NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A private funeral for Whitney Houston will be held on Saturday in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey, at the same modest New Jersey church where the R&B vocalist honed her singing skills on her way to becoming one of the biggest pop stars of her generation.
The invitation-only service will be held at noon (1700 GMT) at the New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston once sang gospel in the choir growing up, a family spokeswoman said on Tuesday. The spokeswoman did not rule out the possibility of a separate public memorial service later.
The Houston family thanked fans for their prayers but wanted a private service, funeral director Carolyn Whigham told reporters outside the Whigham Funeral Home where the singer’s body was resting. She said there would be “nothing for the public,” only the private funeral service.
“It was the family’s decision,” Whigham told reporters. “They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell to their daughter, mother.”
The body of the beloved singer was flown to New Jersey late on Monday from Los Angeles. Dozens of fans lit candles and gathered outside the funeral home to greet the golden hearse carrying Houston’s body on Monday night under tight security.
On Tuesday balloons and cards paid tribute to the pop star outside the church, a simple, red-brick house of worship on a quiet backstreet near downtown Newark where Houston began grabbing the limelight as a soloist in a gospel choir in the 1970s.
Her death on Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel stunned the music world, her fans and her family. She was found underwater in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills hotel, according to police. They have declined to speculate on the cause of her death at age 48.
An autopsy was completed on Sunday, and a final death report is pending completion of an official investigation and toxicology reports that may take weeks.
Houston hails from gospel and soul music royalty and many stars are likely to attend her funeral service. She is the cousin of Dionne Warwick and the daughter of Cissy Houston, who backed up Aretha Franklin. The 69-year-old Franklin is her godmother.
The singer rose to fame on early hits such as “Saving All My Love For You” and “How Will I Know.” Her powerful, soaring voice was later marred by battles with cocaine and alcohol.
Houston died on the eve of the music industry’s Grammy Awards. Because of her admitted drug and alcohol abuse, including a stint in rehab as recently as May 2011, speculation arose that she might have died of a drug overdose.
“Ms. Houston was apparently discovered in the bathtub by a member of her personal staff,” who called hotel security, Beverly Hills Police Lieutenant Mark Rosen said on Monday. She was pulled from the bathtub, but when paramedics arrived “she was unconscious and unresponsive,” he said.
The LA coroner’s office confirmed prescription medication was found in Houston’s room but Rosen declined comment on the prescription drugs or the condition of Houston’s body. Detectives have sealed their inquiry, he said.
The singer’s brother-in-law, Billy Watson, has dismissed suggestions that the singer may have committed suicide, saying “She wouldn’t have done that to her daughter.”
Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, was in Los Angeles when her mother died.
The singer was photographed partying in Los Angeles leading up to her death and had planned to attend an annual pre-award party hosted by record producer and mentor Clive Davis on the night she died.
Her personal troubles, including a tumultuous 15-year marriage to singer Bobby Brown that ended in divorce in 2007, contradicted the innocent, fun-loving image that propelled her to stardom in the mid-1980s with early hits such as “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me).”
Her friend and singer, Chaka Khan, told CNN that Houston only held herself responsible for any personal troubles: “She was a strong-minded girl and I can’t say it was anybody’s fault ... If you want to get high, you get high.” As a teenager in the 1970s and 1980s, Houston worked for Khan as a studio backup singer among other performers.
She won six Grammys and more than 400 other awards in a 25-year career that also saw her star in such blockbuster films as “The Bodyguard”. Her 1992 hit cover single of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” from “The Bodyguard” soundtrack was the highlight of her career that blossomed between 1985 and 1992.
Aretha Franklin honored her goddaughter at a private concert on Monday night held in North Carolina, asking the crowd to pray for Houston’s family and singing a version of “I Will Always Love You”, according to a local TV station.
The decision to hold a private funeral was in contrast to the public memorial service that was held for pop superstar Michael Jackson after his 2009 death and broadcast live around the world.
But similar to Jackson, Internet sales of Houston’s songs have surged following her death. “I Will Always Love You,” was the No. 1 download on iTunes on Tuesday, just ahead of Grammy winner Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
Her albums, “Whitney: The Greatest Hits,” “The Bodyguard” and her debut album, “Whitney Houston,” were also among the top 20 selling albums on iTunes.
Additional reporting by Eduardo Munoz, Jonathan Allen and Angela Moore, Editing by Jackie Frank and Sandra Maler