A few years back, Alvin Love III came to his mother, gospel legend CeCe Winans, with an idea for a new album. Winans’ response was not detailed, but it was succinct.
“I was just like, ‘Huh?’” she said in a phone interview.
Love III reiterated his vision for the project, a project he wanted to steer from start to finish.
“I’m like, ‘No,’” Winans recalled. “He had never produced a whole record before, and it had been eight years since I had put out new music. So I’m like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’”
But her son persisted, and the resulting album, Let Them Fall in Love, went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album.
When Love III subsequently came to her with an idea for a Christmas album, her attitude about such collaborations was much changed.
“I really couldn’t give him any trouble the second time around,” she said, laughing. “I told him: ‘Anything you say, I’ll do.’ I was a pretty submissive mom.”
Winans will perform music from that Christmas album, Something’s Happening!, at The Clyde on Dec. 15 as the featured performer of the Euell A. Wilson Center 25th Anniversary Celebration Concert. Local artist Christiana Danielle will also perform.
Background of tough love
CeCe Winans was born Priscilla Marie Winans in Detroit on Oct. 8, 1964. She was the eighth of what would amount to 10 children born to David and Delores Winans.
Winans’ parents were strict. No secular music was allowed in the house, but singing gospel was considered a compulsory activity.
“Back then, kids didn’t have a say so,” she said. “My parents would say, ‘You’re going to sing this song on this program.’ You’d say, ‘OK, but I don’t want to.’ And they’d say, ‘Who cares what you want to do?’”
Winans loved singing, but didn’t love singing lead vocals.
“My brothers, they loved to be out front,” she said. “I was definitely not someone who ever wanted to be out front. But they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
Winans recalled seeing people crying during her performance and realizing that what she was doing was larger than herself and her fears.
“When I was 17, (brother) BeBe and I started recording and we started getting letters right away from other young people who’d say things like, ‘I was contemplating suicide but I heard your music on the radio and I decided to give life another try,’” Winans said. “I thought I was just out there doing music. But I realized the power of music. If it’s positive, it’s going to affect people in positive ways. If it’s negative? Unfortunately, it’s going to be just as powerful.”
During their 15-year professional collaboration, Bebe and CeCe Winans won three Grammy Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, nine Dove Awards, and two Soul Train Music Awards. They earned three Gold albums and one Platinum album.
They also generated no small amount of controversy.
The sacred-secular divide
Given how freely musical genres are mashed up these days, it is easy to forgot how protective some people were of the gospel and Christian music genres in the 1980s and early ’90s.
Bebe and CeCe Winans were not afraid to make use of what were seen as secular elements in their music. They were heavily criticized for it.
“Whenever you’re misunderstood, it hurts,” Winans said. “We really got misunderstood, but we also got a lot of credit we didn’t deserve. We didn’t create contemporary gospel music. We didn’t realize the rest of the world really hadn’t heard the music we’d grown up listening to. They were just used to hearing a pipe organ.
“We just created music that we loved and music that had a love message,” she said. “Sometimes you knew it was a gospel song right away and sometimes you just knew it was a love song. But it was all pure.”
The world soon came around.
When Winans visits the Clyde, there will surely be people in the audience who are there more for the music than the message. Even in secular venues, Winans said she is conducting a musical ministry.
“I hope that everybody receives the peace that I know is there for them,” she said.