Fans who have gathered outside the church where Houston will be eulogized Saturday at an invitation-only service – and outside the funeral home where her body now rests – say they understand why the family wants to keep the world out the best they can. But they also yearned for the chance to fully share in the grief and the remembrance of a native daughter who made it big and made them proud.
Samuel Turner Jackson, of Newark, said he was looking forward to heading down to “The Rock,” as the Prudential Center is known. Before, that is, the funeral home announced Tuesday that no public service would be held at the 18,000-seat arena, an option that had been discussed.
The arena, home to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, displayed an image of Houston on a screen outside Tuesday.
“We don’t know what the circumstances are, but we’re sure that the family did want to share something with the community that she gave so much to,” Jackson said. “But they have their reasons, and we’re going to do the best we can to pay our respects and to mourn her.”
Antonio Ballinger, of Newark, also hoped to attend a public service and “see her off,” and said he was saddened to hear he wouldn’t get the opportunity.
“But my blessings go out to the family, and I wish them nothing but the best,” he said.
The family said Tuesday it had no plans right now for a public memorial. Still, fans in this downtrodden city held out hope.
“Maybe at some point down the road, they might do something,” said B.J. Frazier, of East Orange. “It’s like they’re saying today, they shared her for a long time and they just want her to themselves for now.”
Houston, a sensation from her first, eponymous album in 1985, was one of the world’s best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, turning out such hits as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” ‘‘How Will I Know,” ‘‘The Greatest Love of All” and “I Will Always Love You.” But as she struggled with drugs, her majestic voice became raspy, and she couldn’t hit the high notes.
Houston, 48, died Saturday at a hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., just hours before she was scheduled to perform at producer Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy Awards bash. Officials say she was underwater and apparently unconscious when she was pulled from a bathtub.
Authorities said an autopsy found no indications of foul play or obvious signs of trauma on Houston. It could be weeks, however, before the coroner’s office completes toxicology tests to establish the cause of death.
Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange. She began singing as a child at New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother, Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the music program for many years. Her cousin, future pop star Dionne Warwick, also sang in its choir.
The family decided that, after sharing Whitney with the city, state and world for more than 30 years, “this is their time now for their farewell,” said funeral home owner Carolyn Whigham.
“The family thanks all the fans, the friends and the media, but this time is their private time,” she said.
The hearse that carried Houston’s body from an airport to the Whigham Funeral Home came into Newark under the cloak of darkness, in the middle of the night, denying local folks another opportunity to grieve publicly.
Police met with church officials Tuesday to discuss logistics and how to handle the large crowds expected to gather Saturday in the streets outside the New Hope Baptist Church, about a mile from the funeral home.
In Newark, perennially ranked among the nation’s poorest and most dangerous cities, a public memorial at taxpayer expense is a tricky proposition. New Jersey’s largest city, at more than 270,000 residents, laid off more than 160 police officers in November. The dismal school system is relying on a large grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for salvation.
And whether the megastar’s estate would pick up any slack for a memorial is up for debate. The singer failed to fulfill a $100 million recording deal in 2001 that reportedly called for six records. Since then, only four have come out, including a greatest hits collection that was not released in the United States. She lost two homes to foreclosure several years ago.
Newark’s quandary is similar to the decisions Los Angeles had to make when Michael Jackson, another pop superstar brought down before his time, died in 2009. A public memorial at the Staples Center, a professional sports arena, cost taxpayers about $3 million but pumped a million more than that into the local economy through hotel stays, restaurants and other businesses, according to a city report.
In Los Angeles, it has become a tradition that whenever a major celebrity dies, fans lay flowers and other gestures of sorrow and tribute on the deceased’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Houston had no star, leaving Angelenos with nowhere to express their grief.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which manages the Walk of Fame, explained that Houston was selected for a star in 1995, but a date was never requested by the singer’s representatives for an unveiling ceremony. That selection expired in 2000, it said, but can be reconsidered if desired by the family.
Gospel singer Marvin Winans, a Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend, has been chosen to give the eulogy in Newark, his son, Marvin Jr., and Winans’ office at Perfecting Faith Church in Detroit told The Associated Press.
Winans, in his role as a pastor, married Houston and fellow singer Bobby Brown in 1992; the couple later divorced. The Winans and Houston families have been friends for years, and Houston performed with Winans’ siblings CeCe and BeBe, members of one of gospel music’s most prominent families.
In a show of support for the local community and in lieu of flowers, Houston’s family asked that any donations in her memory be sent to the Whitney Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, a public school in East Orange serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Houston attended the school as a girl, when it was named the Franklin School, and regularly visited for many years afterward. On Monday, students held an outdoor service in her memory.
Houston left behind one child, daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, from her marriage to Brown.
Gov. Chris Christie ordered flags flown at half-staff Saturday at state government buildings, describing Houston as a “cultural icon” who belongs in the same category of New Jersey music history as Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Bruce Springsteen.
“Her accomplishments were a great source of pride for the people of the state,” he said.