Whitney Houston as A Gospel Singer: Her Church Beginnings (VIDEO)

Although Whitney Houston became a megastar in the music industry, she had a far more humble start. Before becoming a world-renowned pop star with "the voice of an angel," she was first a gospel singer at her local church.

Whitney Houston was born in Newark, N.J. She was the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, cousin to Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, and godchild of Aretha Frankilin. With such impressive gospel singers in her family, it is no wonder where Houston got her voice. Her mother is credited with teaching Houston how to sing.

Houston did her first solo performance at the age of 11 when she sang at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she also learned to play piano. As she became a teenager, she was known for following her mom to clubs and sometimes taking the stage.

Despite the challenges that Houston faced in her life, many have still considered her a person of faith. New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Joe A. Carter told CNN he held a high opinion of Houston and her family, stating that they remained "inseparable" from the church.

The pastor also confirmed that he had spoken to Houston's mother Cissy. "She needs our prayers and support," he added. Cissy Houston is still a current member at the church and also the director of sacred music.

In 1996, Whitney Houston starred in "The Preacher's Wife." The gospel soundtrack for the film became the best selling gospel album of all time. Two singles off the album, "Step By Step" and "My Heart is Calling" both made top Billboard charts.

In 1997, the Gospel Music Association awarded her with "Outstanding Mainstream Contribution to Gospel Music." Again, in 1998, she won "Traditional Gospel Song of the Year" for "I Believe in You and Me" with Dottie Rambo.

In "Step by Step," Houston sang: "Oh, but I won't let my spirit fail me / Oh, I won't let my spirit go / Until I get to my destination I'm gonna take it slowly 'cause I'm making it mine … step by step."

Church member Karen Winfield told CNN she had listened to Whitney and Cissy sing in church, and followed Houston's career for 60 years.

"I haven't slept - I've been up all night," she said. "Just going over, listening to her songs and reminiscing about her life. And what's going to happen to her daughter. Her mom. Her brothers," she said. "But she's in a better place."


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