>> Monday, February 20, 2012
They're two of the biggest stars in the world, but Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey made a conscious effort to blend into the congregation at Whitney Houston's 'going home' service.
Today was, after all, about one diva, and only diva only... and it was paramount that Whitney Elizabeth 'Nippy' Houston took centre-stage for the last time.
So mindful of their superstar statuses and the chaos that follows in their wake, Winfrey and Carey undertook every conceivable measure to retain a low-profile.
The talk show behemoth kept her head down as she entered the church in head-to-toe black, and Carey, a friend of the late star, went for an uncharacteristically muted look.
With her hair scraped back into a unfussy ponytail, ebony clothing covering every inch of her body and a pair of similarly blacked out glasses to hide her puffy eyes, the mother-of-two was virtually unrecognisable as she leaned on X Factor judge L.A Reid.
He was described as Whitney's "industry uncle," by Pat Houston, after she thanked Clive Davis for being a consistent father figure in the music business.
This unobtrusive tone was maintained throughout today's refreshingly uplifting and intimate proceedings.
Houston's A-list friends managed to honour their peer while not impinging on what was essentially a community church service, a way of returning Whitney back to her Baptist upbringing.
The celebrities who did speak or sing were those who had a link to this world.
Another Clive Davis protegee, Alicia Keys, sang "Send Me an Angel" after a few remarks about Whitney.
"We called each other Meema," Alicia recalled. "She was such a beautiful human being. Call you for no reason at all but just to say hi. And that's rare I think sometimes."
While Kevin Costner opened his 'expressions' about his old friend by explaining that the church was his 'secret bond' with Whitney.
With fondness Costner, 57, who raised a baptist in California, recalled how the pair would share stories of admonishments from parents for giggling in the pew, or in his case, drinking too much grape juice while pretending to be a cowboy in a bar.
He used his actorly rhetoric to immediately bring Whitney back into the room, as a young girl with high hopes, a strong voice and a highly- developed sense of mischief.
Costner said: '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,' he added.
Another luminary, who must dearly recall those days, is Whitney's cousin, the legendary Dionne Warwick, who took the helm for the entire service.
Stoically keeping her composure through, she introduced each speaker and singer.
Later, she read a poem to her cousin, who was 23 years her junior.
She also introduced the legendary Stevie Wonder, who sang an altered version of his song "Ribbon in the Sky."
He sang: "You will always be our ribbon in the sky. And angel from God's choir of love. Whitney an angel from the choir. From God's choir of love."
Stevie then performed "Love's in Need of Love Today," accompanied by the choir.
R. Kelly also performed, and was visibly distraught as he tried to get his late friend's "I Look to You" out without breaking down -- they recorded tracks together for her last album.
Cece Winans, Whitney's close friend, gave a stirring performance of "Don't Cry For Me"
The Grammy-award winning singer sang a duet with Whitney on the track "Count on Me" for the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack.
She then sang "Yes Jesus Loves Me" which was the final song that Whitney sang two days before her death.
Below are photos of Mariah having dinner at Cipriani in downtown Manhattan on February 18, 2012 :