Whitney Houston fans breathed a sigh of relief upon learning that her family has decided to livestream her funeral set for Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she worshipped and sang as a child. Respecting the family’s wishes, the City of Newark pulled a public memorial that was originally scheduled for the 18,000-seat Prudential Center on Friday. At that time, fans were extremely disappointed because it appeared that they would not be allowed to also find closure with the beloved superstar’s death.
“They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world,” Whigham Funeral Home owner Carolyn Whigham stated on behalf of the family Tuesday. “This is their time now for their farewell.” Around 1,500 of her family and close friends will be permitted to attend the invitation-only ceremony.
This stands is in stark contrast to Michael Jackson’s services three years ago, James Brown’s funeral in 2006, which Michael Jackson attended, and Coretta Scott King’s ceremony that same year, where fans as well as admirers were among family, close friends and VIPs. All of those ceremonies were televised live so the natural expectation was Whitney’s would be too.
While the family’s call for privacy during this extremely difficult time is understandable, the fact is people like Whitney Houston who become iconic public figures remain so even in death. And, as challenging as her loss is to daughter Bobbi Kristina, mother Cissy Houston, other family members and dear friends, the reality is she ceased being just theirs a long time ago.
For some reason, there are people who are blessed with gifts that ripple and resonate throughout the world. And that’s always been the case. Although we are all human and important in our own right, very few people reach the stature of Whitney Houston and leave a mark that will not fade from collective memory for decades to come.
As she was in life, Whitney Houston will forever be referenced as one of the greatest singers of all time, which is no easy feat. For it is a distinction one can aspire towards but very, very few can achieve. There will, of course, always be stars but icons are an entirely different story.
In a day where people plot and clamor for fame, Whitney Houston’s stardom was and still is one for the ages. Of course having Clive Davis in her corner certainly helped but even his support could not guarantee that she would have a lasting impact. Because as many “stars” as Davis has helped mold, even they pale in comparison to Whitney. She was simply a star among the stars.
And while there are plenty of people who have well-connected or well-known relatives, very few of them accomplish a tenth of what Whitney did. It is impossible to hear her voice and not feel something, even if you don’t speak her language. For all the polishing that goes on in the music industry today and even in the late 1980s when she emerged, she was no manufactured diva. As inconceivable as it was back then and still is, Whitney Houston’s live performances often sounded better than the recorded version. In her case, there were no truer words than “a star is born.”
Even as she lost her way, as so many entertainers have been prone to do, her best always defined her. Unlike so many celebrities, one never got the sense that Whitney sought attention. She didn’t need to do massive after-parties after her concerts. She was never scantily-clad. There was never the threat of her posing for a magazine like Playboy to stay relevant.
Rocking the latest designer bag was not Houston’s thing. She didn’t even dress like other celebrities. There was no Whitney perfume or apparel deal, although she did reportedly have a candle line coming. She just didn’t have to do what so many other female singers especially resort to later in their careers to stay in the game. So very few celebrities remain “a person of interest” to the public and that was not just due to Whitney’s well-reported struggles either. As low as she sank, most people genuinely rooted for her to soar high once again.
Granted it is impossible for the majority of us to fathom what it is like to be the mother or the daughter of Whitney Houston, especially when media speculation is rampant during this tragedy, but still Houston’s legions of fans are hurting too. It is certainly commendable that the family recognized this and looked past their personal pain in this most difficult time to allow a livestream of the funeral, so that the many faceless people who somehow loved Whitney without ever shaking her hand or embracing her in person can also mourn and find closure.
It is hard to know exactly why so many of us feel this way but perhaps, Beyoncé explained it best. “So many of my life’s memories are attached to a Whitney Houston song,” she shared on her official website. At the end of the day, people loved and felt loved through Houston’s voice. And that will always be magical.
Follow Ronda Racha Penrice on Twitter at @rondaracha