Saving Grace: CeCe Winans Returns
Time flies and for CeCe Winans who has spent the better part of
the last several years building the Nashville Life Church she and her husband established and now co-pastor—that meant she hadn’t released an album in the last nine years.
Much has changed since then, but for this ten-time Grammy winner who owns the distinction of being the darling of gospel music, one thing is constant and that is the devotion of fans who have made her the genre’s sixth—and seventh (as Bebe & Cece) —biggest selling brands, fueling seven solo albums to the top of the charts and selling five million units. A string of number one hits include such classics as “Alabaster Box”, “Well Alright” and “Count On Me” with Whitney Houston. Never mind the multiplatinum success—and hits—she enjoyed with her brother Bebe as one of gospel’s hottest selling duos.
With a name that is synonymous to gospel, there is little fear that any new release would be met with anything less than success. Even without having released a record in nearly a decade, Winans was the 15th most streamed artist in gospel music in 2015 and remained one of its most in-demand performers.
Still, the Nashville-based artist who has authored three books, is not one to rest on her laurels as she believes her latest release, “Let Them Fall In Love”— released on February 3— is sure to show.
The album, a departure from her trademark praise and worship style, is the vision of her son, Alvin Love III, an up and coming songwriter and producer who wrote all but two of the songs on the album.
“My son Alvin came to me about five or six years ago and shared with me this idea of a record that would be relevant—young and hip but at the same time bold lyrics, lyrics that would definitely need to be said. He understood who I was as an artist and it took him a while to sell me on some of the styles because the styles are very different,” Winans says of the throwback album that fuzes gospel, pop and R&B.
It took some convincing to get Winans to see things his way and perform songs she would have been prohibited from listening to growing up in Detroit.
“It had to be something I feel I’m anointed and passionate about and after I meditated on it and he started showing me the lyrics, everything started to come together and a light went off,” Winans said.
“Being the age that I am and having done the music for as long, it's easy to get into the comfort of my way and if you are going to really give somebody something new and fresh you have to let your way go. I did that because I wanted to accomplish something that would be outstanding and fresh and I love the record. The message is strong and fans are going to hear a lot of unexpected things but I believe all of my listeners, who have been with me over the years, will love it. I also believe I am going to get a lot newer listeners.”
The biggest challenge for the 52-year old mother of two was taking orders from her son.
“Going into the studio and him saying, ‘No Mom do it again, do it again.’ I said wait a minute, I have to actually listen to you, but I had to listen to him because he is a great artist and he has a good ear. He hears things I would never hear and so it was a really great experience for me to see him do what I know he’s been called to do and to see God’s faithfulness. That was pretty awesome.”
What else was awesome for the veteran recording artist was the chance to sing with fellow vocal powerhouses, The Clark Sisters on the track, “Hey Devil”.
““Hey Devil” is full of attitude so I brought the girls.
Nobody can sing like the Clark sisters and so they came in and I was like, you know what saints, I know we are talking about the devil but we can’t just say anything.
We were going to put a stiletto in his eye. That song to me empowers or should I say reminds us of the authority we have in Jesus because as believers we forget who we are and what we possess and for some reason we act like the devil has almost as much power as God and he doesn’t.”
“It was my first time recording with all of the Clark sisters and my mom was in there for this session so I knew this song was going to be different. She had her little iPad and they started singing and she said: “I like that, Hey Devil.” I was like okay we’ve got mom so if she is 80 and loves it and I have my son and he loves it, it's transcending generations.”
What’s more, at this stage in her life, Winans says it’s about excellence.
“So each song is a strong message. Each song has a style that embodies power and passion.”
She is joined by Hezekiah Walker on “Dancing In The Spirit”, channeling big brother Marvin on the remake of the song he recorded 30 years ago.
“He sang it on a Ron Winans and Friends album and he killed it. So I took some of his ad-libs and I tried to be Marvin in this song but I didn’t quite make it, but I mean there’s no choir like Hezekiah Walker’s choir. It was unbelievable.
The first song she heard was the title track, “Let Them Fall In Love”.
"I told my son that it had to be the heartbeat of the record," says Winans,” of the album is recorded on Pure Springs Records, the label she established in 2000.
"There's a lot of different styles and a lot of strong messages on there, but all of them are to bring us to the point of falling in love with love, faith, joy, and peace.
This is why I came back after nine years."
Ironically, Priscilla "CeCe" Winans has never seen herself as a star or even a great vocalist.
"I can choose people off the top of my head who sing three times better than I do,” reveals Winans who was the eighth of ten children born to one of gospel music's most renowned musical families. “I don't worry about that because it's not about my voice; it's about the anointing God has given me. When I do a project and feel God is pleased with it, I just sit back and brace myself for where it’s going to go."
Thus far, her music has only gone one way—straight to the top of the charts, beginning with a successive string of hits that landed she and her brother Benjamin "BeBe" Winans at number one in 1987 with the release of "I.O.U. Me" off their self-titled debut album. Their near-ten year rein on top would bring two more number one radio singles, four gold albums, (two of which - "Lord Lift Us Up" and "Addictive Love" - went platinum), seven Grammy Awards, nine Dove Awards, three NAACP Image Awards and a Soul Train Award.
Then, with a step out on faith in 1996, she released her first-ever solo recording titled “Alone In His Presence She was more than pleased with the outcome.
The record was certified gold with sales topping 500,000 units and brought another Grammy.
Taking risks is something Winans—who established her own label, has written three books and even done some acting—seems to be more comfortable with.
“We can always look back and be blessed by what God has done, but God is a moving God,” Winans reflects.
“He’s always doing something new and different and I can say this is my best work because I’m more mature now. I’m better, I know who I am. I know the impact I want to have.”
And Winans has never been shy about using her fame to fuel her ministry or the work she has done for girls.
Said Winans, "Yes, I want to sell more albums. Yes, I want to have a bigger audience because I feel the world needs to hear what I have to say. But I don't worry about that because God's will for my life is the only thing I want. So I don't judge my success on the charts, or on how many albums I sold. I judge it from the peace I feel within myself that I'm right where God wants me to be, because I've learned that every door He wants me to go through, He opens.
And everywhere I've been and what I have achieved is all because of Him."