Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers and offering short insights about her cousin; she joked that Houston's Super Bowl performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" became almost as big as the telephone book.
Hudson, who sang "I Will Always Love You" a night after Houston's death in a Grammy tribute, mourned Houston along with Monica, Brandy, and Jordin Sparks — representing a generation of big-voiced young singers who grew up emulating the star of the '80s and '90s. Sparks stars with Houston in the remake of the 1970s film "Sparkle," due out in August.
As the funeral began, mourners fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston's casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies. White-robed choir members began to fill the pews on the podium. As the band played softly, the choir sang in a hushed voice, "Whitney, Whitney, Whitney."
A program featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read "Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God." Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother and daughter filled the program.
"I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long," Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program. "And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years."
"Rest, my baby girl in peace," the letter ends, signed "mommie."
To the world, Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame. To her family and friends, she was just "Nippy." A nickname given to Houston when she was a child, it stuck with her through adulthood and, later, would become the name of one of her companies.
A few fans gathered hours before the service as close as they could get to the church, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Miami. Bobby Brooks said he came from Washington "just to be among the rest of the fans."
"Just to celebrate her life, not just her death," said Brooks, "just to sing and dance with the people that love her."
Others were more entrepreneurial, setting up card tables to sell silk-screened T-shirts with Houston's image and her CDs. Fans were kept blocks from the church and the invitation-only funeral, but their presence was felt. A huge shrine of heart-shaped balloons and personal messages that covered the street corner around the church entrance.
Houston's death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.
Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like "Saving All My Love For You," ''I Will Always Love You," ''The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.
Her last album, "I Look To You," debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn't have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.
Houston is to be buried Sunday next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J.
Contributing to this report were AP Global Entertainment and Lifestyles Editor Alicia Quarles and Entertainment Writer Mesfin Fekadu.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody is the AP's music editor. Follow her at http://www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.