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CNN Live Event/Special

Whitney Houston: Her Life, Her Music

Aired February 18, 2012 - 13:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're going to ask Bishop T.D. Jakes to come and have words of expression for us at this point in time.

BISHOP T.D. JAKES, SR. PASTOR, POTTER'S HOUSE: Can the church say amen?


JAKES: Can we say amen again?


JAKES: I want to convey and take just a moment. I realize the dichotomy that the family faces at this time, surrounded by a world full of friends and admirers who are enthralled by the beautiful Whitney Houston. Her voice, her song, her poise, her class, but that is not what brings you here, because you knew who she was. Not just what she did. You paid a tremendous price in life. You shared her with the world. And we want to take a moment and say thank you.


JAKES: In moments like this, it feels -- it feels like death is wrong. But the bible says that love is stronger than death. Your hearts are heavy, tears flow down. Your spirits are wounded. I feel that too. I didn't have the privilege of knowing Whitney as long as many of you have done. I met her on the set of the remake of "Sparkle." but I understand what it is to be in pain. You look around and everybody you love and everybody you can count on and everybody you can trust seems to be slipping through your fingers. And it feels as though death is wrong. The first family, when Cain killed able, it seemed like death had won. Noah escaped the flood. Still he died. It looked like death had won.

Isaiah was an eagle-eye prophet, he could see thousands of miles and years away. Still he died. It looked like death had won. Habaka had come as a prophet to Israel, spoke truth so powerful and so profound, but no matter how close he was to God, still he died. It looked like death had won. We've seen scientists and astronauts and politicians and great thinkers of the ages and no matter how profound and prolific or bright they were, still they died. It looked like death had won. But the bible kept saying that love is stronger than death. And like two gladiators in a fight. Every time they enter into the ring it looks like death has won. I know to some of you today it looks like death has won. But I rose to tell you that 2,000 years ago.


JAKES: Love rolled into the ring and said wait a minute, death. You've been bullying people for a long time. But I want to set the record straight. Love is greater than death. Rolled up his sleeves and they fought all over Jerusalem and wrestled all through the cross and the fight went down to the grave and death said, see, I did to you just like I did all the rest of them. Death started having a party on Friday night. It was one of those weekend parties. Lasted all the way through Friday night and all Saturday, looked like death had won. But early Sunday morning, love rolled up his sleeves and said wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Snatched great death and took the sting out of death and the victory out the grave. And I want you to understand I'm not going to preach, I'm not going to start, but I feel it. I want you to understand in a very practical and pragmatic way that death has not won.

Your tears may flow. Your pain may come. The flowers will wither. The cards will all be filed away. The phone will stop ringing. Mama said, they're going to stop ringing after a while. Cakes and pies all stop coming. Don't you dare think that death has won. You will learn what all of us know who have lost people that we love. You'll be driving down the street one day and you'll hear Whitney's voice talking in your head. Something she said or something she did will pop up in your spirit and you'll giggle inside of yourself as if she were sitting in the car with you. And you will find that people that you really love, they may leave you outwardly, but they never leave you inwardly. May the love of God, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the sweet communion of knowing that you are a child of the king keep you through this period in life when it might appear as if death has won, but it's alive. Love will last forever, for God is love.




I'm going to ask Reverend Kim Burrell to come forward and do a song that was Whitney's favorite song and she loved listening to Kim sing it.

REV. KIM BURRELL, GOSPEL SINGER, PASTOR: Imaginative, beautiful, brilliant, smart, funny, all those things have come to my mind all week long about her. And she was special and she had a loving heart. I am thankful today because she was not selfish. As popular and powerful as she was, she was so brilliantly liberal with who she was with others. She too saw great in me and contributed to that. I want to thank Pat and Miss Cissy Houston for embracing me and allowing me to sing that song, "I believe in you and me" to her. And I was going to try and do it today, but there's a little song I want to do that I personalized for her if that's OK. OK.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A change has come. I ask Mr. Kevin Costner to come and say some words regarding Whitney.


KEVIN COSTNER, ACTOR & DIRECTOR: This feels right. I'd like to thank Cissy and Dionne for the honor of being here and for everybody in the church treating my wife and I so gracefully. I'm going to say some stories, maybe some of them you know, maybe some of them you don't. I wrote them down because I didn't want to -- I didn't want to miss anything.

The song "I will always love you" almost wasn't. It wasn't supposed to be in the movie. The first choice was going to be "What becomes of a broken heart" but it had been out the year before in another movie and we felt that it wouldn't have the impact, so we couldn't use it.

So what becomes of our broken hearts? Whitney returns home today to the place where it all began, and I urge us all inside and outside across the nation and around the world to dry our tears, suspend our sorrow and perhaps our anger just long enough, just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney.

Never forgetting that Cissy and Bobbi Kristina are sitting among us. Your mother and I had a lot in common. I know many at this moment are thinking, really? She's a girl, you're a boy. You're white. She's black. We heard you like to sing, but our sister could really sing. So, what am I talking about? Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, they don't have anything in common at all. Well, you'd be wrong about that. We both grew up in the Baptist church.


COSTNER: It wasn't as big as this. My grandmother played the piano and she led the choir. And her two daughters, my mom and my aunt, both sang in it. The rest of my family, uncles, aunts and cousins sat every Sunday out front and watched. My earliest memories are tied to that old church in Paramount. I remember seeing a gold shovel go into the ground, people praying about it and thinking, wow, something big was going to go here. And I watched my father and the rest of the men build it from the ground up. I was probably four-years-old and seemed to be always in the way. I wanted to help. I wanted to be in on the action. One of the men snapped down a red line where the choir would be standing one day and said, have at it. As many nails as you want. All on this line. I always took great comfort in watching my mom and aunt sing, knowing that they would never fall through that floor where I had worked.


COSTNER: The church was the center of our social life and Whitney and I would laugh, knowing it was also the place where you could really get into big trouble, especially when you were allowed to sit with your friends and not your parents in the big church. I remember more than once being pulled from the pew for whispering and passing notes. I don't believe my feet ever hit the floor as my father hauled me outside in front of everyone. I believed even the preacher prayed for me. Whitney's favorite story of mine was me sneaking into the church kitchen after communion. I liked the little glasses of grape juice that were left over. I liked how they felt in my hand. I couldn't have been over six at the time, but I would lean against the table and one by one, I would knock them back.

Having some imaginary conversation with someone. My father was the one who found me again and asked what I was doing. I told him I was a cowboy. And that I was drinking whiskey. I don't think my feet touched the floor that day either.


COSTNER: It was easy for us to laugh. The church was what we knew. It was our private bond. I can see her in my own mind running around here as a skinny little girl, knowing everyone, everyone's business, knowing every inch of this place. I can also see her in trouble too. Trying to use that beautiful smile, trying to talk her way out of it and Cissy not having any of it. Mostly the days at church were good ones for us, and we both remembered how our parents tried to explain God and the plan he had for our lives. And we agreed that there was this feeling, this promise that if somehow we listened carefully, God's voice would somehow come to us. I told Whitney that I always worried God was going to ask me to be a preacher. I wasn't sure how much fun ours had. Whitney told me she wasn't worried at all. And she wasn't waiting for no whisper. She told God that she was going to be like Aretha, like her famous cousin, Dionne, like her beautiful mother, Cissy. There can be little doubt in this room that she has joined their ranks. And as the debate heats up this century, and it surely will, about the greatest singer of the last century, as the lists are drawn, it will have little meaning to me if her name is not on it.


COSTNER: But as sure as I am about Whitney's place in musical history, I'm just as sure she came home from the first time she took center stage here as a teenager, flush with the excitement of knowing that she had exceeded everyone's expectations and awesome promise of what was to come. But still needing to hear from her mother about how she was received. Was she good enough? Could I have done better? Did they really like me? Or were they just being polite because they were scared of you, Cissy?


COSTNER: These are the private questions that Whitney would always have. That would always follow her. At the height of her fame as a singer, I asked her to be my co-star in a movie called "The Bodyguard." I thought she was the perfect choice. But the red flags came out immediately. Maybe I should think this over a bit. I was reminded that this would be her first acting role. We could also think about another singer was a suggestion. Maybe somebody white. Nobody ever said it out loud, but it was a fair question. It was. There would be a lot riding on this. Maybe a more experienced actress was the way to go. It was clear I really had to think about this. I told everyone that I had taken notice that Whitney was black.


COSTNER: The only problem was, I thought she was perfect for what we were trying to do. There was a bit of a relief in the room when we found out that Whitney was going to be on tour and she wouldn't be available for our movie. The anxiety came right back when I said we should postpone and wait a year.


COSTNER: That was a lot for the studio to accept. And to their credit, they did. But not without a screen test. Whitney would have to earn it. That was the first time I saw the doubt. The doubt creep into her that she would not be handed the part. She would have to be great. The day of the test came and I went into her trailer after the hair and makeup people were done. Whitney was scared. Arguably the biggest pop star in the world wasn't sure if she was good enough. She didn't think she looked right. There were a thousand things to her that seemed wrong. I held her hand and told her that she looked beautiful. I told her that I would be with her every step of the way. That everyone there wanted her to succeed. But I could still feel the doubt. I wanted to tell her that the game was rigged. That I didn't care how the test went. That she could fall down and start speaking in tongues.


COSTNER: That somehow I would find a way to explain it as an extraordinary acting choice. And we could expect more to follow. And, gee, weren't we lucky to have her.


COSTNER: But that wouldn't have been fair. It wouldn't have been fair to Lawrence Kasdan who had written the screenplay 15 years earlier. It wouldn't have been fair to my partners at Warner Brothers. And it wasn't the right signal to send to Whitney. She took it all in and asked me if she could have a few minutes by herself and would meet me on the set. I was sure she was praying. After about 20 minutes later, she came out. We hadn't said four lines when we had to stop. The lights were turned off. And I walked Whitney off the set and back to her room. She wanted to know what was wrong. And I needed to know what she had done during those 20 minutes. She said nothing. In only a way that she could. Nothing. So, I turned her around so that she could see herself in the mirror and she gasped. All the makeup on Whitney's face was running. It was streaking down her face and she was devastated.

She didn't feel like the makeup we had put on her was enough, so she had wiped it off and put on the makeup that she was used to wearing in her music videos. It was much thicker and the hot lights had melted it. (LAUGHTER)

COSTNER: She asked if anyone had seen -- if anyone had saw. I said, I didn't think so. It happened so quick. She seemed so small and sad at that moment, and I asked her why she did it. She said I just wanted to look my best. It's a tree we could all hang from. The unexplainable burden that comes with fame. Call it doubt, call it fear. I've had mine, and I know the famous in the room have had theirs. I asked her to trust me and she said she would.

A half hour later she went back in to do her screen test and the studio fell in love with her. The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered, am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?

It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end. Whitney, if you could hear me now, I would tell you, you weren't just good enough, you were great. You sang the whole damn song without a band.

You made the picture what it was. A lot of leading men could have played my part. A lot of guys -- a lot of guys could have filled that role, but you, Whitney, I truly believe that you were the only one that could have played Rachel Narin at that time.

You weren't just pretty. You were as beautiful as a woman could be and people didn't just like you, Whitney, they loved you. I was your pretend bodyguard once not so long ago, and now you're gone, too soon, leaving us with memories.

Memories of a little girl who stepped bravely in front of this church, in front of the ones that loved you first, in front of the ones that loved you best and loved you the longest then boldly you stepped into the white-hot light of the world stage.

And what you did is the rarest of achievements. You set the bar so high that professional singers, your own colleagues, they don't want to sing that little country song, what would be the point.

Now the only one who sings your songs are young girls like you, who are dreaming of being you some day and so to you, Bobby Kristina, and to all those young girls who are dreaming that dream, that may be thinking they aren't good enough.

I think Whitney would tell you guard your bodies, and guard the precious miracle of your own life, and then sing your hearts out, knowing that there's a lady in heaven who is making God himself wonder how he created something so perfect.

So off you go, Whitney, off you go escorted by an army of angels, to your heavenly father. And when you sing before him, don't you worry, you'll be good enough.

WARWICK: We thank you for those wonderful, wonderful stories and words of encouragement to Bobby, Kris and Cissy, which we know you're going to get a lot of those still yet to come. I'd like to ask Alicia Keys if she will come. She's a young lady that Whitney adored. And always said, boy, she's got a lot of talent and she does. Miss Alicia Keys.

ALICIA KEYS, SINGER: She called me keys on the keys, keys on the keys. We came up with this funny nickname for each other. I don't even know where it came from, which is, I guess, how nicknames happen. She called me Mema and I called her Mema. So whenever I text her, I said, Mema.

Just last night when we were getting ready to come on the plane to come back, my son said, Mema, Mema, he kept saying Mema. He didn't know that. I thought that was beautiful and I just felt, you know, really surrounded by her.

And I was just -- I was just thinking about the way that is so obvious that she just crept into everybody's heart. Just thank you and the way that she just was so -- such a beautiful human being really, really caring, beautiful, thoughtful human being.

Call you for no reason at all, but to say hi, you know, and that's rare, I think, sometimes. So I feel like in so many ways, you know, she reached back to so many people. She reached back to me, she reached back to Monica and Brandy and Jordan and all these beautiful young artists, you know, so many artists.

And just, you know, made us feel like, like strong and capable and loved and just like, Mema. So I think she's an angel to us. She's been an angel to us, you know, and just been a beautiful human being, you know. So I think we've been sending angel for a long time.

WARWICK: Alicia, thank you so very, very much. I'd like to ask Clive Davis to come to the podium to speak.

CLIVE DAVIS, MUSIC EXECUTIVE, HOUSTON'S MENTOR: I can't tell you how moved, touched, inspired I am today by feeling the spirit in this great church and feeling the faith. It's helping me with my grief and my heavy heart.

What I do know is about passing. I lost my parents when I was a teenager. My mother was 47 when she passed away and my father passed away the following year, so that I was left an orphan. No money. But I did feel my mother's guidance, spirit to this very day.

And she has helped me through every part of my life. If you'll permit me, I want to talk from my experiences in music with Whitney. You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime. You wait for a face like that, a smile like that, a presence like that for a lifetime.

And when one person embodies it all, well, it takes your breath away. And that's the way I felt in 1983 when in the middle of your act at Sweet Water, Cissy, your daughter stepped forward and shattered me with her version of "The Greatest Love of All." And that night we connected, and we connected with each other every night thereafter.

I thought of that just this past week, when Whitney and I spent Tuesday afternoon in my bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I looked at her on the couch, saw that she had applied a little makeup and was once again taken aback. She was one beautiful woman.

We talked nonstop music, a subject that we both fervently loved. And as we spoke, I couldn't help, but silently reminisce about all that we had shared together over the years. In the past, every hit we shared was pure joy.

Neither of us could believe the incredible worldwide explosion when it happened. When she broke that all-time record of seven consecutive number ones, we just felt utter disbelief. I would ask her, are you pinching yourself? And she would say with wide open eyes, I'm pinching myself.

She never took anything for granted. She was never arrogant. She was always grateful and appreciative. And then, yes then, thanks to you, Kevin, came "The Bodyguard." She knew how much I was worried about her transition to fill.

She had to hold my hand, reassuring me that it would be all right. I said, look, I've got to worry. It's my job to worry. So Whitney, I pleaded with her, let me worry. But you know, she and Kevin were right.

She literally lit up the screen. And when Kevin stood up and agreed with us that the movie had to be changed and opened up to much more music, who can ever forget how she looked when she mesmerized everyone in that stunning headdress with "I Have Nothing."

How she dazzled in her close-ups during "Run To You." How she reinvented "I'm Every Woman" and how she captured the world forever with "I Will Always Love You." And then she followed with those two special films, "Waiting To Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife." Were they ever memorable?

Was there anything she could not do musically? Is there any performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" that remotely compares to her? Will there ever be? And then there came a time in 1998, because of the passing of years, for what they called a comeback album.

As material accumulated, we would meet in my hotel bungalow, frankly, in our pajamas at 1:00 am. She, ordering the hamburger that she loved with French fries from room service and I'll never forget the expression on her face when she first heard "My Love Is Your Love" and "It's Not Right But It's Okay."

She listened to each song carefully, sitting on the carpet. And we played each song over and over. And gradually, to my amazement, she already had learned the lyrics and she started singing. With each playback, she started over.

And it wasn't -- it really wasn't long before she stood before me and totally owned each song, finding meaning, I'm sure, the composers never even suspected was there. And that's the way -- that's the way it was, song, videos, right from the beginning.

Can you picture her on that big theater stage stirring our hearts with "The Greatest Love of All" and then turning to "Run To The Wings" in her mother's outstretched arms? In a flash, you can visualize the vitality of "I Want To Dance With Somebody" and "How Will I Know."

The camera just loved her. Can you ever forget that video of "Heartbreak Hotel" as she approached the water, draped in fur? Memories, vivid, indelible, visual memories. Each of you has them as part of your lives. I have them scorching my brain right now.

With every album we toured together, at least two continents, previewing her new album with pride, playing each cut to house and that includes the last "I Look To You." We first went to London. K usually would do the talking and DJ and she would come out at the end to acknowledge everyone.

But with this album, a definite difference emerged. She wanted to acknowledge. She wanted to speak and did she speak out. Was she ever articulate? She did this with such assurance. You know, Whitney was no longer the shy one.

She was no longer introverted. She was there, among music. She was returning to music, and that was her passion. The Lord and her religion, obviously, was her life-guiding force. Music, as well, was her passion.

Whitney lived music. Whitney loved music. This was her world. She was so glad we were back. And that's why I'm talking about the professional Whitney today, without knowing of her love of music, her passion and her absolutely natural genius in interpreting songs, you certainly don't know all of Whitney Houston.

Personally, all I can say is that I loved her very much. Whitney was purely and simply one of a kind. Yes, she admitted to crises in her life. Yes, she confessed to Oprah about her serum battles.

But when I needed her, she was there. She was there for me an eternally -- eternally loyal friend, whatever the cause or event, she was there, dominating the stage, stunning the audience and creating still another lifetime memory.

I believe in you and me, she sang looking me straight in the eye, showing she knew we had always been in it together. Yes, I was her industry father and I was and am so proud of it. And Bobbi Kristina, you too always, always be proud of your mother.

She loved you so very much. She defined not only pure talent, but true heart and soul as well. She'll forever be looking after you and will never let go of your hand. So, as I said earlier, last week -- last week, Whitney came by my hotel, that hotel bungalow alone.

No bodyguards, no security, just Whitney and me, and she played her new cuts from "Sparkle." And I played some new music that I would like for her. It was like old times and she looked at me and quietly said, I want you to know I'm getting in shape.

I'm swimming an hour or two a day. And I'm committed to get my high notes back, no cigarettes, plenty of vocal exercising. Clive, I'll be ready by August. Well, Whitney, I'm going to hold you to it. Everyone in heaven, including God, is waiting. And I just know you're going to raze the roof like no one else has done before.

WARWICK: We thank you, Clive, for those wonderful, wonderful memories that you have of Whitney.