Dance club diva CeCe Peniston decided at a very young age that she would be an entertainer. Her dedication, ambition, and talent, combined with her “right place at the right time” charm, led her to the limelight by the time she reached her early twenties.
Peniston was born in Dayton, Ohio, but she spent the majority of her formative years in Phoenix, Arizona. She lists among her musical influences Patti LaBelle, Minnie Ripperton, Luther Vandross, and Shirley Murdock. As a grade school student, Peniston was cast in a class musical production, and her fascination with music then began to blossom. “I always told my mother that I wanted to sing,” Peniston recalled in an A&M Records biography, “but it wasn’t until that show that she realized I really could. From that point on, I got a lot of support from my parents because they saw I was serious.” Young CeCe’s parents realized what a talented singer they had in their family, and unlike many musicians’ families, they supported her choice to pursue an entertainment career.
As she reached her teens, Peniston saw others beyond her immediate family offer support for her career pursuits. When she was 13 years old, her grandmother sent her a Baldwin upright piano as a surprise Christmas present. “I really wanted to take piano lessons,” Peniston told Upscale, “but I didn’t have a way to practice my lessons at home, and [my grandmother] was able to get me a piano. I was so happy; I couldn’t believe it…. I still have the piano—it’s at my mom’s house because I have so much stuff. But it’s a sentimental thing. I’ve written things on it, and even when I’m home, I’ll play little key stuff on it—like I’ll work out my melodies and little stuff like that on it.”
When Peniston reached her mid-teens, she landed a part in a local theater group’s production of Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. She also participated in athletics and set several track records in high school. Once she earned her diploma, she went on to attend Phoenix College. During her first year as a college student, Peniston was crowned Miss Black Arizona.
In January of 1991 record producer Felipe “DJ Wax Dawg” DelGado, who was also based in Phoenix, asked Peniston to sing background vocals on rapper Overweight Pooch’s Female Preacher album for A&M Records. When Manny Lehman, A&M’s director of artists and repertoire, heard Peniston sing, he wanted to meet with her immediately. A&M then commissioned DelGado to produce a track featuring Peniston as a solo artist.
Peniston was 21 years old when she and DelGado produced her first single, “Finally,” which became an
Born in Dayton, Ohio; divorced. Education: Attended Phoenix College, Arizona.
Began performing in school; recorded background vocals for Overweight Pooch’s album Female Preacher, A&M, 1991; released first single, “Finally,” 1991; released debut album, Finally, A&M, 1992; toured with R. Kelly, Levert, and Joe Public and the Cover Girls, 1992.
Awards: Gold album award for Finally, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —A&M Records, 1416 La Brea Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028.
instant dance club hit in the United States. By the fall of 1991 “Finally” began its rise on the U.S. pop and R&B charts and had become a Top Five single in Great Britain. With her song climbing the charts, Peniston headed into the studio to record a full album. Finally would eventually reach the Top Five of the pop, R&B, and dance album charts and earn gold certification.
“Having a hit was a real shock to me,” exclaimed Peniston in her A&M biography. “We had two months to pull the whole album together…. I guess I didn’t realize the impact the record was having until it reached the top five. I didn’t know how hard it was for a new artist to start out that way … it seemed like everything happened so quickly.”
Peniston’s next hit, “We Got a Love Thang,” rocketed to Number One on Billboard’s Club Play chart within a month of its release. With another hit single on the charts, Peniston began a year of touring clubs and small theaters in both the United States and abroad in support of Finally. Her tour started with a series of shows in the Philippines, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, and Italy. When she returned to the United States, Peniston toured with such R&B acts as Joe Public and the Cover Girls, R. Kelly, and Levert. While on tour she saw “Inside That I Cried,” “Crazy Love,” and “Keep on Walkin’” join the list of hits from her debut album.
Determined not to become a one-hit wonder with Finally, Peniston went right back into the studio after her tour to begin work on her sophomore effort. She released Thought ’Ya Knew on A&M Records, along with the first single, “I’m in the Mood,” in 1993. “I guess the title tells you where I’m coming from with the new album,” Peniston stated in her A&M biography. “It’s like I thought ya knew I could do it, that I was coming right backatcha, real and honest.”
Though “Finally” was the only song on her debut album that Peniston wrote, she got more involved in the songwriting for the second album. She co-wrote three tracks for Thought ’Ya Knew— “Whatever It Is,” “Give What I’m Givin’,” and “Maybe It’s the Way.” “People are expecting a lot from me,” the singer commented to Billboard about the release of Thought ’Ya Knew. “They want to know whether or not I’m a one-hit wonder or something. But to be honest, I sort of like the pressure; it keeps me motivated and challenges me. I take my work very seriously, and ultimately, I do feel really good about the decisions [that were made] while I was making this record.”
The pressure of living up to the success of Finally wasn’t the only thing hanging over Peniston’s head while she recorded her second album. She had the turmoil of her personal life to contend with as well. Between the release of Finally and Thought ’Ya Knew, Peniston was married and then soon divorced. Her emotional distress perhaps shows through on the matured approach to Thought ’Ya Knew, compared to the bubbly style of Finally. “I’ve grown a lot in the past few years, musically and personally, and I wanted that to show,” Peniston explained to Ray Rogers in Out.
Throughout all the transitions in her career and in her life, Peniston has said she wants her fans to be able to identify with her and with her music. She described herself in her A&M biography as “sensitive, sentimental, and understanding … although I can also be sassy and earthy! And that’s how I want people to relate to me, as someone who’s down-to-earth, who has fun with life!”
Finally, A&M, 1992.
Thought ’Ya Knew, A&M, 1993.
(Contributor) Ready to Wear (soundtrack), Columbia, 1994.
Billboard, June 20, 1992; December 18, 1993.
Out, February/March, 1994.
People, February 7, 1994.
Upscale, May 1994; November 1994.
Vibe, February 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from A&M Records publicity materials, 1994.
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