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Whitney Houston: Her Life, Her Music

Aired February 18, 2012 - 11:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST: And good morning and welcome everybody. You're watching CNN's special coverage of WHITNEY HOUSTON: HER LIFE, HER MUSIC and you're taking a look at the New Hope Baptist Church which is where we are reporting live to you from today.

Today is the day as the Baptists like to say Whitney Houston will be sent home. It's a private funeral for her family members and her friends, invitation only. The streets around that church have been closed down, but today it will be filled with mourners who are here to pay their last respects for a woman who had an amazing voice and an amazing life and died way too early at 48 years old -- Piers.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST: It's a beautiful sunny day in New Jersey on the streets where Whitney Houston first grew up. An extraordinary cast lists for this funeral today we just got some details through here. The funeral will open up with the New Hope Mass Choir, the New Jersey Mass Choir singing "The Lord is My Shepherd," then a scripture read by Joe Carter. He is the New Hope pastor, a solo "Stand" by Donnie McClurkin a gospel singer and TV host. And some remarks by Tyler Perry we've seen late on his private jet to fly from Los Angeles back here to New Jersey. And a solo "My Home" by Bebe Winans a close of the family. His sister Cissy will also be there and also performing and then some remarks by Bishop T.J. Jakes, a solo by Kim Burrell a very close friend of Whitney. He's one of those spiritual advisers, "I Believe in You and Me".

And then some remarks by Kevin Costner. We haven't heard from him yet. Obviously a co-star of "The Bodyguard" it will be fascinating to see what he says about Whitney Houston.

A solo was then planned "The Greatest Love of All" by Aretha Franklin. But what we're hearing now is Aretha may be sick, she may not be performing. We'll wait for the clarification. She does appear to be here today, but we're just not sure if she'll be singing. Then Clive Davis, of course, the great mentor of Whitney Houston, who discovered her, took her to Arista Records, he will be speaking publicly here. And then a solo by Stevie Wonder "A Ribbon in the Sky," some remarks by Ricky Minor, a great Whitney musical director for so many years, a medley by Alicia Keys, a solo by R. Kelly, "I look to You," and then some family remarks by Patricia Houston who is Whitney's sister-in- law and former manager and a very poignant ending from Dionne Warwick, Whitney's cousin who I haven't seen speaking really in public about this.

So it's going to be a hugely emotional day, I think.

O'BRIEN: And a cast of luminaries too.

MORGAN: Cast of luminaries and a very much a family affair. I mean, you can see it's -- it's eerily quiet here. There are throngs of fans that are being kept well away. This is what Cissy Houston, Whitney's mother wanted a private family affair with people who really knew her.

O'BRIEN: They wanted to intentionally to keep the media a distance from the church and we are a little bit of a distance from the church. And also even the fans who've gathered kind on the outskirts of where the police barricades are where they're allowing them to be to gather. Some of them saying they understand that this is a moment for the family of Whitney who's been so public, to finally have a moment -- have her to themselves.

MORGAN: And it feels, I don't know what you think, but you feel like you're right in the middle of where Whitney really grew up. This is really what Whitney is all about. You know she wasn't the superstar glamour puss that she became. She was a girl from the streets of New Jersey and you feel as you walk around here, this is the essence of the real Whitney Houston.

And the service we're going see is very much reflective of that part of her life.

O'BRIEN: And a traditional Baptist service as Joe Carter, the pastor, has said.



O'BRIEN: Which means that it will be worshipful. It will be focused on God, even though the list of names are really some of the -- the nation's -- the world's top performers, it's not a performance. This is a celebration, a service about her life.

MORGAN: And it will be quite long. We were hearing originally one hour, it could be as much as two and a half to three hours. And so it's a full Baptist service with lots of tributes and lots of performances from some of the greatest performers of the modern age and the real sense I think is today, whatever Whitney Houston went through in her life, all the issues that she faced should all be put to one side.

And today, a celebration of her life and her music which certainly touched the lives of many people here in New Jersey but also the wider world has tuned in to watch this. It's going to be an extraordinary occasion, I think.

O'BRIEN: Let's get to Don Lemon. I know that he is standing by and he's been talking to many of the people who wish they had the opportunity to be inside that church today and also some of the folks who will have a chance to get inside that church today. Don, good morning. DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you, Soledad. Good morning to you, Piers, as well.

I want to tell our viewers you know the Newark police really encouraged everyone to stay at home and watch it and not to come down. But this is as close as you're going to get. The Newark police graciously allowing us to get pretty close here. We can walk up here and show you right on the corner, Soledad and Piers and viewers who are watching from around the world by the way, we are right here on the corner, about a block away, and this is where that everyone who will be going to this memorial service will be entering, through the front doors of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

And there you see folks starting to gather already. They'll be walking in right in front of where you see those balloons and that sort of makeshift memorial that has been put on in front of the church here. And there is a horde of people, two entrances by the way that you can get into, this entrance from this side where we're standing on this corner and then on the other side where you see way in the distance there.

You -- you may see some flashing lights. That is another entrance. But -- and that one is much further away it's about two or three blocks away. So this is the closest.

So for those of you who can't come down and who have been encouraged not to, this is as close as you're going to get. And I want to bring you right to the service where this is going to happen. As you can see, the streets here in Newark have been blocked off for even since overnight, blocks and blocks and blocks. And then on this side, you guys see there are media -- hordes of media from all over the country, from Germany, China, everywhere just lined up here.

And then if you pan to the right, if you come through right Tom, you come through here, it's kind of a little bit closer to where you are. This is where a lot of the people Soledad and Piers, the dignitaries that we have been interviewing have been coming to the media, talking about their conversations with Cissy Houston this morning, seeing Bobbi Kristina going to the funeral home.

Many of them had gone to the private services that were held last night. As we call it in the Baptist church, we call it a viewing. And then today basically is the home going ceremony or what they call the wake. Where quite honestly, you scream, you shout, you cry, you sing, you get all of your emotions out. Nothing is really off limits when it comes to this wake service today.

It used to -- they used to call it the wake because people would scream and celebrate so much that you would -- it would wake the dead, and that's where that term comes from. And then once this is over today and all of those people perform and all of her friends and loved ones get to get their emotions out, they'll probably go back to one of the family members' homes.

And then, tomorrow -- they'll celebrate tonight, they'll have some food, maybe some libation or what have you and they'll just sit there with the family and counsel them and if they need to be spoken to or they need some guidance, they'll do that. If they don't -- they need nothing, just to sit there, they'll do that as well.

And then tomorrow, Whitney Houston's family will get into -- one of them will get into the hearse with her and there'll be limousines. And they'll take her body and they'll take it to the burial site and -- and that's when they will lay her to rest. And this family probably Cissy Houston and Bobbi Kristina and all of her family, quite honestly I'm going take you through it, they will take the dirt, throw it in her grave, take flowers, throw it in her grave, and then they will lower her casket down and the family members will sit there for as long as they want and say goodbye to Whitney Houston.

And as you can see these are all of the -- the people who are still -- some of the people who are going to the services now are being brought in, some of the dignitaries there. But again a horde of media and in my foreground, behind, in front of me, you see there is the church right there. The New Hope Baptist Church where Whitney Houston sang in a choir, her mom was the choir director and Piers and Soledad you can understand why Cissy Houston wanted to lay her daughter to rest and have her memorialized in this fashion because to them she's Nippy. She's just a family member. And this is where she started.

So they want to have her go home in a church-like service like she grew up in and that she did every single Sunday for hours and hours. That's the way we do it in a black Baptist church. You go there and sit for hours and hours on a Sunday. And that's how they wanted to send Whitney home. Piers, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Right Don, thanks.

MORGAN: Thanks a lot, Don. And we're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with two people who knew Whitney Houston and her family very well. One is DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., he was the former secretary of state of New Jersey. He's known the Houston family for 40 years. And the Reverend Jesse Jackson who will also tell us about his memories of Whitney Houston and what this event means to the people of New Jersey and indeed to the wider world. Right after this break.




O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN's special coverage of WHITNEY HOUSTON: HER LIFE, HER MUSIC. And as promised before the break I told we talked to two special guests. We're joined by Reverend DeForest Buster Soaries who is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church from Somerset, New Jersey, not very far from here, about 30 miles away. And also Reverend Jesse Jackson who literally has just hung up on the phone with Aretha Franklin. We were trying to confirm details about her health. I know she was feeling a little under the weather.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: She can't make it. She was at a tremendous event last night at the music hall.

O'BRIEN: She's been performing at the Radio City.

JACKSON: The Radio City and -- and then she was up much of the night hosting guests. And she had some leg spasms. She's all right now she's - but she can't do that and reconcile just with her feelings in the schedules but she's -- she's been talking with Cissy all week long, great long time as I can remember. Of course, she was Whitney's godmother.

O'BRIEN: She was a woman who -- who Whitney at least would see in interviews, her Auntie Re. So you know if you're calling Aretha Franklin you're --


JACKSON: Well, in addition to Cissy giving birth to Soledad -- I mean to Whitney. She gave an environment, she grew up around Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick and they have assisted in (INAUDIBLE) an African and she honed her skills among the best singers of this time.

PIERS: And this story I mean she actually -- Whitney used to sing in this church as a young girl didn't she. Her mom was the -- Cissy was the musical director.

JACKSON: Her mother was her first music teacher, her first music critic, her first music director. So a nurturing mother. One of Whitney's life work was singing with her mother.

O'BRIEN: You had a chance to talked Joe Carter, the pastor.


O'BRIEN: He was pastor since 1998 when you came as his co-pastor in 2000 then elevated to a pastor. And you mentioned that he wants this to be a worship service. this is not a concert performance remembering Whitney Houston. This is a Baptist traditional service.

PASTOR DEFOREST SOARIES JR.: That's exactly right Reverend Carter who has been a great pastor in New Jersey wanted to make sure the service, which he officiates, functions as a worship experience and not as a performance. There's a difference between performing and ministering.

And that's what we'll see today at the funeral with the music, with the flow of the service, with the interaction between the audience and the speakers, and our traditions, we continue to have a call and response where people will affirm what's being said by saying something in response.

MORGAN: And, Jesse, I mean put into context how important Whitney Houston's music is to the world. A lot of people I've spoken to say, look, forget all the problems she had, the issues, the drugs and so on. For today focus on what she meant to the world in terms of this incredible voice and the remarkable -- .

JACKSON: Probably a decade or two, the songs that she sang were always uplifting, never degrading. The number of songs that became hits, I mean -- "I'll Always Love You". At a time when there was lots of tension about war and feelings about the war, pro and con. On the "Star-Spangled Banner", I mean she hit these moments and these notes in ways that took us to a different place.

And as I reflect upon it, we often reveal our successes and we conceal our pain because people deal so ruthlessly with pain, and maybe it hit a tipping point. But I tell you here, you look at the highs and lows, it's the box score. She comes out. You know (INAUDIBLE) back in the mix -- the box score. She's a winner, people think that you're a winter.

MORGAN: Whitney to me is right up there though with Michael Jackson who obviously sadly died recently as well -- a couple of years ago. We've got a clip which is some of the interview that Oprah Winfrey with Whitney Houston, in which she talks about the parallels with Michael Jackson and the fact of his death happening.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: How difficult was Michael Jackson's passing for you?

WINFREY HOUSTON, SINGER: Devastating. I have so many good memories of spending time with him. I've known his family for so many years. At least 20. I thought this can't be true. It can't be true.

WINFREY: When is the last time you saw him.

HOUSTON: Wow. I think it was that time when I spoke to him during the trial a lot. By that time he had cut a lot of people off. He didn't want to be seen.

WINFREY: Did he cut you off?

HOUSTON: He would speak to me on the phone, but he didn't want me to see him. No one have I ever met like that young man, you know? And to have it end like that, it saddens me, yes. Yes.

WINFREY: But when you saw him at the 30th anniversary, did you think -- was he a mirror for you?


HOUSTON: In some ways, yes.

WINFREY: Did you think, this could be me?

HOUSTON: I don't want to go down that road.

WINFREY: You don't want to go down that road. Yes.


WINFREY: Does your heart still ache about it when you think about it?

HOUSTON: Terribly, terribly. Yes. Yes.


MORGAN: That was Whitney Houston there talking about Michael Jackson. The parallels there, of course, have been very obvious. Two people from singing families who both died before they even reached 50. Incredibly sad. Very sad to see Whitney talking about Michael that way and then the same thing happening to her. What do you think of the parallels she drew there?

SOARIES: Very sobering. I think it speaks to the level of hurt that is born by people with tremendous success. It's inconceivable that every mistake appears in newspapers; that things you never thought to do are in public view. And I think the burden that celebrities have, particularly those who are at the top of their field, is immeasurable. And I think you can see the parallels in that sense.

But in addition to her music, Whitney represented a kind of dignity and elegance that was embraced by the community. She never disrobed -- she was never disrespectful to her tradition. Her music was not only uplifting but her persona was so elegant and so dignified. She was in a class of people who come very rarely.

She left at 48, which is relatively young. (INAUDIBLE) at 43. Dr. King and Malcolm at 39. (INAUDIBLE) at 33 so she covered more ground in 48 years than men can covered in the United States where she lived --


O'BRIEN: You can't say that about everybody. We're going to take a short break and we'll continue to have this conversation on the other side as we remember WHITNEY HOUSTON: HER LIFE, HER MUSIC today in this CNN Special.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.




MORGAN: Welcome back to our special coverage of Whitney Houston's funeral here in New Jersey. We were hearing some of the guests have been arriving. Ray j Norwood and his sister Brandy. I think Ray J was believed to be Whitney's last boyfriend. They just arrived in the church. Starr Jones is there. Others are beginning to roll up.

I mean it's an occasion, I guess, for the world to watch from the outside, but these people really were close friends of Whitney Houston's.

SOARIES: Yes, think about this. This is a private funeral. Most private funerals are eight or nine people at the grave site. But for Whitney Houston private means are all this. They were connected to her. They weren't simply knowledgeable of her.

What you'll see in the audience today is a mix of people who've known her all of her life and people who just met her two years ago. Both categories feeling equally connected to her. She had a magnetism off stage that paralleled --


O'BRIEN: Some other people who are in the church --

JACKSON: Don Cornelius, "Soul train" made his transition. So many of us were at his memorial service in LA on Thursday. You see Donnie McClurkin and others dubbed him the "soul train engineer". She was a passenger on that train so we've had that hit of Cornelius and Whitney kind of at the same time.

O'BRIEN: Let me tell you some other names of those who we're told are now in the church. The actress Viveca Fox is inside and Sharp James, of course, the former Newark mayor and Susan Taylor, the former Editor of "Essence Magazine" who's really transitioned her life to focus on mentoring.

And it made me realize, Whitney Houston, not only was a tremendous performer and singer but also a real role model for young women especially who want to test --


JACKSON: The Pastor of this church, Reverend Thomas was Dr. King's (INAUDIBLE). So Dr. King has a kinship with this church as well. This church is a church of great social consciousness. I cannot help but tell you that Cissy Houston never hit the stage level her daughter did, but in terms of singing, the sweet inspirations and --

O'BRIEN: Is that why Cissy Houston.

JACKSON: -- and with Aretha Franklin and with Elvis Presley, her mother laid a huge groundwork for her daughter.

SOARIES: And don't forget that Dionne Warwick is Cissy's cousin and she's a member of this church and her father Speedy Warwick (ph), tried the record label back in the 1940s and 1950s.


MORGAN: Also I think it's important to clarify that although the family requested privacy from the media, they are were aware that all the media would be here. They also allowed a camera to be inside the church. They understood that fans around the world wanted to see what was going to be happening.


JACKSON: It wasn't a circus in fact. The fact that it is this way, the church is very much -- I mean the casket is there. It's a very religious setting. There will not be the kind of running of the people with snapshots and pictures taken. They wanted to avoid the circus atmosphere that may go on in the sacred celebration. That's happening.

See the key to worship is to minimize distractions--

O'BRIEN: Let me stop you for one second as we take a look at Mary K. Blige. She's going inside the church now and as what we have been talking about. Some of the big headliners who are also close friends. She and Alicia keys and numerous young women who are very successful as performers would often talk about how Whitney Houston was their inspiration and helping them navigate a very difficult business.

JACKSON: You'd be surprised to know how much influence she had was on the people in the industry. You see what happens is we look -- what Reverend Reggie Jackson used the call the mole on the face and make it the face. What's going to come out I think in the days and years to come is the kind of impact this woman had on young people. I saw Bebe Winans in your show last night. She embraced bebe after she became famous. They didn't grow up together. She was already Whitney Houston

MORGAN: I interviewed Jennifer Hudson the day before Whitney died with Clive Davis by pure chance. And I was just struck by the kind of starry-eyed way that Jennifer talked about Whitney. You know, as if to say -- she said, "When I was young I used to dream of doing duets. I would pretend to do duets with Whitney Houston."{


JACKSON: In the late year, that was kind of a down coverage of Whitney and there was this kind of upsurge of Whitney and the record sales taking off. The movers coming around.

MORGAN: I think that it took Michael Jackson's death for all the music that he'd ever done to suddenly come back into a void and for people to listen to and realize what a genius he was. And I think the same is going to happen to Whitney.

SOARIES: You would hope that takes us far. What's cynicism holds us back and now the cynical carpenters diminishing and the hope is in the air. The hope, the healing --

MORGAN: We need to take a short break again. We're going to go to the break here with some video of Whitney Houston singing with her daughter Bobbi Kristina, who will be here today for mother's funeral.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN's special coverage of WHITNEY HOUSTON: HER LIFE, HER MUSIC. And you see in those pictures there, photos of Bobbi Kristina, the only child of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.

Many people have told us today that today is really about Whitney Houston's life. They say they want to talk about the people that she touched, the relatives, the friends that she loved, the joy that she brought to her fans.

Today is the day to celebrate that life, and that's what's going to happen in that church that's over our shoulders, the New Hope Baptist Church, where they'll have a traditional Baptist service, really remembering the life of Whitney Houston, who died at the age of 48.

Don Lemon has been talking with people who have gotten about as far as two blocks away, I think, from the Church, because they had it pretty tightly bordered off. He's had some opportunity to chat with some of Whitney Houston's fans.

Hey, Don, what are they telling you this morning?

LEMON: Hey, Soledad, yes. You know, they're talking to me here, and they're also talking to me on Twitter, telling me what they want to see, and also praising our coverage, so, thank you, viewers -- and using that Whitney Houston -- #WhitneyCNN -- to get your questions and your comments to me, and then I'll tell you what you want.

People wanted to see the entrance here. And this is the entrance to the Church you see right over my shoulder here. And the street -- we're a block away, as a matter of fact, Soledad and viewers around the world, just a block away from where Whitney is going to be memorialized by her family and friends, members of the Newark Police Department here keeping us back.

But this is a close as anyone would be able to get if you were here. And, you know, you guys mentioned the people who are here to -- some of the fans -- of course, the police are encouraging people to stay home. But some people did come out.

One guy here -- let's walk over here. He came all the way from -- you said the British Virgin Islands, right? Kareem Nelson Hall (ph)?


LEMON: You came all the way from the British Virgin Islands. Why?

HALL: I did. I think that it's not a far trek at all to pay our respect to her talent, so great. I think what Whitney Houston has done for the entire world through her music is a tangible gift that we will have for the rest of our lives. I just wanted to be here to pay my respect in person.

LEMON: Yes. What we have been saying, you know -- and you're going home tomorrow.

HALL: I am. (Inaudible) 12 (ph).

LEMON: Yes. We have been saying homegoing. Can you believe that we're saying homegoing to Whitney Houston, only 48 years old, as a life -- as a lifelong fan?

HALL: I actually couldn't believe. I think that's why I'm actually here, was because I wanted to have an injection of reality to make -- you know, you see the reports from afar and sometimes you follow them, you believe some, but some with skepticism. But I had to be here just to have this reality so to give -- have my final closure.

LEMON: When you found out?

HALL: Devastated. I thought it was a joke. I thought like my fraternity brother was make -- playing a joke. I didn't find it funny at all. When I confirmed it, actually through CNN, I think the first thing that happened was tears came to my eyes. I've think I've had tears in my eyes ever since that day.

LEMON: You say you've been crying every day?

HALL: I've cried -- I've cried since then.

LEMON: Thank you. We appreciate it. Good luck to you. That's just one of many millions of fans who are watching around the world. Let's go this way and sort of show people what we have here.

This is where they're putting the media. And I think it's important to show this because, as I've said, the officials in Newark, especially the police department, have encouraged people to stay at home and watch it on television, because you're going to see it live, of course, right here on CNN and also

But everyone is wondering, you know, since we have been saying we've heard a lot about this, and I think it's important.

The Houston family, Cissy, Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston's mom, wanted a traditional homegoing ceremony for her daughter, instead of having a big event at the Prudential Center, like the Staples Center, homegoing means it's really the funeral service or the worship service or the celebration service that you have for a loved one in the black community, mostly in the black church.

You say I'm going have a homegoing ceremony. And that means when someone dies and you want to pay respects and honor them, that's what you have at the church. Usually the night before -- everyone was saying, last night, oh, there was a private viewing, a private memorial service for Whitney Houston.

That was really the wake, where you're loud enough to wake the dead, and then you have the -- today, which is a traditional service. And then, tomorrow, they're, of course, going to lay her to rest. But that's what homegoing mean.

Usually the homegoing is a day that they do the celebration like today, but the entire event can be seen as a homegoing ceremony, as we have spoken to her pastor, as we have spoken to her principal, as we have spoken to reverends here in the community.

This is a homegoing ceremony, not a homecoming ceremony, because Whitney is going home to be with the Lord. And so today is about her, it's about honoring her family, and everyone that you see who's going to get up on that stage will do that. They're going to sing, they're going to praise. They're going to -- and as we say in the black church, we're going to jump and shout and people shout and you fan them. And that's what happens. And you cry. And many people are going to laugh. And some people, you know, may get up, just impromptu.

I know in the Church where I'm from, and say some things who are not even scheduled to say things. They'll just get up and say I remember this about Nippy, I remember that and it's all acceptable. I would imagine today, though, it's a possibility that that could happen. I would imagine today people are going to be very respectful, 1,500 people were invited.

And it's interesting because the church officially is only supposed to seat about 300 people, but 1,500 people are invited. We saw the beautiful invitation a little bit earlier here on CNN. So it's going to be very interesting to watch.

I can guarantee our viewers around the world, it's going be very moving to watch. You're probably going to cry and you're going to laugh and you're going to see the best performances by the best singers in the world, many of whom, probably most, if not all, grew up singing gospel in the church.

So if you want to go to church, then watch this Whitney Houston memorial ceremony and it will take you there. And you'll see why Cissy Houston wanted to -- this sort of celebration, this sort of memorial for her little girl rather than the big event, Soledad and Piers.

All right. And, Don, we're also expecting -- the service is supposed to begin in roughly 25 minutes. That's when it's scheduled to begin, but we see as people continue to arrive, they might get their start a little bit late.

And I should also mention, Don, as you say, for folks who want to join the conversation, feel free to join us on Twitter. Make sure you use the #WhitneyCNN if you want to have your remarks added to the conversation that we're having today.

We've got to take a short break. We're going come back on the other side. We're going to talk to -- Joe Levy from ""Rolling Stone"" magazine is with us, and continue our conversation with Pastor Buster (ph) Soaries as well. We're back right after this.




MORGAN: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of Whitney, her life and music, here in New York, the funeral is due to start in about 20 minutes. And many stars arriving, already Forest Whitaker's just been seen arriving at the church. Queen Latifah, who apparently has been singing "We're Going To See The King," and Diane Sawyer is here. Of course, she did one of the more memorable interviews with Whitney Houston.

Just had a note from the family. In lieu of flowers, they would like all donations to be made it to the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative -- of Performing Arts, P.O. Box 835, South Bend (ph) for New Jersey, 07080. We've been joined now by Joe Levy, American journalist from "Rolling Stone" magazine.

Joe, put it in perspective, Whitney's importance as a singer, for us. Where does she rank in the panoply of singers?

JOE LEVY, EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE" MAGAZINE: Whitney is certainly at the top, and, you know, her importance is that she's someone who taught our current generation how to sing. And you can't emphasize that enough.

When you listen to Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, everyone including Lady Gaga, these are singer who grew up listening to Whitney. Whitney is a church singer but she's something different than that. There's a different degree of control and presentation than a straight gospel singer, than, say, her mother, or even the fantastic, perhaps greatest singer of all time, her godmother, Aretha Franklin.

When you listen to Whitney, when you hear the control she brings to the song and the way she phrases, breaks up words, puts in all of those vocal runs, that's modern pop and R&B singing right there. And she has taught a generation, not just of female singers, how to do this.

MORGAN: We've heard people like Tony Bennett, Lionel Richie and others this week who I've spoken to, all saying not that she was one of the best singers they'd ever heard, she was the best singer they had ever heard. She had the best voice. Is it too much of a stretch to say that, as it's (inaudible)?

LEVY: You know, it's an awful grand claim, and it leaves out some of our other great singers, like Aretha Franklin. But is she one of the best? There is no doubt about it. And she was nicknamed by Oprah Winfrey "The Voice" long before that television show. The Voice. The Voice. And she deserved the nickname.

O'BRIEN: How do you as a pastor, how do you -- how do you speak to Bobbi Kristina, who's going to be in that audience, right? You've done this and you've certainly preached at funerals. So how do you -- there's an 18-year-old girl who has lost her mother, and her mother is beloved by, really, it's fair to say, most people in the world. What do you say? What's the message in that?

SOARIES: You want her to understand that, first of all, she has a right to be in pain. Often religion makes people feel guilty for feeling badly, especially when they're feeling badly about something God was supposed to have done. First thing you want people to know is that it's human to feel pain. It's understandable to question God. Those people who say, well, don't question God, all great people have questioned God. Moses questioned God. Everybody questions God. Mary questioned God when she said -- when he said she was pregnant.

And then you want her to know that she will be surrounded by people who love her. Cece Winans is Bobbi's godmother, and Cece, among others, will supplement what her grandmother Cissy does and what her father does and what others in the family do.

And so what we want for Bobbi is to know that at 18, you will not have your mother, but you will have everything else life can offer, starting with the love of those people that surround you.

MORGAN: And also important, I think, that her father is here. Lots of conjecture about whether Bobby Brown would be coming or not.

SOARIES: That's right.

MORGAN: But when I interviewed Bebe Winans yesterday, very struck by the fact he said, look, Whitney loved Bobby Brown. Bobby Brown loved Whitney Houston. And I think it's important that he's there for his daughter.

We're looking now at first pictures inside the church, and you can see there the choir.

O'BRIEN: That's the New Hope mass choir and the New Jersey mass choir. Both of them are performing. Let's listen for a moment.



O'BRIEN: Pastor Soaries, you were saying that this is a choir, a joint choir, the New Hope mass choir and the New Jersey mass choir, brought together with -- under the guidance, to some degree, of Cissy Houston, who is a renowned gospel singer.

SOARIES: Correct. Cissy was the choir director at New Hope for years. The choir was so good, people would come from the neighborhood to hear them rehearse on weeknights. But her music director was and is Donnie Harper. And Donnie Harper ran the New Hope choirs and he formed the New Jersey mass choir, which made a name for itself by performing with Foreigner.

MORGAN: I mean, I have to say that, that's fabulous, isn't it, watching these young choirs in this sort of celebration of Whitney's life and music, rather than all the other stuff we've been through this week. I think to see such a joyful singing performance in the very church where she herself would have been in a very similar choir when she was a young girl, really a special moment there.

SOARIES: Not just a young girl. The last time I saw Whitney was in this church at her cousin's funeral, Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne's older sister. And at the end of the service when the choir began to sing, the same song they'll sing today, "The Lord Is My Shepherd," Whitney got up from her seat, and walked to the choir stand and sang with the choir.


O'BRIEN: We should mention that Bobby Brown is now among those who have arrived at the church. We have seen him go inside and we're expecting this will get under way in roughly 10 minutes or so. And as you said --


O'BRIEN: Yes, or so. I was going to ask you about this.

SOARIES: This is a Baptist service.


O'BRIEN: (Inaudible), what does that mean exactly?

SOARIES: That means don't look at your watch.


O'BRIEN: It's expected to last several hours.


O'BRIEN: And not because of the fact that it is a global star who is being celebrated today, but because it's a Baptist service.

SOARIES: Not all Baptist services last four hours.

O'BRIEN: I know yours doesn't, but a lot do.

SOARIES: But there are times when you just -- it takes time to get it done. And the program, if it were just the program as printed, could probably last a couple of hours. But there are unwritten parts of the program that will elongate the service, I promise you that.

MORGAN: Talking again about Whitney's music, from "Rolling Stone's" perspective, obviously people will be wondering what was her greatest- ever hit. You wrote a piece recently saying that "I Will Always Love You" really was her iconic song.

LEVY: I think it was, for me, for me, certainly. And I think there's an argument to made that it's one of the greatest moments in American popular music in the last 30 years. I think what makes it so special is that there's a story behind it.

This is a country song. This is a Dolly Parton song. And this is an African-American woman having an amazing 14 weeks at number one, a record at the time, an amazing, substantial hit with a cover of a country song. To me that has meaning. It has meaning about audiences talking to each other and the music talking to each other, but really, it's an incredibly powerful performance. That one note, when she goes for it --

MORGAN: I was going to say, you know, that one note we all remember.

O'BRIEN: Right.

MORGAN: I spoke to David Foster this week on my show, who produced that very record with her, and he said, you know, there are just moments in your career when -- even for him with all the great singers he's worked with -- to hear Whitney Houston hit that big note.

You know, and I said to him I've judged many talent shows where many people have tried to do that, and the reality is you can always work out the great singers from the average, because when they go to that moment, most people can't hit it. And Whitney's genius was that she could hit songs and hit notes that very few singers ever could.


LEVY: But it's more than about hitting the notes, of course. It's the feeling you get when she does it. When she hits that note, it's a moment of triumph that we ride along on, and not every singer does it for you.

O'BRIEN: We should mention some of the folks who have now come into the church. We know that Cece Winans is now in the Church and Governor Chris Christie has arrived at church as well.

Now Jason Carroll can update us on what exactly we can expect when the service gets under way. It's supposed to start right at the top of the hour but as Pastor Soaries told us, that's a "or so."

Jason, what do you know about the order of the service today?

JASON CARROLL, CNN REPORTER: Well, I can tell you, I heard you guys talking about the long list of people that we can expect and that it could go on for hours. Well, when you hear this list, you can certainly understand why. You've already heard the vocal talents of the New Hope mass choir and the New Jersey mass choir.

Gospel music very near and dear to Whitney Houston's heart and her family's heart, so expect to hear a lot of that. I want to give you the rundown of what we know in terms of who is expected to be here today.

We do know that that Pastor Joe Carter will be delivering the scripture. When I spoke to him earlier this week, Soledad and Piers, he basically told me, I know there's going to be a lot of tears out here today, but this will also be a moment to celebrate the musical talents of Whitney Houston.

Also Donnie McClurkin will be singing "Stand." Next we will hear -- we're expected to hear remarks from Tyler Perry, the filmmaker who was so very close to Whitney Houston and her family. Also a solo from Bebe Winans, expected to hear the rendition of "Home."

Then following that will be remarks from Bishop T.D. Jakes, and then following that, Kim Burrell, a name known to many in the gospel community. She knew Whitney Houston for 13 years. The song she will be singing, "I Believe in You and Me." This was a song Whitney Houston apparently loved very much. It was a song chosen especially by her family.

Following that, we will be hearing remarks from Kevin Costner. That is a name many know very well. Of course, Aretha Franklin was scheduled next in the program, but we now are hearing that she has dropped due to being sick.

Next we are expected to hear from Clive Davis, someone who knew Whitney Houston very well, a mentor to her for many, many years. And then a solo from Stevie Wonder --- he's expected to be singing "A Ribbon in the Sky."

We next will hear from Rickey Minor, a band leader, remarks from him; and then Alicia Keys will lend her vocal talents, and then that will be followed by R. Kelly, and then following that, the family is scheduled to speak, following up with Dionne Warwick. Back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jason Carroll for us, updating us on what we can expect today as the funeral gets under way.

Today, though, will be a combination -- and it's a little bit of a challenge, I would imagine, to both, you know, hold a funeral and a celebration, as we cover what is Whitney Houston's funeral, but also really focus on the things -- the amazing things that she was able to accomplish with her life.

You mentioned the where people -- they want donations, instead of flowers, donations sent to Whitney Houston's school, the school that was named in her honor, a school that she actually visited often, even well after she became a celebrity.

SOARIES: Right. For our churches, it is a synonymous reality to have a funeral and a celebration. It's just synonymous. The assumption we make is that life is like a hotel, you check in, but you check out, that everyone is leaving here.

And how you live determines how you leave. And if you have a relationship with God, then this is a celebration, because you've checked out of the hotel and now you're going back home.

MORGAN: Let's take another break here. We're going to be coming back with more coverage of WHITNEY HOUSTON: HER LIFE, HER MUSIC, and, very shortly, her funeral.