Aretha Franklin (left) and Whitney Houston, in May 1989
Throughout the highs and lows of Whitney Houston's tumultuous life
, one person was a constant fan: her godmother, soul great Aretha Franklin.
"We were all aware of her challenges," Franklin, 69, says exclusively in the new issue of PEOPLE. "And I was always rooting for her."
Franklin recalls being thrilled with her goddaughter's triumphant return to the silver screen. "Seeing previews for the new Sparkle
movie I thought, boy she looks good, healthy, fresh and has that twinkle in her eyes!"
For Houston, it may have been a struggle to keep her career on track, "but in looking back now, I recall her European tour: Still exciting, but unable to sing what she wanted to had to be disheartening," says Franklin, who has also shared Houston memories on her Facebook
. "And yet she stood night after night and endured unappreciative audiences with the heart of a champion."
For Franklin's full tribute, and more on Houston's final days, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now