Beliefs Culture

Fans to be shut out of Whitney Houston’s church funeral

RNS photo by Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger.
Entertainment Tonight correspondant Christina McLarty laughs while outside New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston's funeral will be held on Saturday.

Entertainment Tonight correspondant Christina McLarty laughs while outside New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston’s funeral will be held on Saturday.

NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) With TV trucks and camera crews clogging the streets and thousands of fans hoping for a glimpse of the event, Whitney Houston's family has decided that no one but invited guests will get near her funeral on Saturday (Feb. 18).

That means no procession, no video screens outside the New Hope Baptist Church for the noon service — and no fans who want to pay their respects.

City streets will be locked down for six square blocks around the church beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio said.

Celebrities from Aretha Franklin (who is Houston's godmother) to the Rev. Jesse Jackson have been invited to the funeral. Others confirmed on the guest list, according to CNN, are Chaka Khan, BeBe and CeCe Winans, songwriter Diane Warren, pop singer Darlene Love, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Ray J and Brandy.

No one without an invitation will get into the service for the 48-year-old singer who died Saturday in her Beverly Hills Hilton hotel room.

“I think anybody who does have any love or any care for Whitney Houston should respect the wishes of the family and allow them to grieve without interruption,” DeMaio said.

“They are requesting a private service, and people should respect the wishes of the family.”

DeMaio expects thousands of fans to congregate in the neighborhood around the church, but asked people to keep their distance. “I would urge people not to come to the church,” he said. “There's really going to be nothing to see.”

The decision to keep people away has angered many of Houston's fans.

“Even though they brought her back (to New Jersey), they might as well left her in California,” said Quovella Wilson, a minister at Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, N.J., who stopped to pay her respects at New Hope yesterday. “She was one of us, and now we're not going to get a chance to get near this.”

Houston's fans continue to leave flowers and balloons for her at the Whigham Funeral Home in Newark, at the East Orange school she attended that has since been named in her honor, and outside New Hope Baptist, where Houston sang in the choir when she was a child.

Houston is expected to be buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, N.J., where her father, John Russell Houston Jr., was laid to rest in 2003. However, officials are not saying when the burial will take place.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie rebuffed criticism for his decision to order flags to be lowered to half-staff on Saturday in her honor. On Wednesday, Christie rejected the notion that Houston's well-documented problems with substance abuse should negate her many contributions.

“I believe that drug addiction is a disease, and I think that she struggled mightily with that disease,” Christie said. “I don't believe that diminishes the cultural contributions that she made to the state.”

(James Queally and Peggy McGlone write for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. Star-Ledger staff writers Jenna Portnoy, Julia Terruso, Victoria St. Martin and Barry Carter contributed to this report.)