Whitney Houston's hometown remembers her fondly
By Jonathan Allen
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - The New Hope Baptist Church, where pop star Whitney Houston first sang and family and friends will gather on Saturday to pay her a final tribute, sits in a hardscrabble corner of Newark, New Jersey. Its well-maintained red-brick facade seems at odds with the dusty parking lot and derelict housing projects around it.
But to hear the gospel choir sing on Sundays, which once featured teenager Houston and her mom Cissy, was to be briefly transported to a faraway, trouble-free world, its patrons say.
"You ain't never heard anything so beautiful in your whole life," Adgelean Thomas, 75, said on Friday after looking at some of the flowers, balloons and other tributes left in Houston's memory at one corner of the church.
Houston died late last week at age 48 in a Beverly Hills hotel room on the eve of the music industry's Grammy Awards. She was found underwater and unconscious in the room's bathtub, but a cause of death has yet to be determined pending toxicology tests that could take weeks.
The shocking news of her demise led to an outpouring of grief by family, friends and fans, and earlier this week, her body was returned to Newark from Los Angeles for Saturday's memorial service and burial.
Stephannie Miller, 54, was a little older than Houston when she first joined the New Hope choir as a teenager, but she knew from the start her own voice could not compete with Houston, who would go on to claim pop superstar status with hits such as "I Will Always Love You."
Miller said that, on special occasions, Charles Thomas, then the church's pastor, would ask Houston to lead the choir in one of his favorite songs: "He Would Not Come Down From the Cross."
"She would do the solo," recalled Miller, who now lives in South Carolina. "Every time she hit that special note the church would be knocked out, the spirit was so heavy, so strong." Continued...