Hundreds to gather for funeral of Whitney Houston

NEWARK, NJ (CNN) -- "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin will sing the Whitney Houston hit "The Greatest Love of All" at Houston's funeral Saturday, in what is sure to be an emotional moment during the three-hour service.

The service will feature performances by Stevie Wonder -- singing one of his hits, "Ribbon in the Sky" -- R&B star R. Kelly, Alicia Keys, and gospel greats Kim Burrell and BeBe Winans.


The New Hope Baptist Church Mass Choir and the New Jersey Mass Choir will open the service. Pastor Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy.

Bishop T.D. Jakes will deliver remarks, along with Kevin Costner, Houston's co-star in the movie "The Bodyguard;" her mentor, music mogul Clive Davis; and director-producer Tyler Perry.

Patricia Houston, the singer's sister-in-law and former manager, will speak at the end of the service, followed by Houston's cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, according to the program.

A golden hearse with a black-and-white picture of Houston carried the singer's body to the red-brick church Saturday morning. She will be laid to rest Sunday at the Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, just south of Newark.

Balloons left in front of the church by adoring fans bobbed in a soft breeze. Upstairs, the choir was rehearsing. Guests at the invitation-only were expected to arrive on a black carpet.

A source close to the Houston family provided CNN with a program of the funeral, taking place Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where Houston got her start.

Some 1,500 people are expected to attend the service, which may have to be delayed from its noon start because of the number of people. The service may last more than its scheduled three hours.

A perimeter was set up for four blocks in two directions, and two blocks in the other directions. The closest the public will be able to get is a staging area two blocks away.

Police said the best way for fans to share the experience is through television and the Internet.

Houston, the six-time Grammy Award winner and only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 hits, died a week ago in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 48.

The fact that Houston's funeral will bring a coterie of A-listers together is hardly surprising. After all, she had worked for nearly 30 years with the best in the business.

Saturday, the story won't be about Houston's reported drinking days before she died or about the prescription pills being tested as investigators seek a cause of her still-unexplained death at the Beverly Hilton.

In Newark, 2,700 miles away from Los Angeles, they will remember the 11-year-old girl nicknamed "Nippy," who followed in the footsteps of her mother, Cissy, by singing in the junior gospel choir. They will remember Houston the superstar, returning for Easter Sunday services, never losing her roots after making it big.

They will remember, through tears and joy, that incredible voice.

Houston's family will be comforted by neighbors and fellow church members in what the family is calling a "home going" service, according to the funeral invitation that features a photo of a smiling Houston.

A believe in God and tradition will permeate the funeral. In the words of Marvin Winans, "Faith plays a great part in how we cope with uncertainties in life. It is not something that we run from in difficulty, it is something we run to."

The Houston family opted to forgo a public memorial service.

They didn't "want to have a parade," Winans told CNN's Anderson Cooper. Their message, he said: "We want to do this with dignity."

There will not be a customary funeral procession, Newark police Director Samuel DiMaio said Thursday. Houston's family and her body will arrive at an undisclosed time, he said.

"I would advise the public that there really is going to be nothing to see here at the church," DiMaio said. "The best thing to do would be to stay home and watch the service on television."

Houston leaves behind an 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown; her mother, Cissy; brothers; a cousin; and a host of relatives and friends.

Davis accompanied Cissy Houston and Bobbi Kristina to a private viewing Friday.

Pastor Winans' brother, Benjamin "BeBe" Winans, said his sister, CeCe, plans to perform "Don't Cry for Me" at Saturday's service.

Houston performed the song in many countries, Winans told A.J. Hammer of HLN's "Showbiz Tonight."

The song is about life, loss and hope:

"No one is to blame

"My death was meant to be

"Don't carry guilt or shame

"The reason why I came soon you'll see."