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Loyal Whitney Houston fans pay tribute to fallen star

by
File photo of Whitney Houston at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party in Beverly Hills, California
File photo of Whitney Houston at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party in Beverly Hills, California

By Gianna Palmer

NEWARK (Reuters) - Whitney Houston fans crowded into barricaded streets around the New Hope Baptist Church on Saturday to get a glimpse of the family, friends and music greats attending the funeral of the singer who died tragically a week ago.

Police locked down a two-block radius in every direction around the red-brick church decorated with dozens of brightly colored balloons and flowers for the invitation-only service.

Fans had been urged to watch the service live on television but Tiffanie Bobbsemple and a few dozen others were determined to bid farewell to the pop star whose extraordinary voice and hits such as "Saving All my Love for You" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" had touched their lives.

"I came here to show my love and support to her family," said Bobbsemple, who traveled from Trenton, New Jersey with two friends.

Although she knew she couldn't get into the church where 1,500 people had been invited to attend the service, Bobbsemple thought fans should have been allowed closer to the church where Houston sang in the gospel and soul choir.

"Other than God we made her as big as she is," she said.

Alexsandra Lorenzo, a 16-year-old from Newark who was with her mother, was also disappointed to be kept so far away.

"They are treating us like animals. They are acting like we are threats. We are just fans trying to take part in what is going on today."

Singers Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder were due to sing during the three-hour service. Actor Kevin Costner, her co-star in the 1992 film "The Bodyguard" which produced her biggest hit single "I Will Always Love You," will pay a special tribute, as will her music mentor Clive Davis and singer Dionne Warwick.

Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Beyonce, rapper Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby were also expected at the service.

Sara Williams, a retired nurse and a member of the New Hope Baptist Church, said she had received an email saying the funeral was by invitation only.

"I think people are scared to come," she said.

Greta Foxworth, who traveled from southern New Jersey with her nine-year-old grandson, caught a glimpse of Houston's body arriving at the church.

"We saw the hearse go by. It was amazing," she said.

Houston, who shot to stardom in the 1980s, grew up in nearby East Orange and retained her ties to the church and the community.

The 48-year-old pop star was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel last Saturday. The cause of her death was unknown and may not be revealed for weeks pending the results of toxicology tests. Police said prescription drugs had been found in the hotel room of the star who had a history of alcohol and drug addiction.

Houston, who has an 18-year old daughter Bobbi Christina, had been married to singer Bobbi Brown for 15 years. They were divorced in 2007.

(Writing by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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