Winans, CeCe and BeBe
BeBe and CeCe Winans
For more than a decade, BeBe and CeCe Winans have been among the most commercially successful contemporary gospel acts in the United States. A hallmark of their sound is their “light” version of gospel, a soothing sound enriched by modern jazz, R&B, and pop elements. Criticized by gospel traditionalists for weakening the sacred music’s message by adapting instrumentation and arrangements of contemporary pop and soul music, BeBe and CeCe Winans successfully aimed at reaching the broader and younger audience that traditional gospel had largely lost. Their lyrics, which are not as heavily loaded with Christian symbolism as traditional gospel, extended the appeal of their musical message of love and respect to a broad secular audience.
BeBe and CeCe Winans’ unique style won over a huge number of listeners and sent two of their albums platinum. Their album from 1988, Heaven, was with Aretha Franklin’s 1972 Amazing Grace, only the second gospel record ever to go gold. Since then, BeBe and CeCe Winans have earned many more top ten hits on Billboard’s R&B charts and won numerous Grammy, Stellar, and Dove Awards.
Members include BeBe Winans (born Benjamin Winans in 1962 in Detroit, MI), vocals; CeCe Winans (born Priscilla Winans on October 8, 1964, in Detroit, MI), vocals; son and daughter, respectively, of Delores and David Winans, Sr.
Started singing in choir at Mount Zion Church of God and Christ in Detroit, MI; formed first group The Winans, Part 2 with two brothers; became members of The PTL Singers on The PTL Club television show, 1982-84; signed with Sparrow Records, 1985; signed with Capitol Records; released five albums under Capitol/Sparrow, 1987-94; tours included Winans One Family World Tour, 1992; Young Messiah Tour, 1993; tour with The Sounds of Blackness, 1994; both started working on solo projects; CeCe Winans released four solo albums, 1995-99; wrote autobiography, started own record label, 1999; BeBe Winans released first solo album on Atlantic Records, 1997; second solo album released on Motown Records, 2000.
Awards: Dove Award, New Artists of the Year, 1987; Grammy Award (CeCe Winans), Best Female Gospel Soul Vocal Performance, 1987; Grammy Award (CeCe Winans), Best Female Gospel Vocal Performance, 1989; Dove Award, Group of the Year and Album of the Year, 1990; NAACP Image Award for Best Gospel Artist, 1990 and 1992; Dove Award, Group of the Year, 1992; Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, 1992; Dove Award (CeCe Winans), Female Vocalist of the Year, 1996; Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, 1992; Grammy Award (CeCe Winans), Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, 1995; Dove Award (BeBe Winans), Best Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song of the Year, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —BeBe Winans: Motown Records, 6255 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. Website —BeBe Winans Official Website: http://www.bebewinans.com. Record company —CeCe Winans: Rellspring Gospel, 230 Franklin Road, Building 2B, Franklin, TN 37064; Website —CeCe Winans Official Website: http://www.wellspringgospel.com.
BeBe and CeCe were born into a family of gospel singers that in the 1980s and 1990s produced no fewer than four celebrated gospel acts: The Winans, Daniel Winans & the Second Half, and, of course, BeBe and CeCe. BeBe and CeCe gave their two youngest sisters, Angie and Debbie, their start singing back-up, and the two girls went on to form a duo of their own called Sisters.
BeBe and CeCe Winans’ parents met in a church choir, the Lemon Gospel Chorus, in 1950 and formed their own choir after their marriage in 1953. BeBe Winans was the youngest of the seven Winans sons; CeCe was the first of their three daughters. To keep their kids off the streets of Detroit, the Winans made it a point to take them to their Pentecostal church regularly. As in many churches, singing together was a large part of the worship experience, and like so many other singers, BeBe and CeCe Winans got their start in their local church choir.
All ten of the Winans brothers and sisters were good singers and their impact on the church choir, according to BeBe, was great. “We were the chorus,” he told Washington Post writer Richard Harrington. “We directed the choir, my brother played organ and taught the songs. We were the strong tenors, the strong altos, the strong sopranos.” Father David Winans did not only sing in the choir, he was also a member of a four-man singing group, the Noble Aires. He knew discipline was important if one wanted to succeed as a singer. “My father was pretty strict on the guys growing up, but they loved it,” CeCe Winans told Harrington. “He drilled them so they would be perfectionists in what they did,” she recalled, “but [singing] was never something they pushed on us.” The four eldest Winans brothers David, Ronald, Carvin, and Marvin formed the gospel quartet the Testimonials in the early 1970s. They later changed their name to The Winans, went off to California to record their first album in 1980 and subsequently won multiple Grammy Awards.
Even as teenagers, the only music BeBe and CeCe were allowed to listen to at home was gospel music. However, growing up in Detroit in the late 1970s, it was nearly impossible for them not to be influenced by musicians from outside the gospel realm like the Temptations, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder. In the late 1970s, BeBe and CeCe, together with their older brothers Michael and Daniel, formed their own group, the Winans, Part 2 and started performing at church and family events.
While BeBe was sure that he wanted to sing for a living, CeCe didn’t go for a career as a singer at first, opting instead to study cosmetology. However, in 1981, Howard McCrary, musical director of the religious TV program The PTL Club and a friend of the Winans, invited BeBe and CeCe to sing in the show. Together with six other singers, they became the PTL Singers in 1982 and performed to a mainly white audience for the first time. Occasionally BeBe and CeCe sang duets on the show, including “Lord, Lift Us Up,” a cover version of Joe Cocker’s and Jennifer Warnes’ hit, “Up Where We Belong,” from the soundtrack of An Officer and a Gentleman.PTL also became their first record label. The album Lord, Lift Us Up was released by PTL in 1984. The duo’s cover version of “Up Where We Belong” became a hit on mainstream radio and the duo caught the attention of several record labels.
From there they went on to sing as the gospel duo BeBe and CeCe Winans. Thanks to BeBe’s big, deep voice that managed to be tender and powerful at the same time and CeCe’s rich alto, they were in demand from a variety of churches. Chris Willman of the Los Angeles Times described the duo’s singing style as belonging to the “Megalo-Melismatic school.... swooping and dipping all over a single, poor defenseless syllable.” However, in early 1984, 18-year-old CeCe Winans left PTL and moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, back to Detroit. She got married in June to Alvin Love, a sales account executive, and opened her own beauty salon. BeBe ventured into commercial jingles.
In 1985, gospel label Sparrow Records took BeBe and CeCe under its wing. They were the first black artists on Sparrow’s roster and produced a single of BeBe’s song “I.O.U. Me.” Delighted by the high quality of their recorded work, Sparrow president Bill Hearn asked Capitol Records if they were interested in BeBe and CeCe’s music. They were, and the gospel duo signed a second contract with the major label. Supported by two record labels, BeBe and CeCe Winans entered into the most dynamic phase of their career, one which would take them to the top of contemporary gospel and R&B.
After the duo signed with Capitol Records, their debut album BeBe & CeCe Winans was released in 1987 on the Sparrow/Capitol label. Producer Keith Thomas collaborated with the duo on the full vocal arrangements which were then sung by other Winans family members, including brother Marvin. Besides winning a Grammy, the album made it into Billboards top ten spiritual albums—the category where black gospel artists are listed—and the magazine’s top 20 inspirational albums—which usually represent white gospel. BeBe Winans, who co-wrote most of the catchy melodies, explained to Washington Post writer Richard Harrington that it has become their mission to demolish these divisions, because he couldn’t “see the color of music.”
CeCe was honored with her first Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance for a Female. The songs “I.O.U. Me,” “For Always,” and “Love Said Not So,” went on to become hits from the album. Not only were BeBe and CeCe popular among gospel fans— they were also popular in the so-called secular market. In addition, BeBe starred in the Broadway musical Don’t Get God Started in 1987. Discussing this experience, BeBe Winans told Billboard’s Bob Darden, “I’d get so involved with a song that I’d go on too long. The crowd would love it, but when I’d come backstage, I had driven the producers crazy!”
The tour for their first album included mainly neutral concert halls—rather than traditional gospel venues— where BeBe and CeCe could freely perform their music. Their lyrics were often ambiguous and lacked the strong Christian messages that most pastors required for their churches. The duo also toured with Sandi Patti and with The Winans. On a trip to Poland and Russia, their religious music even received a positive review in a communist newspaper.
The duo’s second album Heaven was released in 1988. Peter B. King wrote in the Seattle Times that its sound was “best described as synth-funk gospel,” dominated by “synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines.” For the tune “Celebrate New Life,” BeBe and CeCe Winans teamed up with their friend Whitney Houston. Another song on the album, “You,” was co-written by three members of the jazz gospel quartet Take 6 who also sang backup vocals. Heaven included new versions of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” Heaven cemented BeBe and CeCe as gospel stars of the first order. It was the first Gospel album ever to reach the top ten on Billboard’s R&B charts and only the second to be certified gold.
BeBe and CeCe’s next album, Different Lifestyles, was another ambitious project that saw them pushing into other genres, characterized by the New York Times’ Michael Eric Dyson as “a curriculum of musical diversity—from rap and uptempo rhythm-and-blues to a sample of a gospel shout.” They also included a star-studded lineup of guest artists, including Luther Vandross, M.C. Hammer, and Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers. “Sometimes we were concerned that people may think we can’t do a full album without any special guests, “CeCe told Billboard’s David Nathan. “But what do you do when someone like Luther calls?” BeBe and CeCe co-wrote ten of the record’s eleven tracks. The first single from Different Lifestyles, ”Addictive Love, “was an immediate hit among radio programmers across the nation. The album eventually reached number one on the Billboard R&B charts.
Following the release of Different Lifestyles, BeBe and CeCe set off on a year of hectic touring which left them feeling exhausted. They took a year off from performing and recording. Their next album, released on Sparrow/Capitol in 1993, was their first Christmas album, appropriately entitled First Christmas.“It was fun taking songs and making them into BeBe and CeCe songs without really trying to change them because they were already great,” CeCe told Lisa Collins of Billboard.
They followed up the Christmas record with 1994’s Relationships.It was an album that almost didn’t appear on Capitol. BeBe and CeCe had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with their record company, which they felt was not giving them the support they deserved. The bad feelings were turned to good, however, when Gary Gersh took over as Capitol Records’ president and CEO in mid 1993. “We were involved in every aspect of Relationships, which included being at several marketing and other label meetings,” BeBe told J.R. Reynolds of Billboard.BeBe and CeCe once again felt that they were part of Capitol’s future. Nonetheless, the record was the last one the duo recorded together.
In 1996, BeBe released his first solo album, BeBe Winans, to mixed reviews on Atlantic Records. The album’s first track “In Harm’s Way” was, according to Jet, inspired by Ronald Winans’ heart attack which had almost killed BeBe’s brother. In 2000, BeBe signed with Motown and released his second solo album Love & Freedom.The album was nominated for a Dove Award in 2001.
CeCe Winans’ solo career took off right from the start. Her husband Alvin quit his position at Xerox and became her business manager. CeCe’s first solo release, Alone in His Presence, went gold in 1995 and was awarded a Grammy as the year’s best contemporary soul gospel album. In 1996, CeCe was the first black female to win the Dove Award for female vocalist of the year. She hosted her own television show, CeCe’s Place, on the interfaith cable channel Odyssey Network, and authored her autobiography, On a Positive Note: Her Joyous Faith, Her Life, and Her Everyday Blessings.She also founded her own company, CW Wellspring Entertainment, including record label Wellspring Gospel. By 2001, CeCe had recorded four solo records and had won a total of eight Grammy Awards. The first release on her own label, 1999’s Alabaster Box, was certified gold and nominated for a Grammy.
BeBe and CeCe Winans
Lord Lift Us Up, PTL, 1984.
Introducing BeBe & CeCe Winans (includes “I.O.U. Me,” “For Always,” and “Love Said Not So”), Sparrow/Capitol, 1987.
Heaven (includes “Celebrate New Life”), Sparrow/Capitol,1988.
Different Lifestyles (includes “Addictive Love”), Sparrow/ Capitol, 1991.
First Christmas, Sparrow/Capitol, 1993.
Relationships, Sparrow/Capitol, 1994.
Greatest Hits, Sparrow/Capitol, 1996.
BeBe Winans (includes “In Harm’s Way”), Atlantic Records,1997.
Love & Freedom, Motown, 2000.
Alone In His Presence, Sparrow, 1995.
Everlasting Love, Pioneer Music, 1998.
His Gift, Pioneer Music, 1998.
Alabaster Box, Wellspring Gospel, 1999.
(CeCe Winans with Renita Weems) On a Positive Note (autobiography), Pocket Books, 1999.
Newsmakers 2000, Issue 1, Gale Group, 2000.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 13th edition, Gale Group, 2000.
Associated Press Newswires, January 10, 2001.
Billboard, July 9, 1988, p. 55; July 16, 1988, p. 44; July 13,1991, p. 21; November 27, 1993, p. 71 ; August 20, 1994, p. 9; August 19, 1995, p. 40; August 21, 1999, p.6; December 11, 1999, p. 46.
Dallas Morning News, July 3, 1999, p. 6G.
Ebony, November 1998, p. 132.
Forth Worth Star-Telegram (Forth Worth, TX), November 15,1997, p. 3.
Jet, December 1, 1997, p. 38.
Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1989, p. 22; September 23,1991, p. F2.
New York Times, December 22, 1991, p.30.
Omaha World-Herald, May 10, 1996, p. 47.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 21, 1998, p. 26.
PR Newswire, December 7, 2000.
Seattle Times, April 6, 1989, p. H1.
USA Today, October 11, 1991, p. 4D.
Washington Post, February 27, 1989, p. B04; April 21, 1989, p. N20; December 28, 1989, p. C01.
BeBe Winans Official Website, http://www.bebewinans.com (February 7, 2001).
CeCe Winans Official Website, http://www.wellspringgospel.com (February 7, 2001).
“On a Positive Note,” http://www.amazon.com (January 12, 2001).
Additional information was provided by CeCe Winans’ publicist Bill Carpenter.
Winans, CeCe and BeBe
BeBe and CeCe Winans
In the music industry, the term “crossover” has both positive and negative connotations. To musical purists, it implies a watering-down of some musical form to make it more commercial—in other words, selling out. To people on the business side, however, crossover refers to the successful marketing of a musical product to an audience that extends beyond the artist’s natural one. BeBe and CeCe Winans represent a crossover success story in the best sense of the word. They have managed simultaneously to remain true to their gospel roots and to appeal to a much broader pop music audience, for whom the word “gospel” had long meant commercial poison. Since the release of their debut album in 1987, BeBe and CeCe have taken both the pop and gospel music worlds by storm with the soulful Christian music that they grew up on.
BeBe (Benjamin) and CeCe (Priscilla) Winans were born in Detroit, the seventh and eighth children of what has become the most celebrated musical family in the history of contemporary gospel music. Their parents, Delores and David (Mom and Pop) Winans, met while singing with the Lemon Gospel Chorus. Mom and Pop married in 1953, and quickly began producing a new generation of talented singers. Four of their older sons, Ronald, Carvin, Marvin, and Michael, formed The Winans, a Grammy-winning group which attained world-class status in its own right. The Winans family was close-knit, and Delores and David—who have themselves maintained performing careers—raised their children in a rigid, Christian atmosphere. The children were not allowed to go to parties or movies, and no secular music was played in the house.
While they insist that they are equally close to all of their siblings, BeBe and CeCe, because of their closeness in age, began singing together early on. After they graduated from high school together—CeCe was promoted a grade—CeCe attended cosmetology school and eventually opened her own hair salon. BeBe, on the other hand, chose to focus single-mindedly on music. As four of their older brothers began to gain exposure as The Winans, BeBe & CeCe sought to make their own mark with a more contemporary sound. They joined with another older brother, Daniel, to form The Winans Part 2 in the late 1970s. Andrae Crouch, the gospel star who had initially discovered The Winans, eventually noticed that their kid siblings could sing a little, too, and he hired BeBe and CeCe to sing backup for him.
In 1982 the duo took a job performing with the PTL Singers in Charlotte, North Carolina. With PTL, BeBe and CeCe were able to hone their stage skills, and also to gain national exposure through frequent television appearances and tours. They scored their first radio hit, a cover version of the pop song “Up Where We Belong,” while still performing with PTL. As their audience grew,
At a Glance …
Born Benjamin (BeBe) Winans, 1962, and Priscilla (CeCe) Winans, 1964, both in Detroit, MI; son and daughter of David (a minister, barber, and gospel singer) and Delores Winans (a medical transcriptionist and gospel singer); BeBe married Debbie; CeCe married Alvin Love (a sales account executive); CeCe’s children: Alvin III, Ashley Love. Religion: both Christian.
Began singing together with brother David as The Winans Part 2; launched career as duo with The PTL Singers, 1982; released first album, BeBe and CeCe Winans, 1987; numerous television appearances, including The Tonight Show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Martin, Sesame Street, and the 1994 Grammy Awards telecast; tours include Winans One Family World Tour, 1992; Young Messiah Tour, 1993; and 1994 four featuring “The Sounds of Blackness;” CeCe has also established a solo recording and concert career, 1995-; BeBe has starred in a run of the off Broadway musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.
Awards: Soul Train Music Award, Best Gospel Album of the Year, for Heaven, 1990; Stellar Award, Best New Gospel Artist, 1988, Best Performance by Group or Duo, Album of the Year, Contemporary, Song of the Year, Contemporary, and Best Inspirational Gospel Performance, 1990; NAACP Image Award, Best Gospel Artist, 1990, 1992; Dove Award, New Artist of the Year, 1988, Group of the Year, 1990, 1992, Contemporary Album of the Year, 1990, Female Vocalist of the Year, 1996; Grammy Award, Best Soul Gospel Vocal Performance, Female, for “For Always,” 1988, Best Gospel Vocal Performance, Male, for “Meantime,” and Best Gospel Vocal Performance, Female, for “Don’t Cry,” 1990, Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, for Different Lifestyles, 1992, Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album (CeCe only), for Alone in His Presence, 1996; Motor City Music Award, Outstanding Gospel Recording, Outstanding Gospel Soloist, Duo or Group, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —Sparrow Records, EMI Christian Music Group, P.O. Box 5085, 101 Winners Circle, Brentwood, TN 37024-5085.
BeBe and CeCe began receiving calls from churches all over the country, and soon they were being noticed by record companies as well.
The duo signed with the Christian label Sparrow—which up to then did not have a single black artist on its roster—and produced its debut album, BeBe & CeCe Winans, in 1987. When executives at Sparrow heard the results, they were convinced that the recording had commercial potential beyond the Christian market. They took the recording to Capitol Records, and Capitol agreed to assist with distribution. The album was a hit with mainstream and gospel audiences alike. With several family members singing background parts, the recording sold well on both the R&B and Inspirational charts, and it earned the duo several Grammy nominations and a handful of Dove awards for Christian music. Two singles, “I.O.U. Me” and “For Always” received loads of radio airplay.
The pair’s follow-up album, Heaven, released in 1988, faired even better. Heaven became the first gospel recording since Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (1972) to reach the top ten on Billboard’s R&B charts and to go gold (100,000 copies sold). The album featured a guest performance by superstar and close friend Whitney Houston. For Heaven BeBe and CeCe received four Grammy Awards, an NAACP Image Award, scads of other honors, and a level of mainstream acclaim that had probably never before been lavished on a performing entity working so clearly within the Gospel idiom.
Even bigger things were in store for the duo’s next project, the 1991 release Different Lifestyles. The album became the first gospel project to rise to the top of Billboard’s R&B and Gospel album sales charts. With Different Lifestyles, BeBe and CeCe further developed their unique line-walk between mainstream and gospel sounds. Their music is slickly produced and very contemporary, while their message is unapologetically religious. They are people who take their Christianity seriously, and see their talent as a gift from God, to be used for spreading God’s word. And of course it didn’t hurt to have such luminaries as Whitney Houston (again), Hammer, and Luther Vandross showing up in supporting roles. Again, numerous honors and awards ensued, including another Grammy and another NAACP Image Award.
In 1993 BeBe and CeCe released First Christmas, and BeBe tried his hand at producing. His production credits included the Whitney Houston hit “Jesus Loves Me” from the soundtrack for the film The Bodyguard. The following year, the duo was back in the studio for its next album, Relationships, which produced another handful of crossover hit singles. Over the next couple of years, it was CeCe’s turn to break out as a star in her own right, although she had no intention of dissolving the duo. Her duet with Houston, “Count On Me” from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack reached the top of Billboard’s R&B charts and cracked the Top Ten on the pop charts. In 1996 CeCe released her first solo album, Alone In His Presence. Her solo debut earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, and established CeCe as a major star apart from her stellar family. The BeBe and CeCe duo also released a Greatest Hits album in 1996, much to the relief of fans who may have suspected that the separation was permanent.
Meanwhile, BeBe has continued to pursue his interest in producing the recordings of others, and he also began work on a solo project of his own. Both BeBe and CeCe have also dabbled in stage acting, and CeCe made several nonsinging television appearances. Although each half of the team will likely continue to seek an individual identity, it is as “BeBe and CeCe” that the two have made a permanent mark on the direction of gospel music—a mark that their fans hope still has some growing to do.
BeBe & CeCe Winans, Sparrow, 1987.
Heaven, Sparrow, 1988.
Different Lifestyles, Sparrow, 1991.
First Christmas, Sparrow, 1993.
Relationships, Sparrow, 1994.
Greatest Hits, Sparrow, 1996.
(CeCe only) Alone In His Presence, Sparrow, 1996.
Billboard, July 9, 1988, p. 55; July 16, 1988, p. 44; July 13, 1991, p. 21.
Essence, December 1992, pp. 81-82.
Jet, January 25, 1993, p. 24; October 9, 1995, pp. 58-61.
People Weekly, January 15, 1996.
Today’s Christian Woman, September/October 1995, pp. 46-50.
USA Today, February 26, 1996.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Sparrow Records/EMI press material, 1996.
—Robert R. Jacobson