The Winans: Taking the gospel into Billboard's mainstream urban chart

Monday 1st April 1991

The WINANS are a Detroit gospel dynasty. Sal Solo asked Carvin Winans about yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The Winans
The Winans

We had Motown in the 60s and now the Winans and your family in the 80's. What is it about Detroit?

"It might be in the water we're drinking. I don't know why but Detroit has always been loaded with talent ever since we've known, and lived there. With the Motown sound, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, such as in the 60s. Then people, I guess more our age, like Earl Klugh, Ray Parker. You know it's just loaded. And in the gospel field it's even more so with the Clarke Sisters and Commissioned.

You were pretty sheltered from Motown though weren't you?

"As kids we were pretty much pushed away from that atmosphere. We were raised in a strict church home - our parents wouldn't allow us to even bring secular music in the house - but as far as the music scene by our parents being musically inclined - singers and piano players and being in church choirs, 10 kids and everybody was something in music - so we couldn't get away from it."

You come from an era where there was a wholesale desertion by hundreds of singers away from gospel and into soul and pop.

"I don't want to make an excuse for them, but the gospel scene at that time - you really couldn't make money at it and if your heart wasn't in it for the gospel of it, then I could understand why people would leave. The money was just over on the secular side, but we just happen to be four brothers who are just dedicated and who believe in what we're singing and the money is still largely on the other side, don't get me wrong! But we're making a decent living at it-more than that, we really believe and feel in what we're saying. This is why we're still doing gospel music."

Right from the beginning your gospel had a very modern musical approach. Did that bring you much opposition?

"Oh yeah - 'cos we were so contemporary and tho we had gospel lyrics, and tho' you couldn't deny when you listened to the gospel that it was gospel, but the music was so funky and even the ballads were so ballady that the church - they were honest from day one - they said "What are you guys doin'? "Some of them would call it the devil's music - but we've always done that..."

Did your music have a contemporary edge even in the early days?

"Even before we came out with our first national album - which was 'Introducing The Winans', 'produced by Andrae Crouch - we were called the Testimonial Singers and our music back then was funky and different. They talked about us back then and right up to the return album, and they're still talking about us."

How did you land your first recording contract?

"Through a guy by the name of Howard Smith, an excellent vocalist who used to sing with us when we were called the Testimonials - Ronald, myself, Marvin and Howard Michael wasn't even in the group at the time. Howard left to do some work with Andrae and when he got out there all he would tell Andrae was about the Winans - "These brothers back in Detroit that you've gotta hear". Howard was a phenomenal singer himself so I guess for him to say that to Andrae - he just bragged so much about us that Andrae was saying, "this guy can sing so maybe the Winans can sing." Andrae came to Howards house in Detroit for a wedding - Howard called Marvin - Marvin went over to the house and started singing. At that time Marvin was doing all our writing. Andrae thought it was incredible so we opened a show for him in Lansing, Michigan - after which it was contracts and after that we did the first album.

In more recent times on the 'Return' album, you sang a song with Michael McDonald. How did that come about?

"Michael McDonald came through the record company. We had a song called "Love Has No Colour" and they thought it would be great if he could sing it with us. Marvin asked Anita and when he told her who Michael was, she just started screaming and said we just gotta do something together! and so it came about that way."

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