Members of the New Jersey church where Whitney Houston grew up and sang as a child remembered the legendary music artist on Sunday for her longtime membership and service. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also visited the church, said he was "traumatized" by her sudden death.
"The family shared Whitney with the world, but Whitney was a mother, a daughter, and a sister, and that's the focus we want to keep in front of everyone today," Pastor Joe Carter told reporters who had gathered at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., early Sunday morning as the first and only-for-members service was about to begin.
The 48-year-old singer and actor reportedly died in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Calif., Saturday. The cause of her death may not be known until weeks later as toxicology results are awaited and an investigation is pending. But relatives of the singer told TMZ.com that prescription drugs and alcohol might have been the cause.
Shawn Cooper, a 32-year-old member of the New Hope church, told The Associated Press that although he hadn't been coming to church regularly, he felt "I should be here today because this is a time for the community to come together."
"The Houston family means a lot to this community, they have done a lot for this community, and being there for them is the best thing we can do as a community today."
Charice Crawford, a fan of the six-time Grammy winner, also came to the church from Irvington although she is not a member. "This is where I needed to be this morning," she said. "I understand why I couldn't attend the service, but being here helps ease the grief of her passing." Houston would have performed at a pre-Grammy party at the hotel had she not died Saturday.
Later on Sunday, civil rights activist and Baptist minister Jesse Jackson came to the church, and said Houston's death "traumatized" him. "Before we could adjust to ["Soul Train" show host Don Cornelius' death], the news broke last night about Whitney," he said. "The two announcements had a devastating impact."
Jackson also recalled that Houston performed and grew up "in this wonderful church," which was involved in America's civil rights struggle. By the age of 11, Houston started performing in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope church, and amazed the congregation with her first solo performance which was a rendition of "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah."
Bishop T.D. Jakes also mourned Houston's death during the worship service at the Potter's House megachurch in Dallas, Texas, Sunday. "Many of you have heard the shocking news about Whitney Houston. I share the shock and was deeply stunned. I'm going to ask the church to reach out in prayer for her family," he said, according to the Examiner.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also expressed shock, saying, "Her terribly premature death is an awful loss for her family and the incredible New Jersey musical family. Her soaring talent put her in the pantheon of great New Jersey musical talents like Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Bruce Springsteen. Our prayers are with her family."
Houston was born in a neighborhood of Newark, and was the third and youngest child of entertainment executive John Russell Houston, Jr., and gospel singer Cissy Houston. She was raised a Baptist, but also attended a Pentecostal church during a period of her growing up.
Houston was cited in the Guinness World Records in 2009 as the most-awarded female artist of all time. Among the 415 career awards she won were two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. Some of her best known hits include: "How Will I Know," "Saving All My Love for You" and "I Will Always Love You."
Houston, whose career peaked in the 1980s and the 1990s, suffered from drug abuse and her career declined dramatically following years of success and number 1 hits.