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New Jersey Native Whitney Houston Remembered Across the State

Singer praised for her soaring voice and her role as a model for black women, despite her later problems with drug abuse.

Singing superstar Whitney Houston—a New Jersey native born in Newark, educated in Caldwell, and a one-time resident of East Orange and Mendham Township—was mourned Sunday across the state in ceremonies both large and small.

At the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where Houston began her public singing career at age 11 as a member of the junior gospel choir, a medley of Houston's hit songs played over the public address system as the congregation arrived for a 6:30 a.m. service dedicated to the singer.

Several in the crowd said they were also there to pay their respects to Houston's mother, gospel singer Cissy, a long-time active member of the church.

Far to the west of Newark in Mendham Township, mourners placed flowers outside the entrance to Houston's home, where she lived for two decades with members of her family.

Many local residents remembered casual encounters with the music superstar.

Shopping at a Whole Foods store in West Orange, East Orange resident Sharonda Allen talked of the time her choir sang for the video of Houston's song, "All the Man That I Need."

“I felt as if a relative had passed,” Allen said, about her reaction to Houston's death. “Her music has been so much of the soundtrack of my life... She was my role model, my idol, my hero.”

She called Houston “the real American Idol,” particularly for the influence she had on young black girls of her generation. “We looked at ourselves in the mirror and we saw that we were beautiful.”

In Mendham, members of the local police department recalled her wedding to fellow singer Bobby Brown.

"We lit up the end of her drive way for guests being dropped off and picked up by limo," Bruce Schmeal said in a comment on Patch. "I remember (actor and comedian) Kenan Ivory Wayans was really cool, he took pictures with us and was just real nice."

Melissa Phelan said in a comment that her father had been a member of the township committee that had issued permits for the extravagant wedding. "Whitney and Bobby were very kind to include them on their guest list," she said. "My parents went to the wedding along with other members of the BFD and Police Department... It truly is such a sad day! Another pop icon of my time is gone, RIP Whitney!"

Some members of New Hope Baptist Church had a more personal connection with the singer.

"I heard her sing in this church, many times. It was awesome," said longtime parishioner Karen Winfield of West Orange, who referred to the singer's "impetuous smile."

Parishioner Daneen Grayson said Houston's battle against drug abuse "were her struggles, that was between her and God," a sentiment heard often this morning by worshipers filing past a gaggle of reporters into the church.

"We ask for everyone to continue to lift up the Houston family with your prayers," Pastor Joseph Carter told reporters outside the church Sunday morning. "The family shared Whitney with the world but Whitney was a mother, daughter, sister, and that is the focus we want to maintain."

Carter also said he had "no word" on funeral arrangements.

Mourners left flowers in the metal railing of the fence outside the chrurch. A large crowd of reporters and TV crews were kept at a distance from the entrance. Reporters were not allowed inside for the service.

Houston was born in Newark, the third and youngest child of Army serviceman and entertainment industry executive John Russell Houston Jr. and gospel singer Cissy Houston.

She was exposed to some of the top soul and rhythm and blues singers from an early age—her cousins were Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and Aretha Franklin was her godmother.  

Her family moved to East Orange after the Newark riots in 1967, and she attended Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell for high school.

Houston later bought a home in Mendham Township, and during that period the pop icon spent her down time like many residents would. She shopped in nearby Chester and had local doctors help her through her pregnancy.

Melinda Bass worked at the Dairy Queen in Chester after classes let out at Mendham High School and during summer break when she was home from Ithaca College. While not much of that time by the soft serve may be memorable, working  on a cake for Whitney Houston and her family was something few would forget.

“She used to come in all the time,” Bass said. “Usually when I wasn’t there. I met her daughter and decorated a cake for Bobby Brown’s father.”

Her co-workers at the ice cream shop all regarded Houston well. “Everyone agreed she was so nice and so humble,” Bass said. “This is so sad.”

Livingston native Martha Ackermann saw Houston through a different lens, the one of expectant mother. “When I was pregnant with my daughter Jill my doctor was her back up doctor at St. Barnabas,” Ackermann said. “Everyone said she was so nice and she was just like any other mother.”

Houston put her Mendham residence up for sale in 2009, according to NJ.com. She later lived in Atlanta with husband Bobby Brown, and most recently had a home in Los Angeles.

This story was reported by local editors Paul Milo in Newark, Russ Crespolini in Mendham and Teresa Akersten in Caldwell, and written by Senior Regional Editor Steve Johnson.

Hookerman February 15, 2012 at 12:58 PM
This is a stupid decision on Christie's part! Do you know how many famous entertainers were originally from NJ? Are we going to now have to lowe the flag every time one of them passes now that this precedent is set?
Ricky February 15, 2012 at 07:24 PM
"""Why indict the whole pharmaceutical industry and medical profession when it's just a relatively few malpractitioners who are to blame?""....just a few? You haven't been out there lately. It also holds true for anti-depressants not just the benzo class of drugs. The FDA needs to do its job and that involves phasing out the use of benzodiazpines because these drugs are being abused all the way down the chain, from the big pharm companies that crave the profits they generate to the doctors who feel guilty if they don't prescribe them, down to the patients who are not made aware that the use of these drugs puts you in a place that is far far worse than the place you were in when you first began using them.
Monk February 15, 2012 at 10:20 PM
If benzodiazpines are safe and effective in the short term, and are indicated and prescribed for use in that way, then you have to let the pharmaceutical companies and good practitioners off the hook. There's no question drugs can be harmful if misused, and it's hard to believe anyone is not aware of this with all of the information provided with pharmaceutical products. If you have issues with capitalism, I respect that as a completely separate matter. But the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession cannot be blamed for malpractitioners and reckless or ignorant users - when the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession have provided all of the approved usages and warnings..
deedee February 16, 2012 at 11:08 AM
why in the world would any doctor prescribe 3 benzos to an addict. And all the news and speculation out there but not one report I heard mentioned the possibility of suicide.
judi February 16, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Outraged at Christies decision about flying the flags at half mast on saturday!!! If thats the case - We need to and should lower the flag for EVERY Man and Woman who loses their life in proctecting US and OUR country....What is he thinking!!!!!!!!
cv February 16, 2012 at 01:16 PM
@deedee these addicts are crafty they know how to go to different doctors and pharmacies to hook themselves up.
Frank Drebin February 16, 2012 at 01:18 PM
What a crock of #$@! !. Praise the drug addicted. Great role model for the younger generation.
frank lasaracina February 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
The sad truth is that this is where we are as a society. Human beings are basically good, but weak. What will we do to make it better?
Rock February 16, 2012 at 02:21 PM
I don't recall this outrage when flags were ordered lowered for Clarence Clemmons.
Hookerman February 16, 2012 at 03:04 PM
That’s a good point, I honestly wasn’t aware that flags were lowered for Clarence. I disagree with both cases since entertainers who were originally from NJ do not actually contribute anything to the state… other than allowing people to say; “hey, he/she was from NJ”!
Frank Drebin February 16, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Who has the authority to lower the American Flag? I thought it was Congress or the President.
Gary Englert February 16, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Title 10 of the US Code (a/k/a The US Flag Code) governs the use and protocols concerning the flag and conveys the following authority to the Governor of a State, territory or possession of the United States: "In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff." Whitney Houston does not qualify and Governor Christie violated the US Code with his Executive Order, as he did with Clarence Clemmons.
Gary Englert February 16, 2012 at 03:50 PM
In fairness to Governor Christie, he has ordered flags to half-staff for all military with New Jersey connections, police and firemen who have been killed in the line of duty. He has also, on a few occassions, issued the order to honor people who can rightfully lay claim to the title off "statesmen" and for a long-time high school basketball coach (as such a government employee, who I believe compiled the most victories in state history). Prior to Ms. Houston, he issued the order for Clemmons and for both, the honor was totally inapprorpiate. While neither was a resident of the state at the time of their death, Ms. Houston was at least born here and lived here for a considerable time, neither of which can be said for Mr. Clemmons, who was born in Virginia and resided in Florida at the time of his death. The flag issue came up when Clemmons passed but, his not being a star of Houston's magnitude, neither received anywhere the same level of attention. http://www.nbcnewyork.com/video/#!/on-air/as-seen-on/Controversy-Over-Lowering-NJ-Flags-for-Whitney/139399933
Rock February 16, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Yes, and flags went to half-staff in Pa for Joe Paterno. That was also wrong. But again, no outrage. What a fickle populace we are.
Gary Englert February 16, 2012 at 04:04 PM
@ Rock: While Pennsylvania isn't germane to a discussion about an action being taken in New Jersey byt it's Governor, the PA Governor actually had the authority to lower flags for Paterno. Penn State is a State university and, by extension, Paterno was a government employee/official. It could more that reasonably be argued that Mr. Paterno lived a life in service to the State and its university. Can New Jersey say such a thing about either Whitney Houston or Clarence Clemmons? No, not by a long shot.
Ricky February 16, 2012 at 06:33 PM
The unfortunate part of this whole story is that everytime we lose a well known public figure from the overuse of alcohol and/or prescription drugs, (and yes at the time I post this, there's been no official cause given) it gets temporary attention but then fades into the night only to be brought back when we lose another one. Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, and on and on and now Whitney. Meantime there are many ordinary citizens who we never read about who suffer the same fate. These benzo drugs were never meant to be used for more than a day or two but they're being used for lengthy periods which then means the patient must take more and more of it to get the same results. Then if you want to withdrawal from its use, it is even more difficult to wean than illegal street drugs. It appears the FDA, pharmaceutical companies and the medical community just don't get it.
Monk February 16, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Per Wikipedia: "Benzodiazepines are commonly misused and taken in combination with other drugs of abuse." But, Ricky, it's not the FDA, pharmaceutical companies and the medical community that abuse the drug. Do you want the drug to be administered only at hospitals or clinics? Do you want the drug to be banned? Why infringe on the liberties of responsible doctors and patients when a few malpractitioners and drug abusers are to blame?
MaroonMom February 21, 2012 at 03:04 PM
This is just such a sad story. Whitney clearly lived a tortured life some of which was her own doing. She had such amazing gifts it's a waste to have them go away so soon.
Ricky February 21, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Yo Tom, we still keep it going lol. It's not just the benzo types of drugs that are being used, it's pain killers / opiates but since the topic is Whitney Houston, let's stick to benzos and alcohol for now. The FDA looks the other way so as to not disrupt the big machine wheel of the pharmaceutical industry. The pharm industry says don't blame us, we just make them (along with huge profits) but then they send their sales reps in full force going doctor office to doctor office with 'free samples' hoping for future wide-spread use of their products. Then the medical community with many now practicing on 'automatic pilot' have made a habit of just whipping out their Rx pads. It's so easy to just send patients off with that then to sit down and tell them to avoid these drugs at all costs since you will most likely end up in much worse shape than where you are right now before you begin using these drugs. Especially since alcohol which any adult can buy and not realize the dangers of taking them together ending in a dangerous point that could induce coma. Oh I've heard this argument before that nobody if forcing anyone to take them but people instinctively believe it only happens to someone else, not me, and so now you have a dangerous assumption. Perhaps Whitney originally started with illegal drugs but then the doctor who did the blood tests and saw those results may have prescribed benzos as a way to wean her off of the illegals.
Monk February 21, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Hey, Ricky! It just sounds too conspiratorial to me. So, what do you propose as a solution? Bans? Regulations? Homeopathic remedies?
Ricky February 22, 2012 at 09:01 AM
Tom, for me it sounds to be 'money' motivated. There has to be an on-going educational effort by public and private organizations (just like there's been with the anti-smoking campaign that's put a much needed stigma on smoking that has resulted in less smoking than in previous decades plus banning it in restaurants, etc). We need the same kind of educational effort to make the point that using Rx's will put you in a much worse place than where you were when you took these drugs for the very first time. And that using Rx's to solve your personal problems or to make tolerating a bad relationship, these are the wrong reasons to use Rx's. One of the most legal abused drugs today is ambien, a sleeping medication. It also disrupts your brain and body chemistry. Your own brain stops producing its own natural chemicals that control the sleep/wake cycle when you ingest ambien on a regular basis.. Our own body produces the right chemicals but FDA is allowing drugs to be marketed that over-ride and disrupt our body chemistry. The medical community knows this. If they don't then they should go back for some refresher courses. They also know the dangers of alcohol along with benzos but still just 'assume' patients will abide by the rules. Whitney did not.
Joe videodummy February 22, 2012 at 12:49 PM
In Wayne Township we did not honor Whitney Houston. Our PBA President Scott Rappaport told our Mayor Not to lower the flag to half staff. He said it would disrespect others that were more important. So our flag at town hall remained at full staff, and it was business as usual.
Justice February 22, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Adding insult to injury, the article referring to this and responded to by squeekyfoot was removed without explanation. Is this freedom of the press or censorship?
Frank Drebin February 22, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Hi Joe videodummy. Thanks for the information. Its about time that people have the smarts to realize the deserving people get respect and not the "entitled rich drug addicts". Wasn't Whitney a neighbor of Christie? "
Joe B. February 22, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Mother Theresa once said, "When we judge people we have no time to love them." We are all human beings and therefore imperfect by definition. Those imperfections manifest themselves differently in each of us. It's sad that the hatred articulated in these boards is so freely shared yet love and acceptance of our fellow human beings remains a rare commodity indeed.
Al Scala February 22, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Well said, Joe B.
Joe videodummy February 23, 2012 at 03:53 AM
No problem Frank- I mean the hell with the Law and the fact that the flag code does not exclude flying the flag at half staff for any citizen, whether they were in the military or not. We'll let our PBA decide who gets the respect and who doesn't. This way we can ignore the fact that we don't need authorization from the government to use the flag to honor any citizen. We'll show them ...right Frank !
WayneinWayne February 23, 2012 at 05:01 AM
i agree
Justice February 23, 2012 at 10:04 AM
@WayneinWayne, who do you agree with? @JoeB and Al, I agree with both of you.
Justice February 23, 2012 at 10:07 AM
@Frank and Joe Videodummy, would you express the same venom if Ms. Houston was white, or better yet, a WASP?

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