Melissa Walsh

CeCe Winans

Gale Group | 2006 | CeCe Winans

CeCe Winans Black Biography:

CeCe Winans gospel singer; music producer; writer

Personal Information

Born Priscilla Winans on October 8, 1964, in Detroit, MI; married Alvin Love, II on June 23, 1984; children: Alvin III, Ashley.

Career

PTL, singer, 1982-84; beauty shop owner and beautician, 1984-86; Sparrow Records, recording artist, 1987-98; Pioneer Records, recording artist, 1998-99; Wellspring Gospel, founder, recording artist, 1999-.

Life's Work

CeCe Winans burst forth from her large, talented musical family, like a shooting star out of a twinkling sky being marveled at by stargazers on a mission to laud their maker. Insisting that, all her life, she has sought only to be a "server of Christ" and "server of people," Winans has shimmered brightly in the Gospel and Christian Contemporary markets while also warming audiences both secular and religious. Winans' stardom is a byproduct of what she has done instinctively since she was a tot--sing praises to God. And with 5 Grammys, eighteen Dove awards, and numerous gold and platinum albums, Winans credits her musical success entirely to God's handiwork in her life. Describing Gospel music to Jet Magazine as "God's words set to music." Winans explained, "...it is all about love; it is all about peace; it's all about joy; it's all about happiness. It's all about answers."

Sang Praises with the Family

CeCe Winans, originally named Priscilla, was born on October 8, 1964, by David and Dolores Winans who had long awaited a daughter after seven boys --David, Ronald, Marvin, Carvin, Daniel, Michael, and Benjamin (BeBe). A few years later, Winans was joined by two more female Winans, sisters Angelique and Debbie. According to Winans' 1999 memoirs, On a Positive Note, no one remembers for certain how Priscilla Winans came to be called CeCe, but the nickname is most likely traced to Winans' beloved paternal grandmother, Laura Howze, who called her "Sister" since her birth. Referring to Grandmother Howze her childhood "best friend," Winans recalled her grandmother's good advice in her memoir: "God's got His hands on you, CeCe. Just keep your hands in His hands, and you'll be all right."

Winans' parents were truly dedicated to God and family. The ten children were fed and housed with the income David Winans earned as a barber and taxi driver combined with what Dolores earned in her employment at Metropolitan Hospital. Always musical and involved in the church, Winans' parents had met in 1950 as members of Detroit's Lemon Gospel Chorus. Their love for music and God became central to their lifestyle and to their parenting.

A quiet, shy girl, Winans began singing God's words publicly as a small child of seven, when she performed "Fill My Cup" for her congregation. But this boldness should not have surprised worshippers acquainted with the Winans family, for whom singing was as natural as walking, even breathing. Winans grew up singing daily among her family of 12 in their three-bedroom Westside Detroit house on Woodingham Street. "Our house was always filled with music," Winans wrote. "It was nothing for Mom to strike up a song while standing in the kitchen cooking dinner, or for Dad to line a song as he stood in the mirror on Sunday morning, shaving and reading to himself for Sunday school. Singing was the way we communicated, the way we entertained ourselves, and the way we made sense of the world."

Celebrating Christmas as they celebrated life, the family of 12 performed an annual Christmas concert for their community in lieu of exchanging gifts. "Our parents were always striving to bring home to us the real meaning of Christmas," Winans told the Family website. Her parents advertised the show, and the major surprise for the family then each holiday season would be how large their audience would be at Mercy Hall.

Rose to Fame With BeBe

At age 17, Winans joined BeBe as a singer on the television program Praise the Lord (PTL). The duo recorded their platinum-certified album Lord Lift Us Up which they performed on PTL, allowing them to break into the national Christian market. The rest of the family continued on in the fields of music and religion as well. Winans four oldest brothers--David, Ronald, Marvin and Carvin-- would become the award-winning Gospel quartet The Winans. Her brother Daniel would perform and record as a solo artist as well. And from a small group of believers, Marvin would also found the 3,000-member Perfecting Church in Detroit and lead it as pastor.

In June of 1984, at age 19, Winans married Alvin Love, 16 years her senior. A friend of Ronald Winans, Love had met his future wife when he joined the family for an evening of bowling. Later, Love traveled with Ronald to North Carolina for a visit to BeBe and CeCe, where they were working for PTL. About a year later Love and Winans were married, and Winans moved back to Detroit, leaving BeBe behind.

While settling into marriage, Winans completed beauty school training and continued singing with BeBe a bit on the road. She and Alvin, who was employed at Xerox, opened a beauty salon, where her father worked as a barber. Alvin and her father ran the salon for Winans while she continued performing with BeBe.

In the spring of 1985, Winans gave birth to her first child, Alvin III. By then the demand for her to record and perform with BeBe had increased. Fortunately, Love was able to arrange for a job transfer with Xerox to Nashville, the heart of the Gospel- and Christian Contemporary music-recording industry and where BeBe had already made his home.

The couple together developed Winans musical career as partners. In an article in Marriage Partnership, Love and Winans explained that they were able to grow closer in their marriage despite a hectic newlywed period because they have always been true companions. "The friendship made our marriage easier," Love declared. Growing in marriage "boils down to whether you love God more than you love yourself," Winans remarked.

In 1987 Winans and Love's daughter, Ashley Rose, was born. Winans told the Family website that being a wife and mother is her "favorite job." She learned from her parents that the key to raising a family well is by putting God first and to "make sure you're in church and your kids are in church." Winans told the Women in Faith website, "When you put God first, he gives you wisdom to balance the rest of your life."

Even while caring for a young family, Winans enjoyed increased success with BeBe. The duo recorded their self-titled album in 1987 and Heaven in 1988, which earned them heightened popularity in the Gospel and Christian Contemporary sectors. Their 1991 work, Different Lifestyles, was embraced enthusiastically by Christian audiences and was sought after in the secular market as well -- particularly due to the chart-climbing tracks "Addictive Love" and "I'll Take You There." Different Lifestyles earned BeBe and CeCe a Grammy and Soul Train Award for best Gospel album, as well as Dove Awards for Best Song ("Addictive Love") and Group of the Year.

Went Solo, Founded Record Company

In 1995 Winans launched her solo career with the debut release, Alone in his Presence. Showcasing covers of traditional hymns, such as "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," "Blessed Assurance," and "I Surrender All," the album won Winans a Grammy for best Gospel album. However, the downside of her solo success was missing working with BeBe. "My favorite spot is singing next to BeBe," Winans admitted to Essence in 1999, "...but I have to say this: By our splitting, I've grown a whole lot, as an artist, as a person, and I didn't realize I needed that."

She acknowledged that her earlier recording and performing with BeBe had prepared her to handle music-industry business matters well as a solo artist. However, Love came to assist her in that arena when he left Xerox to become her business manager. The young family of four then went on the road together until travel became problematic. Though Winans and Love home-schooled the children on the road -- and continued to do so even after rooting themselves firmly at a home base--the children's extra-circular activities, such as scouts and sports, made travel too difficult. Later, Love gave up managing his wife's career so that the couple's time together would not be dominated by business talk.

Quite remarkably, Winans's career continued to blossom as she dedicated herself further to raising her children. She was able to write, record, and perform, as well as venture into different kinds of television work. She hosted the variety show, CeCe's Place, on the Odyssey Network for one season between 1997 and 1998, during which she interviewed close friend Whitney Houston, with whom she recorded the 1996 hit "Count on Me" for the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. And Winans' 1998 release, His Gift, earned her a 1999 Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for best Gospel album.

In 1999 Winans and Love founded their own label, Wellspring Gospel, a subsidiary of their company, CW Wellspring Entertainment. Winans told the Crosswalk website that founding the label was something that she felt the industry needed. "We just need more God- fearing companies to put out music," she said. The same year, the new label released Winans' fourth solo work, Alabaster Box, a gold-certified album of praise songs. She told the Praise TV website that she carefully selected the songs in a quest "to bring His (God's) people into a higher place of praise--that place where you lose yourself, that place where you can see his purpose and why you're going through certain things." Alabaster Box featured other industry greats, including Take 6, who sang "One and the Same" with CeCe, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, who backed CeCe in "Comforter," and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, which accompanied the title cut. Alabaster Box speaks to spiritual brokenness, a reflection of Winans' own internal struggles, as well as a way for her to minister to those who had criticized her professional choices or those close to her who were facing difficulties. She explained that, emotionally speaking, "Nothing really came easy ... I say that more in a spiritual sense than in a natural sense." According to Winans, a state of "brokenness" is where one needs to be in order to find true worship of God, to be "elevated" to a "higher place."

Moved into TV and Writing

Winans' 2001 self-titled, gold-certified and Grammy-winning album was followed by a major tour that was co-billed with Gospel dynamo Donnie Mcclurkin. Immediately following, Winans joined her siblings in "The Winans Family Tour" in 2002. That same year, Winans fulfilled guest roles on WB's 7th Heaven and Pax's Doc. Other television appearances have included several appearances on Soul Train and Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN), as well as Oprah, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Vibe, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and many others. Remarking on her television gigs, Winans told Christianity Today, "It's always humbling to see when doors begin to open and show you how to reach an even broader audience than before."

In September of 2003, Winans released her album Throne Room, a collection of worship songs. She stated in a Christianity Today interview that she felt called to the project "because of the urgency of true worship," which she calls a Christian's "hiding place" in the world. "When you're a true worshipper, you're always reminded of who God is and how great He is," she said. "... I have changed because of it (Throne Room). "

Throne Room's title cut was co-written with Gospel living legend Andrae Crouch, a friend of the Winans family. Winans recorded "Mercy Said No," written by Greg Long, as a dedication to her brother Ronald who had a few years earlier undergone emergency heart surgery, during which he was clinically dead for four minutes during the 14-hour procedure.

In January of 2004, Throne Room, a companion devotional text to the album written by Winans and songwriter Claire Cloninger, was released by Integrity Publishers. Winans, who prays and reads the Bible each morning, sought to offer people an additional tool to music for growing a relationship with God. "Worship is so important to me and my desire is that Throne Room will help usher people into the presence of the almighty," Winans said in a release announcing the new title.

At the close of 2003 Winans was also busy promoting artists signed to her label and also working within a partnership agreement with Sony to record a mainstream album. She also spent time performing with her home church choir, Born Again Choir, who released an album featuring other well-known Gospel artists, including Desmond Pringle and Israel Haughton.

Making time for good works besides singing, Winans is known to surprise fans in need of a kind word and prayer with a phone call or note. She is also a World Vision artist -- a promoter for the charitable organization that links sponsors to needy children around the world, -- as well as a spokesperson for Project Teen Save -- a teen-suicide-prevention initiative. Winans founded the non-profit organization, Sharing the Vision -- designed to meet needs in her local community, as well as extend financial support to other worthy charitable organizations. "The smile, the glow that drew me to CeCe, that's her big heart showing," Love told Marriage Partnership. "... I have to share her with her fans and stand off in the background."

Winans is still a force in the Gospel music industry and many people wonder what area she might take on next, whether it will be a full time radio show or something outside of show business completely. Regardless of what her venture is, however, Winans is hopeful that all of her actions will reflect that which is most important to her, her values and her religion. "Without Him (God), I would be just another voice singing just another song," Winans told Christianity Today. "I'm just grateful that He's able to use me."

Awards

Selected: Five Grammy Awards, including Best Pop Contemporary Gospel Album, Andrae Crouch (various artists), 1996, and Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album, CeCe Winans, 2001; 18 Dove Awards, including Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song, "Take Me Back," Female Vocalist of the Year, Special Event Album, Tribute: The Songs of Andrae Crouch (various artists), 1997, Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song, "Up Where We Belong," Special Event Album, God With Us: A Celebration of Christmas Carols (various Artists), 1998, and Contemporary Gospel Album, CeCe Winans, Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song, "Anybody Wanna Pray?" 2002; three Soul Train awards including a Soul Train Lady of Soul Award, Best Gospel Album, His Gift, 1999.

Works

Selected works Discography

(With BeBe Winans) Lord Lift Us Up, Sparrow, 1985. (With BeBe Winans) BeBe & CeCe Winans, Sparrow, 1987. (With BeBe Winans) Heaven, Sparrow, 1988.

(With BeBe Winans) Different Lifestyles, Sparrow, 1991. (With BeBe Winans) First Christmas, Sparrow, 1993. (With BeBe Winans) Relationships, Sparrow, 1994.

Alone in His Presence, Sparrow, 1995.

(With BeBe Winans) Greatest Hits, Sparrow, 1996.

(With Whitney Houston) "Count on Me," Arista, 1996. Everlasting Love, Pioneer,1998.

His Gift, Pioneer, 1998.

Alabaster Box, Wellspring Gospel, 1999.

CeCe Winans, Wellspring Gospel, 2001.

Throne Room, Wellspring Gospel, 2003.

Writings

(with Renita J. Weems) On a Positive Note, Simon & Schuster, 1999. (with Claire Cloninger) Throne Room, Integrity, 2004.

Further Reading

Books

Winans, CeCe, and Claire Cloninger, Throne Room, Integrity, 2004.

Winans, CeCe, and Renita J. Weems, On a Positive Note, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Periodicals

Essence, June 1999.

Jet, October 22, 2001.

Marriage Partnership, Spring 2000.

On-line

"A Christmas conversation with CeCe Winans," Family, www.family.org (December 31, 2003).

"CeCe Winans," Jamsline, www.jamsline.com (December 31, 2003).

"CeCe Winans," Women of Faith, www.womenoffaith.com (December 31, 2003). "CeCe Winans--Alabaster Box, " Praise TV, www.praisetv.com (December 31, 2003). "CeCe Winans: inside the alabaster box," Crosswalk, www.crosswalk.com (December 31, 2003).

"Thoughts from the throne room," Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com (December 31, 2003).

The Throne Room, www.cecewinans.com (December 31, 2003).

– Melissa Walsh