<strong>Legend</strong>: Whitney Houston performs with Stevie Wonder in Las Vegas in 2003. <em>*MCT Photo</em>
Legend: Whitney Houston performs with Stevie Wonder in Las Vegas in 2003. *MCT Photo
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FRIDAY, FEB. 17: Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy for Whitney Houston at her funeral tomorrow.

Ms Houston’s family rejected a public final farewell to the pop icon, choosing instead to hold a private, invitation-only funeral at New Hope Baptist Church, the singer’s childhood church, in Newark, New Jersey.

Ms Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange. Church pastor Reverend Joe A Carter will officiate the service, which begins at noon. The church seats 1,500.

Fans

Reverend Winans, who serves as the lead pastor at Detroit’s Perfecting Church, told the Detroit Free Press that he felt like he had lost a sibling when he learned of 48-year-old singer’s death on Saturday.

Her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, her cousin Dionne Warwick, and other family members gathered at Whigham Funeral Home, Newark, into the early morning hours on Tuesday to shape plans for the service, funeral director Carolyn Whigham said.

Although a local community leader with ties to the family told The Star-Ledger newspaper on Monday that there would be a public wake and funeral at the Prudential Centre on Thursday and Friday, the Houston family never confirmed it, Rev Carter said.

“We view it as nothing more than a rumour,” he said.

The family has been split over where to bury Ms Houston, with Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick lobbying for Atlanta, where they believe Ms Houston was happiest, the website TMZ reported.

However, two people familiar with the family’s plans told The Star-Ledger the family is considering burying her in a Westfield cemetery at least one day after the funeral.

The people asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly for the family.

Meanwhile, Newark police have started preparing for Saturday’s service, which is expected to draw thousands of fans and numerous media.

“Obviously Whitney Houston was one of the greatest performers of our time, and certainly we expect a huge presence of other performers, actors, and we’re preparing for all that,” police director Samuel DeMaio said.

He said police have started closing streets near the church and that officials are working on a security plan for the funeral, expected to draw some of the biggest names in the music industry.

He also raised the possibility of erecting a video monitor outside the church to accommodate fans and residents.

Outside the funeral home on Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard yesterday, Ms Whigham — who has known the family for decades — urged the dozens of reporters, some from as far away as Brazil and Russia, to let the family mourn in private.

“A mother has lost her child,” Ms Whigham said. “It’s not planned that way.”

But fans, who waited outside the funeral home late Monday night to watch a gold hearse return New Jersey’s pop princess to her hometown and who continued to pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside the church yesterday, mourned their missed chance to say farewell.

God’s choir

“The public should have an opportunity to give a last goodbye to one of the city’s most beloved daughters,” said Calvin Taylor of Newark, who skipped work Tuesday to spend time outside the funeral home.

“She touched so many people, I think it’s terrible. She’s got a lot of love here.”

Jethro Townes, a Newark native whose son Hassim Drinkard is a distant cousin of Ms Warwick’s, drove to Newark from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife to visit a memorial outside the church.

Fans have left stuffed animals and signed their names to large goodbye posters hung on the church’s balloon-festooned fence.

Mr Townes said he hadn’t seen Ms Houston in years, but said the family wasn’t worried she had relapsed into drug use in recent months, despite reports painkillers were found in the hotel room where she died.

“I think she had overcome her obstacles in life,” he said.

“God allows a time for people to leave his Earth,” he added, recalling the recent death of Etta James and the loss of Michael Jackson in 2009.

“But if you look at what has happened over the past few years, God has a great choir now.”

Ms Houston was found submerged in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills Hilton hotel room, California, on Saturday afternoon, hours before she was to perform at mentor Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy Awards party.

Though a cause of death has not been released, law enforcement sources have told various media outlets that Ms Houston, who struggled with drug addiction in the past, died from mixing alcohol with prescription drugs.

Calling Ms Houston’s accomplishments “a great source of pride for the people of the state”, Governor Chris Christie will order all state buildings to fly flags at half-mast on Saturday.