Whitney Houston memorials spring up at N.J. school, church

Whitney houston church
Outside the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, the flag flew at half-staff in the icy wind as Principal Henry W. Hamilton remembered the gangly 15-year-old who lived up the road, and who excitedly showed off her modeling portfolio one afternoon in 1978.

Back then, before the red brick school had been renamed for the future pop queen, Hamilton didn’t expect Whitney Houston to become a star.

 Houston died Saturday in Beverly Hills of undetermined causes. 

“She was in the choir and the chorus. She used to sing at church. But I didn’t expect she’d become a great singer –- the greatest singer in the world,” said Hamilton, who acknowledges he missed the explosive talent that developed in the young girl as she made her way through the halls of this school in suburban New Jersey, where her first classroom, No. 6, is just to the right of the main entrance.

Hamilton isn’t usually at school on Sunday. But after his phone began ringing on Saturday evening with news of Houston’s death, he knew this would not be a normal day for anyone who knew Houston as a child, or who had seen her sing at the New Hope Baptist Church in neighboring Newark.

“Her start was a beautiful, innocent thing,” said Hassan Munford, who attended the school now named for Houston and who grew up in the same neighborhood.

“I remember when she first made it, she brought a red drop-top and drove it down Dodd Street,” Munford said with a smile as he left flowers outside the school.

“You always have your controversies,” he said of Houston’s well-publicized struggle with drugs and her turbulent relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown. “But at the end of the day, the influence she had on the community –- on the kids and aspiring musicians and singers –- far outweighs the controversy.”

Throughout the day, fans came bearing flowers, candles and heart-shaped balloons to the school and the church, which shares a nondescript street with an auto shop and a tavern and which, on this frigid February morning, was the only building with any hint of life or color.

Parishioners and fans, bundled up in fur coats, down jackets or flimsy sweaters too thin to block the cold, began arriving at the church before dawn for a morning memorial and kept coming throughout the day for additional services.

“Our hearts are very heavy today,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he headed into the church to address the third and last service of the day. “The suddenness of it all … we’re just traumatized.”

Every seat was filled inside the 112-year-old church, where Houston sang as a teenager and where her mother, Cissy Houston, and cousin Dionne Warwick also were regulars in the choir.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Houston “a true New Jersey treasure.” 

Hamilton has been principal of the Whitney E. Houston school for 40 years, since the days when it was called the Franklin School. It was renamed for Houston in 1997.

His office is decorated with pictures that include photographs of him and Houston over the decades.

When his phone rang Saturday night and a nephew told him Houston had died, Hamilton initially did not believe it. But it’s never easy to accept when one of your pupils dies, he said.

“It’s hurtful. Sometimes we say, ‘Is there something we could have done to save that youngster?’ ” said Hamilton, admitting that there is only so much the school can do once pupils move on.

"Once she left here, we felt she was on the right path,” he said. “The things that happened later ... that’s show biz. Unfortunately, some survive and some don’t.”


Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark


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Photo:  At New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston began her career as a child, a memorial to the singer grew. She died Saturday in Beverly Hills. Credit:  John W. Ferguson / Getty Images 



Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark

New Hope Baptist Church

As an icy wind sliced the air outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., Donna Thorn stuffed another bouquet of flowers between the iron bars of the church gate.

On the surface, Thorn, a short woman in sweatpants and a wool cap, didn't appear to have much in common with Whitney Houston, who as a child sang gospel in the red brick church. On Saturday, Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room. Thorn's eyes filled with tears and her voice shook as she described her own struggle with drugs and the empathy she had for the dead pop star, who went through the same thing.

The cause of Houston's death has not been determined and an autopsy is planned.

PHOTOS: Stars react

"If you was never an addict you don't know what it's like to struggle and stay clean ... to hit rock-bottom," said Thorn, recalling her own battle to get off drugs as she grew up on the gritty streets of Newark, where Houston was born 48 years ago.

It was "that fast-track life in L.A." that surely did not help Houston, said Thorn, who echoed other parishioners and fans Sunday as they lamented the premature loss of a Newark native who achieved stardom but whose roots remained deeply planted in the area.

"It's a big loss for us here," said Thorn, noting that the city has been "cleaned up" but still battles high crime and depressed neighborhoods. "She came from my hometown, she made it out of Newark, and she was on top of the world."

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those who attended the Sunday service at the church. "Our hearts are heavy today," he said before going in. "The suddenness of it all. ... We're just traumatized."

Continue reading »

Super Bowl 'bird': Angry parents' group demands NBC use tape delay

The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group concerned about what kids see on TV, has launched an on-line petition targeting NBC for M.I.A.'s apparent curse word and vulgar gesture; both came during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show featuring Madonna and other performers.

The advocacy group's petition demands, among other things, that: "NBC put all future live broadcasts on an adequate tape delay and to hold on-air talent accountable for their actions during live broadcasts."

Melissa Henson, the council's spokeswoman, told The Times that she wants other broadcasters to abide by the rules too. But she noted that both ABC and CBS have gone to great lengths to create safeguards  -- such as a time delay -- to help prevent such vulgarities from reaching home audiences, especially young viewers.

About eight minutes into Madonna's half-time act at Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, British sensation M.I.A. appeared to curse, saying, "I don't give a … ." It's difficult to hear her clearly on the video. But what came next was much clearer: She flipped her middle finger to the more than 110 million American viewers. 

The L.A.-based Parents Television Council says sports leagues and networks can no longer pretend they've been caught off guard by vulgarities or that they're ill-prepared for misbehaving celebrities. That grace period expired long ago with Nipplegate -- the now-infamous 2004 halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and Janet Jackson's nipple.

Given that history, the group says, NBC should have been ready. "If NBC had procedures in place, adequately trained staff, a reasonable time delay, and a commitment to preventing inappropriate content from airing during live broadcasts, the entire incident could have been avoided," the group says in an e-mail blast via its newsletter.

Henson said the Parents Television Council is particularly irritated with NBC given that the network has found itself in this situation before. (Examples: Bono dropping the F-bomb during the 2003 Golden Globes, and -- do not click the following links if you are easily offended -- both Tiki Barber and Jane Fonda dropping the C-word on audiences.)

In the years since Nipplegate, the Super Bowl has tried to play it safe with artists unlikely to run afoul of good taste. But Henson said that "it was a bit naïve on the part of the NFL to believe that this particular slate of artists would deliver a squeaky clean halftime show. But ultimately NBC is the one that licenses the airways."

Henson said the blast went to subscribers, which number between 80,000-100,000. She said the missive went out last night, and that it isn't yet known how many on-line signatures have been collected. The petition, and signatures, will be presented to NBC.

A spokesman for NBC could not be reached before this story was posted.

NBC and the NFL have apologized for the Super Bowl fallout. But the Parents Television Council says that isn't good enough; it wants those responsible to be held "accountable." The Federal Communications Commission, which stepped in after Nipplegate and fined CBS, said this week that it has no comment at this time about on Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI halftime show.


Super Bowl halftime show divides Twitter

M.I.A.'s Super Bowl finger: Now, the finger-pointing has begun

Parents blast NBC, NFL for 'enabling' M.I.A. gesture at Super Bowl

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: MIA performs at the Super Bowl halftime show. Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Does M.I.A. owe Kelly Clarkson and Madonna an apology?

M.I.A.'s bad behavior during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show is dominating online chatter Monday, overshadowing what many say is Kelly Clarkson's stellar rendition of the national anthem.

The ensuing fallout has upstaged Clarkson's performance and Madonna's pageantry with a barrage of questions, among them: Who is to blame? Why didn't NBC catch it in time? Did the NFL try to head off controversy by requiring the artists to sign a decency contract? And if not, why didn't it? Will the vulgarity result in a fine?

Madonna is sure to reap publicity out of the controversy for her new single. Snippets of her halftime performance featuring "Give Me All Your Luvin'" and the flipped bird are getting nonstop attention.

But it's Clarkson who appears to have earned overwhelming kudos.

Clarkson, who was barely recognizable in her new Cleopatra-style hairdo, delivered a pitch-perfect performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to kick off Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

According to a CBS news poll, more than 88% of respondents said she "rocked it!"

The reviews on Twitter were near-universal in their praise: "Hands down best ever." "OUTSTANDING! Man, that girl can SING!!" "@Kelly_Clarkson nails National Anthem." "THE best national anthem of all time."

And like any good performer, she left the audience wanting more.

Social media sharing site Add This said on Twitter: "We saw a 4300% spike in searches for @kelly_clarkson when she sang the National Anthem tonight! #superbowl"

Clarkson managed to put her own unique spin on a song that is notoriously difficult to sing. In doing so, the first "American Idol" winner set a new standard that has bedeviled so many artists over the years. (Most recently, Steven Tyler.)

"The Star-Spangled Banner" requires a dramatic range of a full octave and a half, which can be a feat for even the most accomplished singers.

Then, there's the tricky wording courtesy of the fact that the anthem didn't start out as a song. It began life as a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 titled "Defense of Fort McHenry." It was turned into a song by adding the somewhat modified tune of John Stafford Smith's "The Anacreontic Song," and then retitled. Congress proclaimed it the national anthem in 1931.

And it has been tripping up artists ever since.

Clarkson acknowledged being nervous beforehand. "Just finished rehearsing the anthem in Indy ... wow, I'm actually really nervous about singing at the Super Bowl ha!" she posted online. "Here's hoping I nail it and don't screw it up!"


Super Bowl halftime show divides Twitter

M.I.A.'s Super Bowl finger: Now, the finger-pointing has begun

Parents blast NBC, NFL for 'enabling' M.I.A. gesture at Super Bowl

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Parents blast NBC, NFL for 'enabling' M.I.A. gesture at Super Bowl

M.I.A. at Super Bowl 2012, without her bird.

The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group concerned about what kids see on TV, is blasting NBC and the NFL for the vulgar gesture that came in the middle of Super Bowl XLVI halftime show featuring Madonna and other performers.

About eight minutes into Madonna's act, British sensation M.I.A. appeared to curse, saying, "I don't give a … ." But it's difficult to clearly hear her on the video. 

But what came next was much more clear: She flipped her middle finger to the more than 110 million American viewers. 

The L.A.-based Parents Television Council says the blame lies squarely with the National Football League and NBC for choosing a lineup of performers with a history of shocking and controversial behavior. Using sharp language, the council said: "Instead of preventing indecent material, they enabled it. M.I.A. used a middle finger shamelessly to bring controversial attention to herself, while effectively telling an audience filled with children, '... you.' "

PHOTOS: Super Bowl 2012

NBC and the NFL have apologized. But the PTC says that's not good enough and wants those responsible to be held "accountable." The statement released by PTC President Tim Winter doesn't specify what that means or who should be held repsonsible. We have asked the PTC for clarification.

Winter accused the NFL of lying to the public last week when it promised that the halftime show would be suitable for all audiences, a new standard ushered in following Janet Jackson's infamous Nipplegate in 2004.

And the council said that NBC failed in its obligations as well. The network should have been poised to blur the vulgarity and bleep it. NBC says it tried, but apparently it did not move quickly enough. (There was an attempt to blur the screen, but it came after the offensive gesture.)

Here is the full PTC statement from Winter:

NBC fumbled and the NFL lied because a performer known as M.I.A. felt it necessary to flip off millions of families. It is unfortunate that a spectacular sporting event was overshadowed once again by broadcasting the selfish acts of a desperate performer.

Last week the NFL formally told the PTC -- and the American public -- that the Super Bowl halftime show would be 'appropriate.' Most families would agree that the middle finger aimed directly at them is not appropriate, especially during the most-watched television event of the year.

The mechanism NBC had in place to catch this type of material completely failed, and the network cannot say it was caught off guard. It has been eight years since the Janet Jackson striptease, and both NBC and the NFL knew full well what might happen. They chose a lineup full of performers who have based their careers on shock, profanity and titillation. Instead of preventing indecent material, they enabled it. M.I.A. used a middle finger shamelessly to bring controversial attention to herself, while effectively telling an audience filled with children, '... you.'

A simple apology rings hollow after yet another slap in the face to families, especially when NBC has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it should be allowed to air all manner of indecent material at any time of day, even when children are watching.  

Either the NFL and NBC will take immediate steps to hold those accountable for this offensive material in front of a hundred million Americans, or they will feebly sit back and do nothing. The nation -- and the PTC -- is watching.


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Super Bowl 2012: Will M.I.A. finger draw FCC fine?

Super Bowl 2012: Madonna shines, M.I.A. shocks, Birmingham shocks

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: MIA performs at the Super Bowl halftime show. Credit: David J. Phillip / Associated Press

Super Bowl fallout: Will M.I.A.'s middle finger draw FCC fine?

 Madonna kept her promise -- there was no wardrobe malfunction during her Super Bowl XLVI halftime show. But America was shown the bird: British rapper M.I.A. gave the nation the middle finger during her solo performance.

Why? Her Twitter feed has been silent on the matter. But there's a bigger question afoot: Will NBC face a fine like CBS did after Janet Jackson's infamous slip during the 2004 Super Bowl hosted in Houston, Texas?

The nation howled, as parents tried to explain to children why Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson's top...exposing a nipple encased in a sun-themed shield.

It became known as Nipplegate, and the flood of viewer complaints led the Federal Communications Commission to levy a record $550,000 fine against CBS, which aired the Super Bowl that year.

A phone call to the FCC was not returned by the time this story was posted online.

The NFL and NBC quickly apologized for the gesture and insisted that it was not a planned part of the show. Producers tried to blur the screen to cover it up, but it was too little too late.

In front of millions of viewers, M.I.A.  flipped the bird and appeared to sing, “I don’t give a..." although it was hard to hear what she said. (Judge for yourself: It happens at about 7:50 minutes into the above video.)

From the NFL:

"The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans," said Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the NFL, told the Associated Press.

From NBC:

"The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show," NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey told the news service. "Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers."


Super Bowl ads: Yawn

Eli Manning, Giants don't let Super Bowl slip through fingers

Super Bowl: Madonna shines, M.I.A. shocks, Birmingham shocks

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Super Bowl: Madonna shines, M.I.A. shocks, Birmingham blocks

Super Bowl: Madonna shines, M.I.A. shocks, Birmingham blocks

In many ways, Madonna's Super Bowl halftime show delivered the Full Madonna. Who else could have gotten away with that superabundant spectacle of choreography and showmanship, booming beats and cheeky camp, replete with a phalanx of blinged and buffed faux gladiators?

But what about delivering a shock to Middle America? On this score, Madonna of 2012 -- now a mom, a children's book author, and a platinum eminence in her 50s -- appeared to play it safe Sunday night.

Instead, younger guest star rapper M.I.A. stepped in, quickly flipping the bird during a performance of the song "Give Me All Your Luvin'," and "uttering a barely disguised expletive," according to a report by the Associated Press.

Photos: Giants vs. Patriots

Viewers in the Birmingham, Ala., market, however, had to read all about it Monday morning, because their NBC affiliate blocked the offending moment with a few seconds of a  "local screen shot," according to Joseph A. Bryant of the Birmingham News.

An employee for the station would not comment on the decision to black out the M.I.A. move, according to the reporter.

But not every market was as fast as Birmingham to block the fleeting scenes, and the finger is already posted online.


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Photo: Nicki Minaj, left, Madonna, center, and MIA, right, perform during the Bridgestone Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show. Credit: Christopher Polk / Getty Images

Super Bowl 2012: Tour the stadium this way -- it's cheaper

For those who don't have several thousand dollars to drop on a pair of Super Bowl XLVI tickets, there's this: Google Earth has posted a nifty video on the path -- literally -- to Game Day.

The New England Patriots will soon take on the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. So the folks at 3D Google Earth have created a video that visually flies you up, over and around each team's home base, then takes you through to the Game Day stadium. It might be a little weird seeing all those empty seats, but it's still pretty darn cool.

And way cheaper.

Of course, Super Bowl XLVI is more than just a Super Bowl. In the football world, this is a Clash of the Titans. Must read: This story by our colleague Lance Pugmire about the bitter rivalry being stoked anew by this New York vs. Boston showdown.

Die-hard football fans probably have this info etched into their DNA, but for everyone else, here's some info to keep handy: The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and there's at 6:30 p.m. Eastern start.

And by "start," we mean that's when all the official pre-game hoopla begins. Highlights: "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson will sing the National Anthem. (Note to Steven Tyler: You might want to tune in to see how it's done.)

The half-time show will belong to a relative newcomer, as well as an old-timer with biceps chiseled in stone: Nicki Minaj and Madonna will have those honors. 

And in case you were wondering, just how much are Super Bowl XLVI tickets? At last check, TicketCity.com was offering them for about $2,400.


Makes you want to go back and watch that Google Earth 3D video all over again, huh?


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-- Rene Lynch

Hollywood on display: Smithsonian honors Clint Eastwood

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington is home to the original star-spangled banner, Abraham Lincoln's top hat and Dorothy's ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz."

And now, it will have a bit more of the Hollywood touch.

The suit worn by Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca;" the address book of Jack Warner, co-founder of Warner Bros. Studios; Harry Potter’s robe, and drawings of Bugs Bunny are among the items that have been put on display, loaned by Warner Bros. Entertainment, which also made a $5-million gift to fund the Warner Bros. Theater at the museum.

Smithsonian officials marked the opening of the new theater and exhibits Wednesday night by presenting Clint Eastwood with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, awarded for "distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Smithsonian." Past recipients include Steven Spielberg, Julia Child and Lady Bird Johnson.

The theater will open Friday to the public with a screening of "Casablanca,'' followed over the weekend by other Bogart films. Later this year, it will present Eastwood films, plus a series focusing on early sound in the movies, and another showing the Civil War through film.

The Hollywood memorabilia, Smithsonian officials said, demonstrates the "unique brand of Hollywood storytelling and accessibility that has helped to define American culture to global audiences."

Warner’s address book is open to pages that include the names of Davis, Miss Bette; DeMille, Cecil; Dali, Salvador.

"And Disney, Walt. As if he needs a first name," museum curator Dwight Blocker Bowers joked in an interview.

"We hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," he added, apparently eager for more Hollywood memorabilia.


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Photo: Actor and director Clint Eastwood speaks with reporters during the opening of the Warner Bros. Theater at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington on Wednesday. Eastwood was presented the Smithsonian's James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. Credit: Cliff Owen / Associated Press

Super Bowl 2012: Matthew Broderick channels Ferris Bueller in ad

Who says Super Bowl commercials need to wait for the Super Bowl? Honda is getting a jump on game day competition with Monday's release of the full-length version of its hotly anticipated Honda CR-V commercial starring Matthew Broderick.

In the commercial, Broderick conjures one of film's (and his own) most beloved roles -- that scamp Ferris Bueller taking the day off from school and making the most of it. Only this time, it's Broderick who's playing hooky by ditching a day of filming in Los Angeles.

The commercial revisits several key moments from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," including the music, the towel turban, the star's habit of talking directly to the camera, the reckless valet and, of course, the fun-filled day on the run.

Amazingly, Broderick doesn't hit a smidgen of traffic as he makes his way from the beach to the Natural History Museum, back to the beach for a little tai chi (if the timeline is to be believed) and more.

The most famous line from the movie -- "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller" -- is revisited; but this time, the line comes when the valet brings up the Honda for "Broderick, Broderick..."

Fans of the classic 1986 John Hughes film might be disappointed that only Broderick shows up in the commercial. How much more fun would it have been if the commercial had included Mia Sara and Alan Ruck...

Meanwhile, buckle up, America. You're about to be barraged with Super Bowl commercials.

The stakes are higher than they've ever been for Super Bowl commercials. Companies are paying NBC an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, and more than $6 million for a 60-second spot. Even that marquee stage isn't enough. Advertisers want more eyeballs, so they're pulling out all the stops to drum up interest -- and a captive audience.

Our sister blog, Company Town, notes that Kia Motors is currently showing its upcoming Super Bowl Optima ad in movie theaters. That ad features scantily clad supermodel Adriana Lima, Motley Crue and mixed martial arts fighter Chuck Liddell for good measure.

And Volkswagen has rolled out a commercial ... for a commercial.   

The only question is this: Will these early glimpses of Super Bowl commercials help advertisers? Or will "seen-it-already" audiences use the game day replay as an excuse to go in search of more guacamole and chicken wings?

Perhaps any publicity is good publicity. Last's year's big commercial -- Volkswagen's "The Force" -- featured a boy dressed like Darth Vader and using dark powers to (allegedly) start the family Passat. It now has nearly 50 million views online and has won all sorts of honors.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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