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Whitney Houston was "a trumpet to the world" who was "not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ," says a veteran musician who played in the late superstar singer's band and led Bible studies with Houston while on tour.

Jetro Da Silva, a professor at Berklee College of Music, first met Houston in 1999 while rehearsing with her band. Da Silva, who mostly played keyboards while touring with Houston, says it wasn't long before Houston approached him and said, "You will pray before all the concerts in this tour." Da Silva says that was "the beginning of my journey as intercessor, friend, and keyboardist for Ms. Houston."

Houston died last month in Beverly Hills; the cause has yet to be determined. Da Silva—who has also worked with Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Gladys Knight, Mary Mary, Bonnie Raitt, and many more—says he was stunned by the news of Houston's, and the reality didn't set in until he saw her casket at her funeral a couple weeks ago in New Jersey.

In an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, Da Silva discussed his 12-year friendship with Houston, whom he also called "Nippy," as did many of her family and close friends. He describes the diva as a woman of prayer who "knew the Lord on a personal level" and was always "growing and learning." But he also acknowledges Houston's battles with alcohol and drugs, noting that those struggles helped her to "know and understand grace and mercy on a deeper level."

First, tell me a bit about your own spiritual background.

I'm from a Christian family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 12, I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and was baptized. Prayer has always played a great role in my life. I also have a Master of Arts in Theological Study from Andover Newton, ...

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