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Hugs, tears, prayers and Whitney Houston: Fisk honors Mandisa Hundley

Fisk Memorial Chapel felt like a college reunion Friday, and it was a family reunion for some as friends of Mandisa Hundley gathered to celebrate a woman they called a friend and sister.

Hundley was a 2000 graduate of Fisk University, Grammy-winning Christian gospel singer and member of the famed Fisk. She appeared on “American Idol” in 2005, finishing in the top nine.

Hundley was  on April 18. She was 47.

The university hosted a celebration of life service Friday for Hundley, who showcased her talent as a Jubilee Singer and Songsleader Dance Team member at Fisk.

What started with hugs and smiles as many Fisk graduates reconnected turned silent as Jubilee Singer alumni sang multiple a Capella songs to honor their friend, including “Rockin’ Jerusalem.”

Several guests wore Fisk colors, blue and gold. Freda Player, a friend of Hundley’s and 2000 Fisk graduate said Hundley was a “friend to everyone.”

While Hundley may have questioned her star power when she arrived on Fisk’s campus in 1996, roommate Pamela Harris knew she was different from other singers at the famed Historically Black College and University in Nashville.

“She was a star,” Harris said. And she told Hundley so as the future Grammy winner began to sing in their dorm room.

Caarne White roomed with Harris and Hundley and performed with Hundley as a Jubilee Singer. Overcome with emotion, White wiped tears from her eyes Friday as she sang Whitney Houston’s “Run to you” as a tribute to Hundley, who said she wanted to be Houston while in college.

Hundley made an impression on her classmates and Jubilee family, one that resonates today with Antonio Grissom, who sang with her at Fisk.

Hundley was a calming influence as Grissom was overcome with nerves when he tried out for the Jubilee Singers in 1998, he said, noting that it was her encouragement led him to try out to begin with. He ultimately became a member of the group.

Hundley’s encouragement stayed with Grissom as he later become a school counselor, youth development leader and pastor, he said.

Hundley’s impact continues at Fisk with a 2010 scholarship that was established in her honor to help students carrying a 3.0 GPA with financial needs attend her alma mater.

“I thank you friend, for being there for many of us when we needed you the most,” Grissom said.

A cause of death for Hundley has not yet been released. Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Franklin Police Department said.