Continued from page 1

The Rev. Al Sharpton remembered Houston while preaching Sunday morning at the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

“Yes, she had an outstanding range,” he said. “Yes, she could hit notes no one else could reach. But what made her different was she was born and bred in the bosom of the black church.”

The congregation applauded and answered him with shouts of “Amen” and “Tell it!”

“A lot of artists can hit notes but they don’t hit us. Say words but they have no meaning. Have gifts and talent but no anointing. Something about Whitney that would reach in you and make you feel.”

A sensation from her very first album, she was one of the world’s best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. She awed millions with soaring, but disciplined vocals rooted in gospel and polished for the masses, a bridge between the earthy passion of her godmother, Aretha Franklin, and the light pop of her cousin, Dionne Warwick.

Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she became a rare black actress with box office appeal, starring in such hits as “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale.”

She had the perfect voice and the perfect image: gorgeous, but wholesome; grounded, but fun-loving. And she influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey, who when she first came out, sounded so much like Houston that many couldn’t tell the difference.

But by the end of her career, Houston had become a stunning and heartbreaking cautionary tale. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanor and bizarre public appearances.

She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her precious voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes of her prime.

“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview with then-husband Brown by her side.

Seemingly born into greatness, she first started singing at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., as a child. At the church on Sunday morning, a couple of sympathy cards were tied to a fence post. “To the greatest songstress ever,” one said, and tied next to it was a small bouquet of fresh flowers.

The pastor asked for strength for Houston’s family, said churchgoer Shawn Cooper, 32, of Newark. He said he hadn’t regularly attended church but felt compelled to go on this Sunday.

“The Houston family means a lot to this community, they have done a lot for this community, and being there for them is the best thing we can do as a community,” he said.

In her teens, Houston sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modeling. Clive Davis, who as head of Arista Records had already signed up Warwick and Franklin, was instantly smitten by the statuesque young singer.

“The time that I first saw her singing in her mother’s act in a club … it was such a stunning impact,” Davis told “Good Morning America.”

Story Continues →