Thanks, Whitney, for bringing ‘the world to church’

February 20, 2012

The program from the singing legend's Saturday funeral.

The program from the singing legend's Saturday funeral.

For the past couple days, I’ve been listening nonstop to one of the soundtracks of my childhood: straight-up, good old-fashioned African-American gospel music. And for that, I can thank Sister Whitney Houston, whose Newark, N.J., funeral at the New Hope Baptist Church was broadcast live around the world on Saturday, giving fans like me who never knew her a chance to say farewell in the way that we black folks do. In a “homegoing service,” one that focuses on the heavenly destination of the person being celebrated.

So sitting here on the other side of the world, in a quiet French village far, far away from the urban center that is Newark, I watched Whitney’s funeral on and “had church” right here, all by myself. Such is the power of modern Internet technology—and the far more enduring power of gospel music and the Christian source from which it flows.

Forgoing a huge public spectacle, Grammy Award winner Cissy Houston instead took her internationally famous daughter back home to New Hope, where young “Nippy” got her start singing in the junior choir. (How many of us went to churches with such choirs back in the day? But almost none of us had a future Whitney up there singing solo!) Cissy herself still directs the church’s Youth Inspirational Choir, has been an active leader in New Hope’s music ministry for decades … and in her wisdom allowed a single video camera to record and share the hours-long homegoing service through live video. What a tribute to Whitney, whose soulful gospel singing was downright angelic.

Pastor Marvin Winans (center), surrounded by several musical members of the Winans family, shared their hit "Tomorrow" with the worldwide funeral audience.

Pastor Marvin Winans (center), surrounded by several musical members of the Winans family, shared their hit "Tomorrow" with the worldwide funeral audience.

Pastor Marvin Winans—who officiated the service and delivered the eulogy—thanked Cissy for holding the service at New Hope. As he said, “That took a lot of courage. And because of that, you brought the world to church today.” What a blessing for folks like me—and millions of fans in every corner of the globe that got a front-row seat to an authentic, real-as-it-gets African-American worship service and gospel music celebration. (How many of you noticed the church nurses in their crisp white uniforms, doing what they do at black churches Sunday in and Sunday out? And did you see the one handing tissues to a teary Alicia Keys at the piano? It felt almost surreal.)

For me—the granddaughter of a black Baptist pastor and the daughter of an amazingly talented gospel organist and pianist—Saturday’s service took me straight back to my childhood church roots. In Chicago, I grew up with a dad who as a “P.K.,” or “preacher’s kid,” started playing piano at church while a pre-teen. For some reason, it seems that if you show any musical inclinations and talent and your father is a black pastor, becoming a musician at the same church is like a rite of passage. My dad Farnell played for the Sunday School at the Greater Salem Baptist Church when he was 12, then moved up to playing for morning worship by the time he was 14. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, my sister and I constantly were treated to my dad’s gospel writing and playing, as he was the Minister of Music at the Oakdale Covenant Church for nearly 30 years. During that time, he recorded two albums with Oakdale’s choirs and one with a couple of like-minded gospel musician friends.

When my sister and I were kids, we’d sometimes accompany Farnell to choir rehearsals, where he would good-naturedly bark at the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, imploring them to E-NUN-CI-ATE when they sang, knowing the power of gospel isn’t in its toe-tapping, sway-inducing sounds, but in the words.

Transported back home and back in time while watching the funeral on my laptop, I dabbed at my teary eyes. Donnie McClurkin’s incredibly powerful rendition of “Stand” did it, a song that has always touched me every time I’ve heard it sung at a church. And just as black church ministers will do, letting the “Spirit have its way” during the service, Pastor Winans called his musical family members to the pulpit to deliver an impromptu but right-on-time version of their hit “Tomorrow,” complete with an encouraging “Sing y’all,” from some listener.

The award-winning Rev. Donnie McClurkin delivered a powerful version of "Stand" during Saturday's funeral ... and what a message to Whitney's family and friends.

The award-winning Rev. Donnie McClurkin delivered a powerful version of "Stand" during Saturday's funeral ... and what a message to Whitney's family and friends.

But thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I wasn’t watching the funeral alone. Although many of you know I’m not always a big fan of either, I was all over both of them during the service, sharing comments, posting “Amen” to others.

All weekend and even today, I’ve been on YouTube, searching for my gospel favorites like it’s Old Home Week. Songs like Tramaine Hawkins’ “The Potter’s House.” Walter Hawkins and the Love Alive Choir’s “Come by Here,” “Be Grateful,” and “Thank You (Lord for All You’ve Done for Me).” And who remembers the Hawkins Family’s “What Is This?” I felt like I was a kid, again listening to my dad’s former Senior Choir back at Oakdale.

Yolanda Adams "had church" at Saturday night's 43rd NAACP Image Awards while singing "I Love the Lord," a song Whitney Houston performed during "The Preacher's Wife."

Yolanda Adams "had church" at Saturday night's 43rd NAACP Image Awards while singing "I Love the Lord," a song Whitney Houston performed during "The Preacher's Wife."

If Saturday’s funeral wasn’t enough, Yolanda Adams tore it up at that evening’s 43rd NAACP Image Awards with a choir-backed tribute to Whitney. Adams SANG “I Love the Lord,” a classic Houston made her own (along with the Georgia Mass Choir) for the soundtrack of “The Preacher’s Wife.” And did Yolanda preach that song?? Famous folks in the audience were teary-eyed and nearly testifying when the camera panned the crowd.

That’s what I love about gospel music: whether you’re filthy rich or lacking that proverbial pot, it’s a great equalizer. Those who allow the music and the Spirit’s message to touch their hearts find themselves responding, regardless of age, social class or race. And you don’t have to be a Christian to feel it, either.

We didn’t want to see Whitney go. But perhaps in death, sharing the soul-stirring gospel music she loved with the world was her greatest gift of all.

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33 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Rah  |  February 20, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Yes, it was great to watch. I too have relocated to the South of France.. I watched it on the BET channel here.
    Very heartwarming..

  • 2. Janice Temple  |  February 20, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Hi Maureen,

    I didn’t realized that you are from Chicago. I so connected with you describing your home roots in church. I understand you having church all by yourself.

    Check out my blog post tribute to Whitney Houston. I tweeted Whitney’s Homegoing Celebration. My tweets were retweed as far away as Christchurch< New Zealand and Singapore.

  • 3. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Bonjour, Rah — wasn’t it a wonderful CONNECTING thing for us to be able to “celebrate” Whitney’s homegoing from all the way over here in France? Who would have thought?!


  • 4. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Janice, thanks for writing — and for sharing your blog post about Whitney’s Homegoing. And how COOL that you helped share YOUR experience with folks literally on the other side of the world? LOVE technology when it brings us together like this!!


  • 5. Lori  |  February 20, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Maureen, thank you for your post. The passing of Whitney has impacted many lives around the world in so many ways. I have been to church twice in the last two weeks, taken a closer look at the direction of my life, and made an effort to connect with the family and friends that I have neglected… I have Whitney to thank for all of this–may she rest in peace.

    Peace and many blessings in your travels.

  • 6. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 11:27 am

    MERCI BEAUCOUP, Lori, for reading the post!! Yes, many of us casual Whitney fans have found ourselves impacted far beyond what we would have thought. If there’s anything positive to take away from such a tragic and sad event, it’s that Whitney’s passing is causing many folks to take another look at their lives and make changes … while there’s still time.


  • 7. Gwen  |  February 20, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Yes, it was a wonderful homegoing service to a great, great, great artist the loved the Lord.

    I dont know if you guys saw the entire service, but Tyler ….
    who knew he could preach. Everybody here in the states is
    talking about Tyler and his heartfelt words about Whitney.

    Let’s pray for her daughter as she faces her challenges.

    Maureen, we need an update from you on how your getting along in your new home.

  • 8. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Bonjour, Gwen –
    And YES, I saw the service from beginning to end and was MOST impressed with Rev. Tyler Perry. LOL!! Talk about a EULOGY — he’s the one who said what needed to be said best in about two minutes flat.

    Yes, we’ll certainly keep Bobbi Kristina and the whole family in our prayers and thoughts … it’s not going to be an easy time, especially with the whole world watching.

    And I’ll do a post before long on the latest here in France, but I’m getting along WONDERFULLY!! I’ll be sure to share details — and photos — SOON!!


  • 9. Monetta  |  February 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Hallelujah and Amen! This post beautifully sums up my thoughts, feelings, and the emotions felt while watching Whitney Houston’s services on television while at home — and then online when I had to go to work for part of the afternoon.

    Whitney’s homegoing service took lots of folk to church for the first time; and took many of us back to the church where we grew up. I know I was reminded of the wonderful blessing received by being raised in the black Baptist church and immediately re-connected to that great tradition.

    Like you, Reenie, I spent part of yesterday on YouTube listening to my gospel favorites — including Kurt Carr’s “We Lift Our Hands in the Sanctuary,” Rev. Donnie McClurkin’s “I Call You Faithful,” and Smokie Norful’s “God is Able,” and “I Understand” just to name a few. I guess I wanted to continue being ministered to and be reminded that God is still God, even in the midst of difficult times. And like Rev. Donnie McClurkin said while performing “Stand” at the services on Saturday, ” …God does all things well.”

    Whitney’s passing is such a loss to her family, friends, and fans. Many of us knew we grew up to Whitney’s music; but the lesson learned is that we were impacted by her life and her death in ways we never would have expected.

    God’s peace and comfort be with us all — And especially with those who called her daughter, mom, and friend.

  • 10. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Bonjour, Monetta! (True disclosure: Monetta is the sister with whom I used to go to our dad’s choir rehearsals!)

    SO glad you related to this post. You’re so right — Whitney’s untimely passing affected most of us in ways we truly didn’t expect. Every single person I’ve talked to about Whitney the past few days — regardless of age, race, national origin, or country — has said they’ve either watched her funeral, listened nonstop to her music, watched “The Bodyguard,” etc. I just hope Whitney knew how much her talent meant to the entire world. May she finally rest in peace — and may God grant peace to her family and friends who knew and loved her best.

    And thanks for the reminder about “We Lift Our Hands in the Sanctuary!” I’m listening to it now:


  • 11. Kelly E. Carter  |  February 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm


    What a wonderfully written tribute post on an equally wonderful tribute to Whitney. It was heartwarming to see her back in the church, if only in spirit. I spoke to a Jewish friend yesterday who told me how much she enjoyed the music! So, as you rightly pointed out, it wasn’t just “us” who grew up enjoying gospel songs who very much appreciated the homegoing service.
    I tuned in just as Rev. Tyler Perry was wrapping up so I have to find his words on YouTube.
    And I’m like Gwen, post something about YOUR life. Although I’ll get to see first hand when I visit you in a couple of months. Yay!

  • 12. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    MERCI BEAUCOUP, Kelly!! And YES — here’s what the Right Rev. Tyler Perry had to say about Whitney. That brother PREACHED during his four minutes in the pulpit. Powerful words:

    OK, ladies, I promise I’ll write something about my lovely new life in France … and I’m SO, so glad you’ll be here to visit soon!! YAY, indeed!!


  • 13. Andree Pages  |  February 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    A great post on a very sad occasion. After reading it, I went to catch Yolanda Adams on YouTube. Wow. Amazing.

    I like the swinging gospel of Take Six:

    Thanks, UrbanTravelGirl. I think we’ll all be dipping into YouTube in the days ahead.

  • 14. urbantravelgirl  |  February 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    MERCI for reading, Andrée! Wasn’t Yolanda Adams incredible? Such power and conviction in her singing.

    And thanks for reminding me about Take 6 — how did I forget about THEM?? You’re so right — we’re all going to be all over YouTube for awhile, calling up old favorites and listening to new ones others suggest!


  • 15. Homepage&hellip  |  February 20, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    … [Trackback] …

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  • 16. Kelly E. Carter  |  February 20, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    And thank you Maureen for including all of the great back links to YouTube. I’m walking around my house with my iPad having church by clicking on the links, remembering my days at Fellowship Baptist Church in Dallas, where my ex-brother Sammie Davis is the pastor. (I lived there for one year in h.s. and was NOT allowed to miss church!) Boy could that choir sang! (Yeah, I typed “sang”!!) I started my gospel evening with Rev. Perry. Who knew he had that in him?

  • 17. Felicia Shelton  |  February 21, 2012 at 2:50 am

    Thank you, Maureen.

    You’ve made me feel how blessed I am to have a home church, a home church that speaks the truth, that is “old school” and just full to the brim with people that I admire and respect because they and I love the Lord.

  • 18. urbantravelgirl  |  February 21, 2012 at 6:06 am

    Ms. Kelly, so glad you’ve been enjoying the old-school songs from YouTube! (Writing this post gave me an excuse to play them yet again.) Isn’t it wonderful that so many of us have these childhood and youth memories of growing up in church? Even when we don’t go every week as adults, that NEVER leaves us and sustains us, no matter where we are in the world.

    I’m STILL in awe of Tyler Perry and that four-minute eulogy. WOW.


  • 19. urbantravelgirl  |  February 21, 2012 at 6:09 am

    SALUT, Felicia — great to hear from you, World Traveler!! Yes, you ARE blessed to have that old-school church in your life. When I lived in Chicago, I went to a mixed-ethnicity Episcopal church … but every now and then, you need to head to the South Side and take in some straight-up gospel music. Watching Whitney’s funeral from here in France made me realize how much the black church shaped me and my outlook on life … and how I really do miss much of that cultural tradition when I’m away from it!


  • 20. Linda Jenkins  |  February 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Hey Mo, thanks for your post. I watched Whitney’s “Home Going Celebration” on BET’s re-broadcast. I loved the fact that it was streaming live worldwide via the internet and through honoring Whitney’s life & legacy, that Jesus Christ received all the honor and all of the praise!

  • 21. urbantravelgirl  |  February 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    BONJOUR, Ms. Linda — and AMEN TO THAT!!! I love that the global broadcast and live Internet coverage — not to mention re-broadcasts like the one you watched on BET — took the church to folks who likely haven’t set foot in one for YEARS. As Monetta reminded us that Rev. Donnie McClurkin said during Whitney’s service, “God does all things well.”

    Thanks for reading and responding!!

    Maureen (“Reenie”)

  • 22. Kiesha  |  February 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    My sentiments EXACTLY!! You summed up what I think many of us experienced-Sunday morning service. Not only did Whitney’s homegoing service remind me of those many Sundays growing up as a child but it also reminded me what I must do as a Christian and that is to be about my Heavenly Father’s business of telling the world about A MAN who stood trial for the commission of the world’s sin and not only stood trial but died for US and ROSE again. Whitney indeed took us all to church and it is my hope some lost soul was saved that very hour:-)

  • 23. urbantravelgirl  |  February 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Yes, Kiesha, let’s hope!! So glad that you — and so many others who’ve left comments — felt the way I did watching Saturday’s funeral. It’s awful that it took such a sad occasion and huge loss to wake us up and make us pay attention to the important things in life.


  • 24. Nancy  |  February 22, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Maureen, thank you for this post — v. thoughtful. Love the shout-out to your Dad, he sure deserves it! He and your Mom are two of my heroes :) Thanks to you and everyone for posting these links, too.

  • 25. LACANDA WILLIS aka (James)  |  February 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Hey Reenie!
    Your article was AMAZING!! Girl, you took me back to our days at Mt. Calvary when we were ushers!!!
    Can you see us attending service, going to the corner store for candy and a few ROUNDS of Ms. Pac-man, then topping it off with fries and sauce with a mixed icee (in that order)….okay I’ve gotten carried away….TMI!!
    OMG our blessings and experiences really connected me to your article. I can’t wait to see you………….come home soon.
    My students and I would love to have you as a guest in our Radio and TV Dept.

  • 26. urbantravelgirl  |  February 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    HEY, LaCanda!!!! You can probably hear me chuckling all the way over here in France … SO glad the Whitney blog post TOOK YOU BACK to our “junior ursher” (yes, I said “URSHER”) days!!!

    I certainly remember the candy store, Ms. Pac-Man, fries at Steak King and whatever we used to get at Lucille’s Grill! Those were the carefree days of youth, weren’t they??

    I’m planning to be in Chicago in April — and Mo will be there, too — so let’s try to get the Go-Gos together, even if briefly. And when I’m in town, I’d love to come be a guest at your school. Let’s figure out when!!

    Love ya,
    Reenie/Maureen :-)

  • 27. MsWilliamsWorld  |  February 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Maureen, you really took us to your days growing up in the church–I can totally tell you were feeling all of those early memories while you watched Whitney Houston’s homegoing! And I see you are also a big Walter Hawkins fan! Yes!! :-)

  • 28. urbantravelgirl  |  February 23, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Bonsoir, LaShawn —
    Oh, yeah … I’m still in my “church mode,” all these days later. And I didn’t even realize until I went to YouTube to hear my old faves that almost all from Walter or Tramaine Hawkins or the Hawkins Singers. Guess they were BUSY back in the day, weren’t they?


  • 29. Zack  |  February 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    This is wonderful, Sis. Maureen!!!

    I definitely enjoyed the service, despite the tragic circumstances under which it occurred. The only thing I wanted to go differently was Kim Burrell’s selection.

    A more fitting song would have been the Hawkins Family hit “Changed” instead of “A Change Is Gonna Come”. I hope Sis. Kim wasn’t watching the end of Malcolm X the night before and said “Oooh, that’s a good song to sing.”

    That’s Whitney’s testimony: “He changed my life complete/ And now I sit at his feet/ To do what must be done/ I’ll work and work/ until he comes

    A wonderful change…has come over me.”

    Until we meet her again, may she rest in the arms of the Lord. :)

  • 30. urbantravelgirl  |  February 24, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Bro. Zack! :-)

    I actually enjoyed Kim Burrell’s altered version of the Sam Cooke classic, but thought perhaps springing a different song on the family (they’d asked her to sing Whitney’s “I Believe in You and Me,” right?) at the last minute wasn’t the best idea. But I assume they know her well enough not to be shocked at such a thing.

    And YES — until we meet Sis. Whitney on the other side, it’s wonderful knowing she’s truly at peace now.

    Take care,

  • 31. Joeann mc  |  February 25, 2012 at 12:01 am

    This was a great article on Whiney.
    I watched the service also and Sissy made me proud.

    Now the world know our secret to living thur salvery.

    Sissy made it thru the hardest days of her life, the news medial did not spare her, they would not give her space for a moment, so she made the world stop for four hours and listen to the songs of Zion and we all were healed.
    Thanks Renee for remembering the greatest Voice that this world has ever heard.
    Enjoy France

  • 32. urbantravelgirl  |  February 25, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Well, BONJOUR, JoeAnn — and thanks so much for visiting my blog. What a wonderful surprise to see your comment!!

    Yes, didn’t Cissy do us all proud? And what a HEALING service for ALL of us. I had dinner last night with a non-religious neighbor of mine here in France, someone originally from New Zealand … and he told me that he watched EVERY minute of Whitney’s homegoing celebration and that it touched him tremendously. Afterward, he went out and specifically bought two Aretha Franklin CDs in order to keep that feeling alive … and he’s still thinking about it nearly one week later.

    We may not know for weeks, months or years the impact that viewing this funeral will have on people around the world … but it CERTAINLY was a testimony, wasn’t it?

    Talk to you soon,

  • 33. Jonelle Stice  |  March 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Great article! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website. Keep up the good writing.

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