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Gospel Legends-Be Be and Ce Ce Winans Tags: legends be be ce ce winans gospel music word life production new quality entertainment

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.

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 Postwriter 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 Billboard's 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.

Source: Planet Shakers

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