ll miss your voice most of all…just us two, with nothing to do.”
Earlier, hundreds of fans gathered hours before the service as close as they could get to the church.
Some fans sang Whitney’s hit songs, while others had set up street stalls selling tribute t-shirts and copies of her albums.
Police – who had urged well-wishers to stay away from the service – threw up a ring of steel around the venue as the funeral took place amid tight security.
A squad of 100 police officers led by city chief Samuel DeMaio manned a cordon stretching for six blocks throughout the day and airspace above the area was restricted.
Even the city’s feared crime gangs called a 24 hour truce to allow residents to pay their respects to one of their own at a funeral branded “a home going”.
Criminals were asked to follow orders sent out on Facebook by Hykine Johnson, a former member of Newark’s notorious “Sex, Money, Murder Bloods” gang.
He wrote: “No shootings. no robbings. No car jackings, basically no crazy stuff.
“Let us show some respect. She helped a lot of people in new jersey. Let’s show love.”
A gospel choir could be heard warming up yesterday morning inside the church, where the pulpit was surrounded by roses and lilies.
Civil rights campaigner and Houston family friend the Rev Jesse Jackson was one of the first famous faces to arrive at 1.30pm (UK time).
At 2.30pm the golden hearse carrying the singer’s body arrived at the church after making the short journey from the Whigham funeral home, followed by three gold limos carrying close family.
Four sombre-faced pall-bearers, dressed in black suits, white shirts and bow ties carried the gold-handled platinum coffin from the hearse into the church.
After the service, friends and close family of Whitney of the star were expected to accompany the hearse to nearby Fair View Cemetery in Westfield where she was buried at a private ceremony.
She was set to be buried in a plot next to her beloved dad John, who always called her by the pet name “Nippy”.
Yesterday, her godmother and legendary singer Aretha Franklin, who was supposed to speak at the funeral announced she was unable to attend due to illness – believed to be leg spasms.
She sent a message, saying: “May God bless and keep them all.”
The Grammy Award-winning singer and actress was found dead by her bodyguard in the earlier hours of last Sunday morning in a hotel suite reportedly littered with bottles of prescription pills.
Paramedics rushed to revive the 48-year-old but she was pronounced dead at 3.55pm yesterday afternoon.
Whitney’s glittering career took off when she won a Grammy for her soundtrack to 1992 film The Bodyguard which featured record-breaking single I Will Always Love You.
The version of the Dolly Parton’s classic became one of the best-selling singles in music history.
She went on to sell more than 170 milllion albums, singles and videos worldwide in her lifetime.
And her she was never short on awards wither, collecting two Emmys, six Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music gongs.