On Sunday morning, New Hope Baptist Church pastor Joe Carter, standing on the on the steps of the Newark church where the young Whitney first came to the microphone, also asked for prayers -- and privacy -- for the family. Houston's mother, Cissy Houston, a Grammy-award winning gospel singer, had led the musical program at the 112-year-old church and Whitney had sung in its choir.
Houston's hotel room death came just hours before she was to be guest of honor at the annual pre-Grammy party Saturday of her mentor, music mogul Clive Davis. Beverly Hills police said they were called to the Beverly Hilton at around 3:43 p.m. PT, and fire department personnel already at the scene responded immediately. Houston was in her fourth-floor room but was unresponsive to CPR, and she was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m.
David Foster, who produced portions of three Houston albums, including The Bodyguard, said at the Saturday party that the singer will be remembered for her music. Period.
"She had an incredible body of work. What artist sustains for 25 years with hits? Nobody."
"It's so stunning and unbelievable," said Aretha Franklin in a statement. "I couldn't believe what I was reading coming across the TV screen."
Bobby Brown, whom the singer divorced in 2007 after a turbulent 14-year marriage, was overcome with grief Saturday while performing with New Edition in Southaven, Miss. "I am deeply saddened at the passing of my ex-wife," Brown said in a statement. "At this time, we ask for privacy, especially for my daughter, Bobbi Kristina. "
The Houston family issued a statement calling the death "an unimaginable tragedy."
The singer had struggled in the past decade to overcome her issues and regain her past glory, which included sales of more than 42.7 million albums, singles and digital tracks since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.
Things seemed to be looking up and she had recently been out promoting her new film, Sparkle, which she executive-produced and stars in with American Idol star Jordin Sparks. It is scheduled to be released in August. She also had made a brief appearance on stage Thursday at a party hosted by singer Kelly Price. Houston joined Price for a rendition of Jesus Loves Me.
Positive steps forward were often followed by setbacks. In 2009, she released I Look to You, her first studio album in seven years and first since going through rehab and divorcing Brown. The album debuted at No. 1 and sold more than 1 million copies, but it failed to produce any massive hit singles or receive hoped-for Grammy nominations. Her subsequent overseas tour met with mixed reviews, and disappointed fans demanded refunds.
"She don't want to come, my soprano friend," Houston crooned from the stage after stumbling through her signature songs at London's O2 arena in April 2010. "Sometimes the old girl sings, but not tonight," she said of her voice.
It was a sad moment for the once-shining star who paved the way to pop success for other African-American singers such as Janet Jackson, Anita Baker, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, and has been cited by so many singers, including Beyonc, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Leona Lewis as inspiring them.
Houston was already an up-and-coming magazine model (she was one of the first women of color to grace the cover of Seventeen) when record mogul Clive Davis signed her to his Arista Records label in 1983.
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