, NEWARK, Feb 18 – Pop music and Hollywood stars will join family members of Whitney Houston at a church in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey on Saturday to pay tribute to the pop diva following her untimely death.
Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder will sing at a private ceremony, and her “Bodyguard” co-star Kevin Costner is also expected to make an appearance at the funeral.
The service, in New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where Houston sang as a child, is by invitation only and fans have been respectfully asked to stay away for fear of crowds disrupting the event.
Houston’s death in Los Angeles on the eve of the Grammy Awards last weekend at the age of 48 shocked the world and brought an outpouring of grief from fans and contemporaries.
Clive Davis, Houston’s producer and early mentor, will be at the funeral as will the late star’s cousin and fellow singer Dionne Warwick and civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson.
“She had that special something,” Jackson told CNN on Friday. “We won’t be there tomorrow because she died, we’ll be there tomorrow because she lived,” he said, recalling Houston’s “huge voice,” and “very personable” demeanour.
Pastor and gospel singer Marvin Winans, a friend of Houston’s from Detroit, will lead the funeral and give the eulogy.
It was Winans who conducted the marriage ceremony of Houston to the soul singer Bobby Brown in 1992, a union that ended in divorce 15 years later after an emotionally combustible relationship.
Actor Costner, with whom Houston co-starred in blockbuster “The Bodyguard,” will speak at the funeral, according to media reports.
Also expected to attend is British music icon Elton John, along with US diva Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay-Z.
Houston sold more than 170 million records during a long career derailed by substance abuse.
Speculation has raged since her untimely death that the singer may have died from a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol, although official results from her autopsy may not be made public for up to eight weeks.
Saturday’s private service – the church has a capacity of 1,500 – is meant to be a homecoming and celebration of Houston’s astonishing career, but some fans had hoped for a large public memorial event at a nearby stadium.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has ordered flags flown at half-mast on Saturday in honour of the late singer.
Newark police director Samuel DeMaio advised fans to stay at home and watch the funeral, which will be broadcast on television and streamed online.
Streets near the church, which have been adorned with floral tributes, candles, balloons and condolence cards in recent days, will be sealed off on Saturday and people barred from approaching the building.
“I would advise the public that there really is going to be nothing to see here at the church,” DeMaio said.
“The best thing to do would be to stay home and watch the service on television.”
New Hope Baptist Church Reverend Joe Carter said he hoped people would respect the “sanctity of our church,” alluding to the need to keep order.
Houston is to be buried Sunday at a family plot in New Jersey a day after a private funeral, ABC News reported, citing law enforcement sources.
ABC said the star would be laid to rest at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield next to her father, John Russell Houston, who died in 2003.