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Whitney Houston remembered at hometown funeral

The biggest names in entertainment swayed to gospel hymns at Whitney Houston's hometown funeral Saturday in the church where the future pop star once sang as a young girl.

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Filmmaker Tyler Perry praised Houston's "grace that kept on carrying her all the way through, the same grace led her all the way to the top of the charts. She sang for presidents."

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Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers.

Houston's mother was helped by two people on either side of her as she walked in and sat with her granddaughter and other family to begin the service. Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, briefly appeared at her funeral, walking to the casket, touching it and walking out. He later said in a statement that he and his children were asked repeatedly to move and he left rather than risk creating a scene.

Mourners fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston's casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies. 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."

A program featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read "Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God." Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother and daughter filled the program.

"I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long," Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program. "And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years."

"Rest, my baby girl in peace," the letter ends, signed "mommie."

The service marks one week after 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," the Rev. Jesse 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."

Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like "Saving All My Love For You," ''I Will Always Love You," ''The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.

But amid the fame, a turbulent marriage to Brown and her addiction to drugs tarnished her image. She became a woman falling apart in front of the world.

Her last album, "I Look To You," debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn't have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.

Still, a comeback was ahead: She was to star in the remake of the movie "Sparkle" and was working on new music. Her family, friends and hard-core fans were hopeful.

IN PICTURES: Whitney Houston, in memoriam

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