More stars were gathered in a church today than attended The Grammy Awards Ceremony. It was a setting where: star entertainers exhibited total respectful dignity…a film star riveting the audience with a moving tribute…a casket with a mysterious glow…and a global audience glued to their TV sets. It was almost surreal.
What's more, these stars were gathered in this church to participate in a service that fully acknowleged and glorified God.
When Whitney Houston unexpectedly died last week a shocked world grieved, and are still greiving. Whitney was a true star who never gave anyone the impression that she thought she was a star. Perhaps that is one reason she was so loved. She seemed accessible, approachable and huggable. She belonged to the people.
Her mother Cissy decided to hold the service in New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the family's home Church, rather than a large arena where thousands would come. That decsion could not have been better. The family and very close friends could have a private service while the world was able to watch. The church setting also greatly affected the overall decorum.
The best use of media ever observed was demonstrated as a CNN camera was allowed inside to televise the service live so that all of her fans could take part while her family and close friends were able to have a sense of intimacy and privacy. And in this setting, the entertainment world was at its absolute best with everyone focused only on God and Whitney.
The camera, in the balcony was not obvious as it zoomed in and out descreety. There was no impression of a media event. It was very subtle.
The almost 4 hour service, which began at noon EST, captivated the audience, both in the church and around the world, with time not even a consideration.
Speaker after speaker-all high-powered—mesmerized the crowd with humorous stories, touching stories and personal insights that were fascinating and informative.
Kevin Costner told how he too had grown up in the Baptist Church and how he wanted Whitney for his upcoming movie, The Bodyguard. She was afraid to try it, not knowing if she would be good in films. Besides, she had to go on a year's tour. Kevin put off the shoot for a year until her tour was over. He was that sure that she was the only one who could play the role effectively.
Another hushed observation entered the discussions. This story would focus on an inter-racial love interest. Costner related that one studio exec actually said that Ms. Houston is black and he should get a white woman for the female lead. Kevin answered that he had taken notice that she WAS black (laughter) and she is the only one to play the role.
And the theme song, "I'll Always Love You," originally recorded by Dolly Parton, almost didn't make it into the film. Costner persisted and that song became an all time hit and identifying song for the movie.
Dionne Warwick talked about when Whitney sang The National Anthem for The Super Bowl, played a tape of that moment, and how the CD of The National Anthem as sung by Whitney sold over a million copies. Ms. Warwick then said that she was waiting to see her do the phone book.
The Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, was present as well as New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie who ordered all flages to be flown at half mast today. The love shown in the many tributes of her offered by those she worked with including the man who discovered her, Clyde Davis, who became her 'Industry Father," brought tears to listeners.
An incredible observation: This writer noticed a glow coming from half of the casket that was placed down front before the altar. Take a look at the tape, you will see it. No special spot light could be seen shining on it or even sun streaming through a window at that angle. No, that glow did not seem to be
coming from the…outside.
Rev. Marvin Winans, who closed the service with the rousing song, "Let The Church Say Amen," made this comment: "By having the service here, Cissy brought the whole world to church today." A big amen to that.
As they started the very formal moving of the casket down the aisle to the hearse outside, a recording of Whitney's hit song, "I"ll Always Love You," began to play. That's when everybody lost it. Especially when seeing Kevin Costner, her co-star in The Bodyguard slowly walking down the aisle behind the casket. Wow!
Yes, Whitney will be greatly missed. Her passing has left a hole in our hearts that could never be filled by another, nor should it be. That space is uniquely hers. And it will be filled with enough wonderful memories of her to last us for the rest of our lives. And her music will live on.