On any other day, this would have just been a who's who of R&B, soul, pop and gospel luminaries.
But the impressive number of stars gathered Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., were paying tribute and saying their goodbyes to Whitney Houston, whose sudden death a week ago rocked the music world.
Hundreds of mourners, among them Tyler Perry, Mary J. Blige, Kevin Costner, Clive Davis, Dionne Warwick, Alicia Keys and Newark mayor Cory Booker attended the private funeral, which started shortly after noon.
Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, who vowed to be there in support of their 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina, arrived at the church but left shortly thereafter. Brown was spotted being consoled by fellow mourners before leaving. Although there were reports that Brown was not permitted inside the building, Brown subsequently released a statement saying that he and his children had been asked to change seats several times and that he was prevented from seeing Bobbi Kristina, and thus "departed as I refused to create a scene."The deeply spiritual service, which was hosted by Warwick and featured a eulogy by pastor Marvin Winans, who officiated at Brown and Houston's wedding, began with both the New Hope Mass Choir and the New Jersey Mass Choir singing "The Lord Is My Shepherd."
At around 9:35 a.m., the singer's remains arrived in a golden hearse at the church, which was patrolled by police officers on horseback while a SWAT team monitored from nearby rooftops.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was among the first to arrive. Standing outside the church, he told reporters, "We feel such awesome pain, the suddenness of Whitney's transition...Forty-eight years is not a very long time. Sometimes bright lights burn out quickly. But when we have them, we get so much illumination. From her, we got that joy."
Also outside was Houston's grade-school principal from her days in South Orange, Henry Hamilton. "It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining," he told reporters. "She's up there; this is Whitney's day."
Fans gathered in two areas near the church, but police encouraged them to step aside. While several fans sang, one enterprising man sold buttons with Houston's image.