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Whitney Houston mourned at New Jersey church

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At the New Jersey church where her singing career first took flight, fans and admirers gathered on Sunday to celebrate the life of Whitney Houston and mourn her passing a day after the pop music diva died in a Beverly Hills hotel.

Cards and flowers were tied to the railings of the New Hope Baptist Church and congregants hugged and cried at the entrance. Among those paying their respects was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights activist.

The suddenness of it all leaves us traumatised, said Jackson, who watched Houston grow up and sing at New Hope. It was in that red brick church on a quiet backstreet near downtown Newark where Houstons career began as a soloist in a gospel choir in the 1970s.

We must lean on our faith. Our hearts are heavy today, Jackson said.

Houston, whose soaring voice lifted her to the top of the pop music world, but whose personal decline was fuelled by years of drug abuse, died on Saturday afternoon in a Beverly Hills hotel room. She was 48.

Houstons only child, daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown (18) who was suffering from anxiety, was taken on Sunday morning from the hotel by paramedics to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre Beverly Hills, police and fire officials said.

A fire department spokeswoman declined to disclose any information about the daughters medical condition but said she was awake and talking at the time she was transported.

Houstons family expressed their grief in a brief statement issued on Sunday.

We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Whitney. This is an unimaginable tragedy and we will miss her terribly, it said. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support from her fans and friends.

In a separate statement issued through People magazine, Houstons former husband, R&B singer Bobby Brown, with whom she had shared a long struggle with substance abuse, said: I am deeply saddened at the passing of my ex-wife, Whitney Houston.

Brown, who is Bobbi Kristinas father, was described by an unnamed relative as beside himself with grief, according to the magazine.

On the West Coast, the First AME Church of Los Angeles, the citys oldest African-American congregation, held a special moment of silence in Houstons memory.

Many of us were rooting and pulling for her because she has been a blessing to this generation with talent, with a special anointed voice, Pastor John Hunter told parishioners. We will miss her. This world will miss her.

Several cards left at the church in Newark extolled Houstons roots in that city, where she was born in 1963. One read: Newark loves you and will always love you.

We are all heartbroken, said Jacqueline Kimble (45), who remembered Houston from her days at the church. She was our jewel. This is a sad day for Newark and the whole world.

Up to 200 people attended the Newark churchs three scheduled services, portions of which were devoted to Houston and her family. We prayed for the family, said Denise Dean (570, who said he once heard Houston sing at the church and still has her faded autograph on an old checkbook.

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