It’s well known that Whitney Houston’s close family and friends called the late singer Nippy, a nickname given to her by a father who would say to her, “Nippy, seldom right,” when Houston, as a fussy baby, would repeatedly kick off her winter blanket at night.
Nippy was also the name of a cartoon character who constantly got into trouble and that, the pastor who eulogized Houston at her “home-going” service Saturday, is how a second nickname for the singer was born, this one, “Illegal.”
“We called Whitney ‘Illegal’ because she would just do stuff,” Pastor Marvin Winans said today on “Good Morning America.” “Not because she was Whitney Houston the star but because she was this mischievous little girl from New Jersey.”
Winans, the Grammy Award-winning pastor of the Perfecting Church in Detroit and close Houston family friend, recounted a moment that symbolized the Houston, he says, her closest family and friends will miss most.
“The last time she was in Detroit [to film what would be her last movie, the yet-to-be-released "Sparkle"] … we have a congregation, there’s about 2,000 people in the church, and she’s sitting in the second row and she keeps pointing at me like come here, come here,” he said.
“Now I’m running the service but this is Whitney, so I go down. We’re receiving the offering and she comes and just starts hugging me and kissing me,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Whitney, there’s a congregation watching,’ but she doesn’t care. And then she says, ‘Can I run up on stage…?’ And she runs up on the stage just being ‘Illegal Whitney.’
“It’s those crazy things that she would do that would make us laugh and we’re really going to miss her,” he said.
The 48-year-old singer died Feb. 11 in the bathroom of her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles hours before she was to attend a pre-Grammy Awards party there. No cause of death has been determined.
Saturday’s funeral ceremony at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., for Houston lasted nearly four hours and was attended by her inner circle of family and friends as well as stars such as Kevin Costner, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and her longtime mentor, Clive Davis. Hundreds of fans lined the streets outside the church and millions watched online and on TV.
“What stands out to me is looking over at her mother [Cissy Houston] and looking at Bobbi Kris [Houston's daughter] and seeing her being satisfied by just the outpour of love that came from everyone for her little girl,” Winans said on “GMA” of what he’ll remember most from the service.
“Love is always a choice. People don’t have to be nice. People don’t have to show up. There would have been a million excuses and all of them would have been acceptable,” he said. “Every now and again I would look over at Cissy and I could just see that she was satisfied that all of these people to took the time to come see her little girl.”
Winans’ special bond with the pop star (he married Houston and R&B singer Bobby Brown, her ex-husband, in 1992, and his sister, CeCe, is godmother to the couple’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina) means he and his gospel-legend family will keep a close eye on Houston’s survivors long after the media frenzy surrounding her death dies down.
“I’ve already talked to people and we have plans,” he said. “I’ve talked to my mom and we’re going to give them a little time and then we’re going to be in their face. We have some things … that are going to happen because we were family.
“Families are around when all of the fanfare is gone and because she was our sister, we’ll be there, you can just rest assured,” he said.