The Winans Family: From Mom & Pop to Angie & Debbie, a dynasty revealed

Thursday 1st October 1992

It's the dream show guaranteed to make every gospel enthusiast drool. The Winans, BeBe and CeCe, Daniel Winans, Mom And Pop and Angie And Debbie all on one stage at a theatre near you. Tony Cummings reports.

Winans Family
Winans Family

Few Stateside tours have caused such a stir in today's recession-racked USA as the 'One Family World Tour'. It's not just that the participants are music business legends with enough hit records and Grammy Awards to make most pop stars look like chronic under achievers. For The Winans One Family World Tour has caught the Americans' imagination in ways that popular entertainment's standard pack-'em-in-and-rake-it-in tours could never hope to. The Winans One Family Tour has struck a chord deep in the American psyche by bringing a message of hope in a society reeling under the weight of mobs and recession, crack gangs and teenage abortions. It's a message trendy liberals poo poo as Apple Pie irrelevancy and opportunist politicians (including an existing US president) use as an electioneering buzzword. The message of course is 'family'.

On their tour Mom And Pop Winans accompany their tribe grouped as the Winans (Marvin, Carvin, Michael and Ronald); BeBe and CeCe Winans; soloist Daniel Winans, the Sisters Angelique and Debrah and guitarist David Jr in a show that is the living embodiment of the strength of family ties and the need to return to its values. Says Mom Winans, "this is more than just a tour. It is a renewing for the Winans family and will hopefully re-focus the efforts to restore the bonds of family for those who attend and participate." 'CeCe' Winans, who, with her brother, has become such a pioneering figure in crossover gospel, sees family disintegration as a social tragedy of epic proportions. "So many families are torn apart. I think that's one of the main problems in the world today. There aren't too many families that have held together. Hopefully we can be an example to the world." Having said that, CeCe is anxious that the Winans Family don't get lifted into the role of a sitcom fantasy family. "We're a family, a real family but we're not the Brady Bunch, that's for sure. We have our disputes and disagreements, but we've been taught how to settle them. Our parents taught us that your family is important, not to hold grudges, to discuss, get over things, and let life go on."

For the Winans Family, the cornerstone of open communications within the family is their love and trust of the resurrected Christ. "We pray every day," says Pop Winans, "and we seek the Lord's face through studying the Word of God." If this sounds naively simplistic to a society gorged on humanism, it strikes a note of truth to people battered and bemused as divorce figures spiral off the graph and who live under the all-pervasive spectre of AIDS. Words venerating the family, and the place the love of God has in the family, take on a considerable resonance when coming from a man who's been married to the same woman for 40 years and has raised10 children.

It was in Detroit that David (Pop) and Delores met and married. David was 19, Delores 21. "I was singing and playing piano in a choir that he joined," remembers Mom. "That's where we met, singing in a community choir, the Lemon Gospel Chorus."

Later, Pop formed the Nobelaires, a quartet in the classic traditions of the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers. In fact David knew Sam Cooke before Sam abandoned gospel music to begin his successful but finally tragic pursuit of the showbiz big time. David remembers, "Sam wanted me to come to bars but I told him I couldn't because I was church all the way."

The day after David married Delores he was laid off from his job on the Dodge assembly plant. Times were tough and for long periods there was little money in the Winans family. But after their first boy David Jr (ironically, the only one today who has not pursued a career in music - he is an engineer) was born the couple raised a family having a further straight run of six sons. The boys - David Winans Jr is the eldest at 38 -soon showed an aptitude for music and a disposition to gospel, hardly surprising since that was the only music allowed in the house. "I had (Cooke's) 'You Send Me' and I got rid of it," chuckles Pop. "We were oriented to gospel music and we taught our children nothing but the ways of the Lord. I never let them go to the shows or even to the theatre; I never let them get involved with any other activity but church." Carvin Winans remembers a house full of music: "Everybody was always singing - we always had a piano. We'd walk through the house humming and harmonizing. It was all we did." Indeed, once the children showed a gift for song, they were forced to develop that gift through long hours of rehearsal. Pop remembers: "Mom might call, 'Come on down and eat,' and I'd say "They ain't comin' yet!'"

According to Daniel Winans, "Detroit was no easy place to raise a family with 10 kids -we had friends who never saw 18." Which may explain Pop's literal ruling on the injunction about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Mom and Pop raised their children in the Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ, the church Pop's grandfather had founded. "We didn't spare the rod and the children didn't spoil," he notes proudly. "He was very tough on us," Calvin concurs. "Very strict but also very loving - they balanced each other. They always fed us and we always had a roof over our house. We had clothes, maybe not the best, and we didn't get much at Christmas, but we always had love." And haircuts: Pop held several jobs at the same time, one of which was barbering and, according to Carvin, while he saved a lot of money on haircuts, there was nothing subtle about his shearing: "He would just cut us clean! If he had patented them he'd be rich right now because everybody's using those kind of haircuts."

Some of the kids chafed at the household's restrictiveness, especially David Winans Jr, who is something of a guitar-playing prodigal son {according to Mom, David "just came to the church and the Lord in the last few months"). David's musical tastes tended to the secular, which at that time didn't sit well with either parents or siblings. The family's most accomplished musician, he sometimes sneaked such music onto the record player at home, only to have his brothers tell on him.

By the late 70s the Winans Family had their first brush with the record industry. They could hardly have begun with an obscurer album. For Marvin, Carvin, Michael and Ronald had formed themselves into a group, the Testimonial Singers, and had began playing around Detroit. The Testimonial Singers recorded a privately financed custom album. Pop Winans himself helped sell it. "I'd make the rounds of (Detroit) record stores and drop the records off on assignment. And I'd say, 'these boys are going to be something big.' And the guy in the record store would nod and say, 'oh, yeah, everybody says that about their kids!'" By 1980 the Testimonial Singers had met a living legend of gospel music, Andrae Crouch. With his group the Disciples, Crouch recognised that the sound of quartets, choirs and traditional gospel music was anachronistic to younger believers and the world. Crouch began to graft the new, highly produced sophistication of soul music onto older black gospel traditions. 'Crossover gospel' was being born and Andrae persuaded the young Testimonial Singers to become the Winans. He took the brothers to Ralph Carmichael's Light Records and for that company produced 'Meet The Winans', one of the freshest gospel debuts ever. The album was a success but the Crouch/Winans relationship soured. Apart from the brothers, other doors began to open for the Winans family. Benjamin 'BeBe' and Priscilla 'CeCe' were asked to sing regularly on US Christian television. By 1984 the exposure had resulted in a debut album for PTL.

For a while however it was the Winans who were demonstrating the greatest sales potential. In 1986 the group signed to Quincy Jones' Qwest label and their initial single "Let My People Go" was a hit in the US pop charts. The age of gospel crossover had begun for the Winans. In 1990 BeBe and CeCe cracked open the pop and CCM markets with the gold album 'Heaven' while a year later the brothers Winans stormed back into the chart arena with the gospel-rap dance single "It's Time". Recording with a stream of pop luminaries the Winans were criticised for working with non-Christian artists. "We feel comfortable in it," comments Ronald. "We know that we have a lot of criticism coming from traditionalists, but we know what our calling is. A lot of times folks say, 'That ain't gospel,' but whatever it is, it's the message that counts anyway. As far as being effective, we've seen it over and over down through the years. Folks that have been helped; folks that have been encouraged. Just recently on this tour, we were in Chicago and I was doing some shopping at Marshall Fields. One of the workers came up to me and pulled me over to the side and said, 'I just want to let you know to be encouraged regardless of what people say you are and you aren't. You guys saved my life. I was at a point in my life where I was really low. I had the radio on and I had already planned to commit suicide. It wasn't on a gospel station. It was on a pop station.

"'You touched my heart and I felt like living again and I'm here today.' Had we been traditionalists... we would have never reached her because she didn't have it on an AM gospel station. Some people's ministry is definitely the body of Christ and in the church. There are some people that have outreach ministries. This is what we feel we have, to go to the world. We have to take a lot of criticism, but that's OK. We feel if we're not being criticised and talked about, we're not doing very much."

In 1991 came the biggest yet success for members of the Winans clan when BeBe and CeCe's 'Different Lifestyles' went platinum and became the first album in record history to top the US gospel and pop charts. The crossover gospel floodgates have now well and truly opened for the brother and sister. BeBe is slightly amused by the clamour. "We've been accepted as a regular R&B act," he says. "I think that's funny, because we are definitely preaching Jesus. But my aim is to educate the music industry and let them know we don't feel secondary because we sing gospel music. My aim has always been to present it in a first-class way."

The family is touring first-class with a high-tech stage show that's rare in gospel. Meanwhile, crossover gospel has become big business and record conglomerates like Warner Bros, Capitol and PolyGram have active gospel rosters now and are rushing to add artists - particularly if they have a Winans surname. Marvin's wife Vicki has been recording steadily. BeBe, who has produced several pop artists including Whitney Houston and Stephanie Mills, as well as 'He's A Friend', a duet between sister Debrah and pop soul megastar Bobby Brown on Brown's new album, says his sisters "were hunted down by record companies like cannibals."

Debrah and Angelique's debut album, credited as by The Sisters, is being released shortly by Capitol with a big pop push. Daniel Winans is full of praise for the service his brothers and sisters have done to gospel. "The brothers did a wonderful job of knocking down the walls," says Daniel. "BeBe and CeCe went through the walls." Modest Daniel is a Grammy winner too, for best contemporary gospel song, 1989's "Brotherly Love". His smoother, less R&B approach has won him more older and white fans.

Inspired by their kids' success, Mom and Pop recorded their own self-titled debut in 1990. It too received a Grammy nomination. Mom and Pop had sung backup on their children's albums but didn't consider making one of their own until approached by Sparrow Records owner, Billy Ray Hearn. That was after the family performed together several years ago at the Grammy Awards. Says Daniel, who currently records on the Tribute Records label: "Mom and Pop are naturals. It's great to be able to pop in a tape and hear them. Being on tour with them is long overdue."

Mom says the family can reach a wide audience because of their different musical styles. "The kids do a lot of contemporary gospel and speak to the younger generation," she explains. "The way we minister is more of a traditional line, more fitting for older people."

The Winans One Family Tour is going to give British audiences this November some of the hottest traditional and crossover gospel ever heard on these shores. It's also going to emphasise that family message. "With so much negativity about black families, it looks like this tour is right on time," Ronald says. "Onstage we preach a family-healing message." In the States, right before the tour began, David Jr moved back to Detroit. He was married by the Rev Marvin Winans, of course. David Jr is featured in the tour playing a show-stopping guitar solo. "Bitten by the family show-biz bug, he's even working on a solo project. "Now I want a contract." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Maxine Cummings
Maxine Cummings is the editorial administrator at Cross Rhythms.


Reader Comments

Posted by David Winans II in Michigan @ 20:08 on Feb 16 2018

I was printed as Jr. in this article. It was nice looking back on this. Loved playing Royal Albert Hall. We are all doing well, and have moved on after the loss of our Father and brother, Ronald. I am now finishing up my latest cd entitled ' Psalms' by David Winans' pi, my group. Daniel myself and Michael are working on a project. Cece just garnered two Grammy's for her latest offering. I hope to see the U.K. sometime this year. Ciao. David Winans II

Posted by CJ in UK @ 17:21 on Jun 3 2017

I was very fortunate to be at this concert back in 1991 and it's still one of the best concerts I ever went to in my entire life .

Posted by grace liwong ashiwel in nigeria @ 13:40 on Jun 24 2016

I ve always loved cece winans, infact more now after reading the family's story. It kinds of reminds me of my own family, we 're all into gospel music too. So I hope in the future we would also be used as the winans have been used. God bless them always.

Posted by jeffrey smith in south africa @ 14:07 on Apr 6 2016

is there way way i can get and email adress of the winans because i am looking for one off their record. The Winans Live At Carnegie Hall

Posted by Janice Calloway in Paramount, CA @ 19:33 on Mar 7 2013

This is a very good article. Very infomative and I njoyd every word of it. Who is the next family to be debuted?

Posted by James Ngomane in South Africa @ 14:33 on Feb 5 2013

Hi there

I am a south african and i love all the wynan is doing,actingan singing,hope God will help me one day to see your show live.

Kind regard

James Ngomane

Posted by Betty in Orlando, fl @ 06:46 on Jan 12 2013

I first saw the Winans on TV while watching the funeral of Withney Houston. I got toutched by their music. I look for them on you tube and listen to their songs ever since. I am a married woman, mother of two kids, registered nurse and business owner but Cece's message really help my faith grow. It even makes my marriage stronger. I really thank her for that in Jesus name.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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