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Fans are gathering in NJ to say goodbye to Houston

- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Pockets of fans are gathering as close as they can get to the church where Whitney Houston's funeral will be held in her New Jersey hometown.

Police in Newark have blocked off streets in every direction surrounding the New Hope Baptist Church. Outside that perimeter, a few mourners are gathering Saturday morning. They include fans who have traveled from as far as Washington, D.C., and Miami. Some other fans are setting up card tables to sell silk-screened T-shirts with Houston's image and her CDs.

Houston, who was 48, died Feb. 11 in California, the day before the Grammy awards.

About 1,500 guests are expected to attend Saturday's private service including Aretha Franklin, Clive Davis and Stevie Wonder.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

To the world, Whitney Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame.

To her family and friends, she was just "Nippy." A nickname given to Houston when she was a child, it stuck with her through adulthood and, later, would become the name of one of her companies. To them, she was a sister, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.

While the world remembers Houston from afar, those closest to her will gather Saturday at a private funeral to say goodbye. They come together at New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston wowed the congregation with her powerful voice even as a young girl.

The service marks exactly one week after the 48-year-old Houston _ one of music's all-time biggest stars _ was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel in California. A cause of death has yet to be determined.

Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called "Aunt Ree," is expected to sing at the service, as is Stevie Wonder and gospel star CeCe Winans. Music mogul Clive Davis, who launched and shepherded her career throughout the decades, may speak, along with Kevin Costner, her co-star in the blockbuster film "The Bodyguard."

Her ex-husband Bobby Brown also is expected to attend, along with the couple's only child, Bobbi Kristina.

Houston's death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace while shocking was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.

Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like "Saving All My Love For You," "I Will Always Love You," "The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.

But amid the fame, a turbulent marriage to Brown and her addiction to drugs tarnished her image. She became a woman falling apart in front of the world.

Her last album, "I Look To You," debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn't have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.

Still, a comeback was ahead: She was to star in the remake of the movie "Sparkle" and was working on new music. Her family, friends and hard-core fans were hopeful.

The funeral is for invited guests only. Houston is scheduled to be buried next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J.

The Associated Press will stream the funeral service on the Internet at http://www.livestream.com/aplive and broadcasters also will be able to air it.

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Online:

http://www.whitneyhouston.com

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Nekesa Mumbi Moody is the AP's music editor. Follow her at http://www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi

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