It will be a solemn occasion this Saturday, when close friends and family gather at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey for the late Whitney Houston's funeral.
At the request of her mother Cissy Houston, the Grammy winning singer — who developed her extraordinary vocal talents at the church — will be eulogized by gospel singer Marvin Winans. The brother of gospel star CeCe Winans (who dueted with Houston, 48 when she died, on the song "Count on Me"), Marvin officiated at the 1992 wedding of Houston and Bobby Brown at Houston's $11 million estate in Mendham, NJ.
"She was able to leave us with so many wonderful memories of that God-given gift," Pastor Joe Carter, who is leading the private, invitation-only service, told CNN. "That's what we are celebrating on Saturday."
New Hope Baptist Church seats 1,500 people. Carter said he expects "all these empty pews to be filled with people whose hearts are broken." A public service planned at a local stadium in Houston's honor has been cancelled at her family's request.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says flags will fly at half-staff at government buildings all day Saturday.
Houston was found lifeless, partially submerged in a bathtub, in her room at the Beverly Hilton last Saturday. She was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. An investigation into her death is ongoing, though sources told TMZ the singer (who was frank about her struggles with substance abuse in the past) likely died from a lethal combination of prescription pills and alcohol.
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