Choir in tribute to Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston's funeral has begun with an impassioned performance by a choir.
The 48-year-old singer was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel bathroom last weekend. She fought a long battle with drugs but her cause of death won't be known until toxicology tests come back.
Her funeral is taking place at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where Whitney sang in a gospel choir as a child.
The star's coffin was brought to the church in a gold hearse earlier today. Three policemen helped take in the silver casket, which was covered in flowers. As it was brought into the holy building the choice quietly sang, "Whitney, Whitney, Whitney."
Dressed entirely in white, the large gospel choir clapped and sang joyously as mourners entered the church. The singers come from the New Hope Baptist Church Mass Choir and New Jersey Mass Choir and performed to mark the beginning of the service.
People began gathering near the church earlier today, with everyone outside - including Reverend Jesse Jackson - quiet as Whitney's body was taken inside.
"She always had the edge," Rev. Jackson said this afternoon. "You can tell when some kids have what we call a special anointing. Aretha [Franklin] had that when she was 14. Whitney cultivated that and took it to a very high level."
Around 1,500 people have been asked to the service, which is being called a "going home" event rather than a funeral.
Invitations were organised by Whitney's family. The front of them apparently shows a photograph of the singer taken in the 90s, according to British newspaper The Daily Mail. The publication reports the invites read: "With heartfelt gratitude, the Houston family requests the honour of your presence at the going home service for Whitney Elizabeth Houston."
Roads within six blocks of the church have been cordoned off to ensure it is a family-only affair. Earlier this week police asked fans to stay at home and most have done so. However, many have paid their respects by leaving cards, notes and other trinkets outside the church.
A host of stars will be speaking or performing during the service, among them Whitney's Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner, her mentor Clive Davis, Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, her cousin Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder.
Pastor Joe Carter will read the scripture and has previously said the service will be a "grand celebration of life and a strong musical presence". Marvin Winans will give the eulogy, at the request of Whitney's mother Cissy Houston. Marvin married Whitney and her ex-husband Bobby Brown.
The late singer's godmother Aretha Franklin was thought to be planning to sing The Greatest Love of All, but there is speculation that she has fallen ill and won't be able to attend.
Cissy, Bobby and his daughter with Whitney Bobbi Kristina are all at the service.
A host of stars including Janet Jackson, David Bowie, Mariah Carey, Brandy and her brother Ray-J and Jay-Z are all thought to be going.
It's thought Whitney's most famous song I Will Always Love You will be played to mark the end of the service.
© Cover Media