Denise Murray spoke to BeBe Winans about BEBE & CECE WINANS' crossover appeal
When they were handing out the gospel talent, one Detroit family seems to have received more than their fair share. To the casual observer it would appear that every member of the Winans entourage has released or is about to release an album. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the family name has become synonymous with musical excellence and crossover sensibility. At the forefront of this attempt at Detroit world domination have been BeBe and CeCe Winans, who's album 'Heaven' achieved unparalleled sales on its release in 1988, charting in R&B and soul listings in America.
Twenty-eight-year-old Benjamin 'BeBe' Winans payed a flying visit to the UK recently in advance of the first couple of gospel's British dates in October and November, to record the London Symphony Orchestra for a new album to be released early in 1991. Despite his own success BeBe is proud of his family's achievements, and loves to talk about them.
"Our clan has done it's best to clog up the Black Gospel charts," he jokes, "let me see...you have my older brothers Ronald, Marvin, Michael and Carvin - who make up The Winans, and then there's Daniel. I'm the seventh child and youngest boy, the last three were all girls Priscilla (CeCe) my partner, and the babies Debbie and Angela who are due to release an album later this year as The Winans Sisters, there's my sister-in-law Vickie Winans, and last but not least Mom and Pop Winans. As you can see we area big family!"
The Winans' childhood must have been a very musical one, but was it also happy?
"We grew up in Detroit, Michigan and there was 10 of us kids. Our mom
and dad, Delores and David Winans gave us the best childhood ever; it
was built on concrete foundations such as love, trust, and happiness.
I have come to truly understand the importance of childhood, it shapes
a child into the man or woman he or she will grow into, their
hopes and dreams, everything. It's a sad thing that a lot of families don't have the vital ingredients that go into shaping a good and fulfilled life.
"Ours was a Christian upbringing, and I've loved Jesus from ever since I can remember, but it wasn't until my teenage years that I realised that there was a deeper commitment that had to be made. It hasn't always been easy, but I mean it when I say it was the best decision I ever made, because Jesus is my life."
Fame and fortune did not come overnight for BeBe and CeCe - but after eight years and three albums it was theirs with a vengeance, and it was their third album 'Heaven' which was the key to major success.
"The road we came on was a long and hard one and the success of 'Heaven' was a great surprise to us, even though we knew that it was qualified to do anything because of all the hard work that went into that recording. We put everything we had into 'Heaven' - the songs were from the heart with words that meant a lot to us. On top of that there was the excellent production skill of Keith Thomas."
'Celebrate' was released as a single and was a top ten hit in the gospel charts, but when it became a hit in the R&B chart and clubs and radio stations started featuring it on their playlists, BeBe and CeCe realised that all the hard work had paid off.
"When 'Heaven' crossed over into the R&B, soul and pop formats we were overwhelmed and delighted because we wanted everyone to hear our music and the message that it brings. People need to hear about Jesus and what he means to us, and now we are in the position to reach them."
Success on this scale has spelt disaster for many, but BeBe has kept his feet firmly on the ground.
"I feel that success can be handled, you don't have to change - because you are still the same person - and you ain't no better than anybody else, you should never ever forget who gave you everything you have - when you put all those things together, it's easy."
When I asked BeBe if they'd had any criticism for doing a cover version of the old Simon and Garfunkel song 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', his answer was directed at their critics.
"Something we have the privilege of doing is using a song and relating it to what we feel. 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' is a classic and over the years it has come to mean a lot to me - it speaks of hard times and situations that we all experience. I must admit that I don't know who Paul Simon was talking about when he wrote the song, but God is my bridge over troubled waters and I know whom I'm referring to and I trust that the listener will know who I'm talking about. But needless to say we did receive a small amount of criticism, but not much...and I hope that answers all the critics in the UK!"