Years ago, the Winans family would gather on Important holidays for gospel concerts at Detroit's Zlon Congregational Church of God in Christ. According to Richard Harrington in the Washington Post, at the end of the these concerts, the kids would give each other imaginary Grammys. Eventually the ten children grew up and split into separate performing groups: the Winans, consisting of Michael, Ronald, and twins Carvin and Marvin; Benjamin and Priscilla, who perform as BeBe and CeCe; Debbie and Angie, billed as the Sisters; and Daniel Winans, the only solo artist in the family.
Eventually they started winning Grammys for real. The Winans alone have received four, in addition to Stellar, Dove, and Soul Train music awards. Even the elder Winans, Mom and Pop, received a Grammy nomination after they received a recording contract from Sparrow stemming from a guest appearance on the televised Grammy Awards program with the family In 1989. Though they have often sung together in church, 1992 marked the first time that the family ever toured as a unit, as 12 performers, three buses, two trucks, and 40 people combined for the "Winans" One Family World Tour." On stage each group does its own songs. They also work in various combinations, occasionally with the entire family together, reported Larry Kelp in the Oakland Tribune.
A Family Tradition
Touring comes naturally for the Winans brothers and sisters. Their parents, Delores and David, met while singing in the Lemon Gospel Chorus, a choir that traveled around the country. Delores played piano for the chorus, and David sang in the classic quartet format. His group, the Nobelaires, was very much in the tradition of the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Soul Stirrers, from whose ranks emerged Sam Cooke, a friend of David's who later abandoned gospel and became one of the first great soul stars, Harrington noted in the Washington Post.
The day before their wedding in 1953, David Winans was laid off his job on the Dodge assembly line. According to Marvin Winans in the Oakland Tribune: "We were by all economic standards considered poor. We grew up on the west side of Detroit in the Parkside projects they've just now finished rebuilding from the '67 riots. We went through Volunteers of America, the food projects."
Both parents worked, sometimes two or three jobs, but the family and the church were most important in their lives. The Winans children were reared in the strict Pentecostal teachings of the Detroit church founded by their great-grandfather and pastured by their father. As Pop Winans remarked in the Washington Post, "We were oriented to gospel music and we taught our children nothing but the ways of the Lord, I never let them go to shows or even to the theater; I never let them get involved with any other activity but church."
The Children Carry It On
In the Washington Post, Carvin Winans remembered a house full of music: "Everybody was always singinge always had a piano. We'd walk through the house humming and harmonizing. It was all we did." But it was not until 1973, while their parents were on vacation, that the Winans children realized their singing had appeal outside of the church. Ronald convinced CeCe, BeBe, and Michael to perform in a high school talent show. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, he took credit for their success. They rehearsed for hours, coordinating their voices and their moves. The high school audience was thrilled and gave the group a standing ovation.
Though they would be the first group to get a contract, the four brothers who became the Winans briefly had quit singing as adolescents. They abandoned singing, explained Carvin in the Washington Post, "because all those years our parents made us sing. But when something is put in you, you find yourself coming back to it when you get older." When they were a few years older they formed the Testimonial Singers and started taking music more seriously.
In 1975 four of the older brothersonald, Michael, and the twins, Carvin and Marvinormed the Winans. As they began to perform around the Motor City area, demand for their distinctive gospel style increased and soon they came to the attention of Grammy-winning gospel artist Andrae Crouch. The Winans' first single, on the gospel label Light, was titled "The Question Is" and received heavy airplay and rave reviews, according to their Qwest Records biography. They recorded Long Time Comin'in 1983, and in 1985 they released Tomorrow, for which they were to receive the first of four Grammy awards.
The group began an extensive round of touring, bringing the intensity of their live show to audiences across the country. Quincy Jones, the legendary producer and impresario, heard the Winans and began working with the group and their manager, Barry Hankerson, in 1984. Their 1986 debut on Jones' Qwest Records, Let My People Go, would win a Grammy Award for best soul gospel performance. Meanwhile, their collaborations with Michael McDonald on "Love Has No Color" and Anita Baker on "Ain't No Need to Worry" (another Grammy winner) reached out to pop and urban contemporary audiences. Their powerful stage presence was captured live on the 1988 release The Winans Live at Carnegie Hall, which garnered them their fourth Grammy Award in as many years.
The Winans have continued to team up with secular musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Kenny G, and Ricky Scaggs. Their 1990 album, Return, featured Teddy Riley, producer of new jack swing music, and in 1993 the release All Out reaffirmed their position on the cutting edge of contemporary gospel with its throbbing hip-hop rhythms. The group received increasing criticism, however, as their crossover success continued, and the music became more upbeat in tempo.
John Clayton, a West Philadelphia collector of gospel music, maintained in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "You can't have it both ways. How can you sing worldly music, have people slow dancing to your songs and still say you are gospel? There has to be a line drawn." But according to Carvin Winans in the Washington Post, "The music our parents made us sing, we never liked those songs. We wanted to write music that would be pleasing to our ears and maybe to other young people too. I really cannot stand quartet music."
Likewise, when asked in the Oakland Tribune if their music had changed since the early years, Marvin responded: "To us it hasn't. It's just kept evolving with time. We never were traditionalists. Even now I don't carry any tradition, but I carry a message. Our message as a gospel group, the thing that's kept our family together is the strong belief in the Lord that was put there and shown to us by our mom and dad's belief and commitment to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Winans believe that by reaching out to today's youth with music they can understand and make their own, they are spreading the gospel. And they've always pleased their most important critics. As Pop Winans related in the Washington Post, "Some people were caught up in the old hymns, the slow beats. But when you hear [contemporary gospel] and analyze the lyrics, you can't frown on it because they're talking about Jesus, about the Lord, about the love of God.... It's not how fast the song is sung, it's the lyrics and what they say."
And the people are listening to what the Winans say, whether on the radio or on one of their many television appearances. Marvin Winans has even been pastoring and developing a Detroit congregation called Perfecting Church, as well as hosting a weeknight radio show. The other brothers are equally busy starring in musical theater productions or working with youth choirs. Whatever they are doing, the Winans keep on singing, and more and more people seem to be hearing their word.
Long Time Comin', 1983, reissued, CGI, 1993. Tomorrow, 1985, reissued, CGI, 1993.
Let My People Go, Qwest Records, 1986. Decisions, Qwest Records, 1988.
The Winans Live at Carnegie Hall, 1988. Return, Qwest Records, 1990.
All Out, Qwest Records, 1993.
Introducing the Winans (reissue), CGI, 1993.
Tomorrow and More (reissue), CGI, 1993.
Yesterday and Today (reissue), CGI, 1993.
Billboard, November 2, 1985; September 12, 1987; September 19, 1987; September 18, 1993.
Detroit Free Press, April 17, 1992.
Detroit News, April 13, 1990.
Ebony, April 1994.
Miami Herald, April 26, 1992.
Oakland Tribune, May 3, 1992.
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1990.
Rejoice!, October 1991.
Vibe, September 1993.
Washington Post, April 5, 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Qwest Records publicity material.
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