Guests begin arriving for Houston funeral in NJ

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Guests are arriving at the private funeral for Whitney Houston in her New Jersey hometown.

About 1,500 guests are expected to attend Saturday’s service at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, including Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. Gospel star Donnie McClurkin and the Rev. Marvin Winans have arrived. Winans is to deliver the eulogy.

Houston died Feb. 11 in California, the day before the Grammy awards. She was 48. A cause of death hasn’t been determined.

She sung in the New Hope choir as a child.

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

Whitney Houston’s flower-covered casket arrived Saturday at the church where her powerful voice first wowed a congregation as family made final preparations to remember the pop superstar in her hometown.

Mourners at the New Hope Baptist Church, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston’s silver casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies, a couple of hours before the service. White-robed choir members began to fill the pews on the podium. As the band played softly, the choir sang in a hushed voice, “Whitney, Whitney, Whitney.”

Family prepared a service where singer Dionne Warwick, Houston’s cousin, music mogul Clive Davis, who shepherded Houston’s career for decades, actor Kevin Costner and sister-in-law Patricia Houston were to speak; and Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, R. Kelly and gospel stars CeCe and Bebe Winans were to sing. Houston’s voice, a recording of her biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You,” was to be played at the end.

Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called “Aunt Ree,” was expected to sing at the service, but she is too ill to attend, said a person close to the Houston family who was not authorized to talk about Franklin’s decision and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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.

To the world, 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.

“She always had the edge,” Jackson said outside church Saturday. “You can tell when some kids have what we call a special anointing. Aretha had that when she was 14. … Whitney cultivated that and took it to a very high level.”

A few fans gathered Saturday morning hours before the service as close as they could get to the church, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Miami. Bobby Brooks said he came from Washington “just to be among the rest of the fans.”

“Just to celebrate her life, not just her death,” said Brooks, “just to sing and dance with the people that love her.”

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