updated 02/14/2012 AT 5:45 PM ET
•originally published 02/16/2012 AT 4:20 PM ET
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 Twitter. “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