Robert Kovacik and Sue Monroe
Whitney Houston's body was returned to New Jersey, while funeral plans remained in the works
Whitney Houston's long-time musical director, who worked with her on a spine-tingling rendition of the National Anthem for the Super Bowl in 1991, said the pop superstar "was so happy" when he saw her Thursday at a rehearsal for a pre-Grammy awards show dinner.
Rickey Minor, now music director for "The Tonight Show," was preparing to rehearse with singers Brandy and Monica for producer Clive Davis' dinner when a soaking wet Houston arrived from the pool at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
"Her hair was still wet and she gave me a big hug," said Minor. "She shook her hair on me and got me all wet.
"She was on fire. She was so happy. She talked about the movie ("Sparkle"), the costumes. She was so, so good."
Minor, who worked with Houston for about 30 years, was at the hotel Saturday when he learned of her death. The woman he called his "sister" had been found lifeless in at bath tub at the hotel.
"I was just pacing the floor," Minor said. "Then they told me, 'She's gone.'"
Complete Coverage: "Whitney Houston: 1963-2012"
The pre-Grammy show went on, but Minor said he felt "quiet and numb."
"I still can't process it at this point," Minor said Monday morning.
During an interview with NBC4 Monday, Minor talked about two highpoints of Houston's career when it all came together -- her recording of "I Will Always Love You" and her National Anthem performance at the Super Bowl in 1991. Minor collaborated with Houston to create the rousing Super Bowl performance that was, in part, inspired by one of the all-time great renditions of the song -- Marvin Gaye's silky smooth and soulful version at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.
"We talked about how it should feel, and she loved the Marvin Gaye version -- it was free, it was different, it was in 4/4 meter as opposed to the 3/4 waltz meter," said Minor. "And, we wanted some gospel influence, but we wanted some rhythm in there."
The two remained in touch during good times and darker days, Minor said.
"She changed my life forever," he said. "She believed in me at times when I didn't believe in myself.