0

AP: Whitney Houston's body to be taken home to NJ

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The body of Whitney Houston was set to be flown home to New Jersey late Monday for a funeral to be held at week's end, said two people who have spoken with the singer's family.

The two people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak for the family and because funeral arrangements hadn't yet been completed.

Houston's family raised the possibility of holding a wake Thursday and funeral Friday at Newark's Prudential Center, an arena that hosts college and professional sport events and seats about 18,000.

The 48-year-old pop star was found dead in the bathtub in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, hours before she was supposed to appear at a pre-Grammy gala.

Funeral arrangements were being made by Newark's Whigham Funeral Home, which handled the 2003 funeral of Houston's father, John Houston, according to the two people who spoke to the AP.

A woman at the funeral home said she could neither confirm nor deny reports that Whigham would handle the arrangements. A canopy was being constructed Monday afternoon at the rear entrance.

The Los Angeles coroner's office said Houston's body was released to the family late Monday morning.

Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange. She began singing as a child at Newark's New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother, Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the music program for many years. Whitney's cousin singer Dionne Warwick also sang in its choir.

On Monday, mourners continued to leave flowers, balloons and candles at the wrought-iron fence around the tall brick church, which sits near the edge of an abandoned housing project near the train line leading to New York City.

"She was an inspiration to everybody," said Gregory Hanks, a 26-year-old actor who grew up in the neighborhood and who dropped off a bouquet of flowers. He saw Houston perform at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center years ago.

"I grew up listening to her as a little boy, and to hear her sing, you knew she was special," he said.

------

Associated Press writer Chris Hawley contributed to this report.