RED BANK, N.J. (USAToday.com) - Singer Cissy Houston said she knows her daughter Whitney is never coming back.
Eighteen months after her daughter died and two days after she would have turned 50, her mother told a crowd of about 80 people Sunday at the Two River Theater Co. she doesn't blame God.
"I believe totally in (God). I know with every ounce in me he loved her and she loved him. And I love him," she said. "I wake up crying, I go to bed crying, I wake up in the middle of the night crying, wherever it comes.
"It's been very difficult for me, and still is," she said. "I'm on the mend. I'll never forget her."
Houston signed copies of her book Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss and the Night the Music Died for 15 minutes before she was interviewed on stage for 45 minutes by journalist Gilda Rogers. The event ended with a music performance by the Anointed Sons of Jersey.
The interview got off to a lively start when Rogers, who also is associated with the theater in the area of community relations, asked Houston if it were OK to call her Miss Cissy.
"You can call me doctor, I've got four doctorates (degrees)," she firmly responded.
Her feistiness and love for her daughter was evident throughout. So, too, was the love the audience had for them both. The interview ended with a short question-and-answer session. Before it got started, Houston warned, "Don't ask no stupid questions."
The evening covered many bases. Houston said her book began as a story about her life. After her daughter died Feb. 11, 2012, by drowning in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on the eve of the Grammy Awards, her publisher asked her to take a different direction, and she decided to do so.
Many of Rogers' questions concerned Cissy Houston's groundbreaking career in music and her life as a part of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark.
The two-time Grammy Award winner talked about the struggle transitioning from gospel music to secular music and how someone criticized her saying she was serving two gods.
"There's something wrong with you because I know there is only one God," she responded. "It was a struggle for everybody else."
Early in her career as a member of the Drinkard Singers she helped break ground for gospel groups by performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957 and for recording A Joyful Noise in 1959, the first gospel album to appear on a major label.
When Rogers asked her how Newport changed her life, she said, "I was pregnant when I was there. That changed my life."
She also spoke about how Elvis Presley remembered the Drinkard Singers years later and asked them to join him on his comeback tour. She alluded to comments people have made that he was a racist.
"He was a great friend of mine," she said. "He never said anything bad to us."
She discussed how she decided to stop touring so much and stay closer to home when her son Michael, as a young boy, was sitting on the curb crying when he saw she had packed her suitcase to leave for an engagement.
Rogers asked her if she had any one moment she felt the most proud of her daughter.
"Every time she stood on that stage and sang," she said to loud audience applause.
"Nobody raises their children, not a mother or a father that I know, raised their children to do drugs," said Houston about her daughter's long struggle with illegal substances. Cocaine, marijuana and other drugs were found in Whitney Houston's system after her death.
Rogers asked Houston what advice she has for today's aspiring singing stars in an unforgiving industry.
"The business has changed so much. It's nothing like it used to be," she said. "I don't even know what this business is about now. I really don't. It's all so different."