Photo by Chris Sykes
Grammy Award-winning singer Dionne Warwick, center right, watches the unveiling of the new street sign as the corner of Dey Street and Sussex Avenue outside New Hope Baptist Church in Newark that was officially renamed in honor of her aunt, Cissy Houston, on Saturday, Jan. 27. Houston is a Newark native and the mother of East Orange’s own Grammy Award-winning singer Whitney Houston. The Newark City Council and Mayor Ras Baraka designated Jan. 27 as Cissy Houston Day in that city.NEWARK, NJ — Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the Newark City Council designated Saturday, Jan. 27, as Cissy Houston Day in Newark and the congregation of New Hope Baptist Church marked the occasion by hosting a special street-renaming ceremony outside the church, on the corner of Dey Street and Sussex Avenue, now officially known as Dr. Emily Houston Plaza.
In addition to the unveiling of the new street sign outside the church, the event also featured surprise guest performances by gospel music superstars Melissa Morgan and Hezekiah Walker, not to mention Houston herself, who proved she’s still got it.
Houston used her nickname, “Cissy,” during her rise to fame as a gospel singer in the 1950s and 1960s. She is also the mother of deceased Grammy Award-winning singer, actress and East Orange native Whitney Houston.
The family also includes East Orange resident and Grammy Award-winning singer Dionne Warwick, who was also at New Hope Baptist Church to take part in the event with her aunt.
“I did not come prepared to say anything; I came to celebrate,” said Warwick on Saturday, Jan. 27. “But since they brought me up here, I have to say my Aunt Cissy has been a part of my life since the day I was born. She has been a part of my household. More a big sister than an aunt. She’s not that much older than me and, even though she always felt she had the right to chastise and she still does, it’s OK, because you are an inspiration. You truly are.”
Warwick said her aunt chastised her “when needed and sometimes not” but, through it all, said, “I love you so very much and, as has been evidenced today, everyone in this room apparently loves you.”
“I thank God that you have been and always will be my family. My family. That’s right. My mommy’s sister,” said Warwick. “They brought me up here to talk, so I’m going to talk. I’m going to leave you with that. I truly, truly love you, appreciate you and congratulate you.”
Houston’s sons, Gary Garland and Michael Houston, also came out to show their love and respect; Garland, sang her a song and Michael Houston read aloud a letter he said had been inspired by the spirit of their sister, Whitney.
“Before she was a Houston, she was a Drinkard and that’s where all of the talent came from,” said Garland’s wife, Patricia, on Saturday, Jan. 27, in reference to Houston’s maiden name. “She’s a woman that’s bold enough to use her voice, she’s brave enough to listen to her heart and she’s strong enough to have lived the life that she imagined. And she had three wonderful children in Gary, Michael and Whitney. And all of that talent — we hear about the Houstons all the time, but they were Drinkards. The Drinkard Sisters, the Drinkard Family, Cissy, Dionne, Whitney, Gary, Michael, Cheyenne — talented. We hear about her musical accolades but, as a family member, I can tell you that she’s a family woman.”
The Garlands said the family members were all there to “praise and worship with her and to celebrate with her,” with the notable exception of Whitney. But Michael Houston said he was positive that his big sister was there with them too, in spirit.
“I’m not a person of many words, so I wrote it down,” he said Saturday, Jan. 27. “The other night, I was sleeping and my sister woke me. … and she said to me: ‘There’s something I want you to tell mommy.’ She told me what she wanted and I said: ‘You just don’t want me to tell mommy?’ she said: ‘No, I want you to make it an open letter.’ So that’s what I’m going to do.”
He then read a tear-jerking message of love to those gathered at the event.
“Mom, you have been the best example of a human being. A woman, a friend, a leader, a boss, an employee, a co-worker, a relative, a sibling and, most of all, a mom. The best mom that anyone can and could have ever had. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you have everything to be proud of, when we accomplish anything, because we follow your direction. After having the greatest example to follow, we made bad choices. Not you mom and, no matter what, you stood by us through everything. You loved us unconditionally and I can stand here today and say, in my heart, that there is a God and myself and my brother and my sister, we are truly blessed, because he gave us you as a mom.
“From beautiful baby sister, she said to tell you that she loves you more than life itself and she would never have been anything, nothing, if it wasn’t for you. Wherever she was and whatever she is today is because you were there and you gave her love she needed and she said to tell you she was sorry for the poor decisions she made in her life and that she knows she caused you pain. But she wants you to forgive her and she said she knows that you will, because that’s the type of mother you have always been.”