NEWARK, New Jersey — It was a day of both sadness and celebration as Whitney Houston's fans gathered in her birthplace to mourn the death of the fallen pop diva on Saturday (February 18).
Police set up blockades on the streets surrounding New Hope Baptist Church, keeping the public several blocks away from the private funeral in every direction. On the corner of Orange and Nesbitt streets, a group of fans gathered to sing some of Houston's biggest hits like "The Greatest Love of All" and "I Will Always Love You".
On Sussex Avenue, about four blocks from the church, another group of fans gathered. A Philadelphia artist who goes by the name Mark G. drew a portrait of Houston, which he had fans sign. By the time MTV News interviewed him he had gathered hundreds of loving notes and signatures, and the artist said he plans to give the portrait to Whitney's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, as a present through a connection he said he has with the family.
"Whitney was connected to the fans, and when she left, she shined her light and this is something creatively that I did that connects the people to Whitney," Mark G. explained of the artwork he created in ballpoint pen.
"My heart goes out to the Whitney Houston family," Miami native Karin Collins said. "I feel so bad, I was crying all last night. I'm blasting her music in my car everyday and I just feel so bad and my heart goes out to Bobbi Kristina as well as her grandmother [Cissy Houston]."
While fans were mostly upbeat and positive, some Newark residents were upset by the decision to keep the service private without holding a bigger public send-off at the much larger Prudential Center, as was first rumored.
"It was sad that they didn't have it in the Prudential Center, I don't know why they didn't do that," Brian Collins said. "All the fans in Newark could've came out and just gave their all in all out to her, pay tribute to Whitney Houston. She meant a lot to us, she never forgot where she came from and I love you Whitney."
With things as they were logistically, fans might have been more comfortable watching the invite-only funeral from home anyway. But the crowds that assembled at each police check-point wanted to feel closer to the ceremony. On Norfolk Street off Central Avenue, about 75 people surrounded a CNN transmission truck and watched as R. Kelly sang a spirited rendition of "I Look to You," a song that he penned for Houston in 2009.
After the funeral an excited group waited on Central Avenue hoping to see some of the ceremony's high-profile guests as they filed out. There were no sightings of Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Kevin Costner or any other celebrity from the fans' vantage point, but when Whitney Houston's golden hearse turned onto Central, fans gave the musical icon one last cheer.