She's Not Boxed In....
Cece Winans stands amidst a thronging crowd at the GMWA exhibition hall in New Orleans, but strangely enough, no-one notices her. No, she’s not wearing sunglasses or anything like that. She’s just being herself, and is quietly waiting to meet with GospelFlava.com for an interview. You might attribute the lack of attention, perhaps, to the preoccupation of the masses with finding CD bargains. Maybe so, however it’s worth considering that this response is also linked to the unassuming and humble attitude of the multi-award winning singer.
Unassuming, but also incredibly successful. Winans has moved from the duo world of BeBe and CeCe, stepped out into a solo career, and now, prompted by last year’s collapse of the label that carried her last two solo projects (Pioneer Music Group), she has seen to take things even a step further. August 1999 saw the launch her own enterprise, CW Wellspring Entertainment Co.
She explains, “What we’re building is an entertainment company, and of course, one of the arms will be Wellspring Gospel. We’re trying to do booking, management, publishing...we want to build a kingdom with this company.” And it’s obvious that the kingdom she’s talking about isn’t just one built on wordly ideas of success. CeCe elaborates that her desire for Wellspring is for it to “not only put out great music, but [for it to be] artist-driven, and a company that artists will feel good about being a part of. A just, an honest company.”
So, is this venture (which she is embarking on with her husband, Alvin Love), something that has been in the works for a while? Not really! And CeCe is matter-of-fact about this. “Having a company of my own was not something I really set out to do. It’s not like I need to have something else to do! When Pioneer folded, I had the opportunity to sign with a lot of places, but something within me was like, ‘naaaah’. You know, I’ve been a part of big companies before. There comes a point in everybody’s life when you have to have changes, and for me, it was starting my own thing. I’ve been an artist for so many years, I kind of know what I want, and how I want it to go. So, why not build something that can help other young artists coming in?”
That seems to be desire of more than a couple of Gospel artists of late. The Williams Brothers have been successfully running their own record label (Blackberry) for several years now. And at her annual outreach convention this past summer, Shirley Caesar announced the launch of her new label venture in 2000 (Shur-Bel), which she describes as a way to encourage upstart Gospel artists who show talent.
With CeCe Winans adding herself to the rank of artist/owners, she has no illusions that it will be an easy ride. “I’m gonna have to fight, there’s going to be a lot of challenges, but because I know God has given this to me, I know He’s going to work it out. The key to a good record company is good people -good employees, and God has been bringing them to me one by one. And He’s shown me that His hand is in it. When God does a thing, he does it right. I think this is going to be a fun challenge. Going solo was more of a scary thing.”
Going solo. When CeCe took that route with Alone In His Presence on Sparrow back in 1995, she met with some incredible success in the CCM market. So it was a shock to more than a few when her subsequent Everlasting Love project with Pioneer in 1998 was a departure from her laid-back pop sound. The astounding, urban-fuel-injected set lit the Gospel charts on fire. Last year’s Christmas album, His Gift (also on Pioneer) combined elements of both her previous solo efforts. Having shown not just versatility, but a creative excellence in various Gospel genres to boot, the question on the minds of many is in what direction she will be heading next.
Her answer to that is intriguing. “I want the whole world, and in order to reach the whole world, you have to have a variety of music. As an artist, you like to try different flavors. So, from me, you’ll hear a pop sound, you’ll hear an R&B sound, an inspirational sound.”
And that thinking extends to Wellspring Gospel. CeCe is adamant about this: “You find that artist who has a special ministry, don’t put them in a box! Let them be who they are. That’s the beauty of being unique and different. I don’t want to put [Wellspring Gospel artists] in a box, because if you’re labelled contemporary, then you have to stay there. So, [we’re] not going for a certain sound, we’re going for the best. If it’s great music, we’ll take it!”
It was natural that the first release coming from the fledgling label would be CeCe’s own. “We’ll make all the mistakes on my project”, she laughes. Titled Alabaster Box, she describes it as a sequel to her Grammy-winning solo debut, Alone In His Presence. Praise and worship is the theme embedded into this one, with much of the production equally split between Fred Hammond and Chris Harris. The project is bursting at its seams with hits. Particular attention has been given to the title track however a lyrically powerful story told in the words of the woman who broke an expensive alabaster box of perfume at Jesus’ feet as her way of worship.
The incredible power of the title track, complete with the swelling strings of the Nashville String Machine, is evident to anyone who listens. CeCe says that she herself is often moved to tears by the composition. “It was written by a lady named Janice Sjostran. A few years ago, I was on a praise tour, and a friend of mine brought me this tape of a song of a girl singing it in a praise service. He said, “CeCe, you gotta do this song”. Later, I got into my bunk, and I listened to the song, and I just began to weep. And the Lord gave me the scripture that the song was about (John 12:3), He took me right there, and I knew right then that I had to do it. It’s just a song that floors me. It talks about worship in its highest form. We all have to get to that place where we forget what people think, and give God what he deserves. It’s hard for me to get through the song, really, it’s just that powerful. So, I’m happy that when people listen to it, they will be ushered into His presence, and they will learn the true meaning of worship. They will become worshippers, because that’s when God moves. Worship moves Him, praise moves Him. And we need Him to move in this time in the country, we need Him to move in this time, in this hour. It’s going to take His people, pure worship, in order to get that to happen. So with “Alabaster Box”, I just want the world to hear [the song], because I know it’s going to change some hearts and minds.
The new project is interesting enough with a name like Fred Hammond involved on produciton. But it also includes vocal collaborations with the likes of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and Take 6. The cut which features the award-winning acappella group is “One and the Same” (it also appears on Take 6’s own recent “Best of” compilation). CeCe described to GospelFlava.com how the Take 6 get-together came about.
“You know, they had been asking me to do something with them for a long time, and this time I think that if I didn’t, they would probably kill me!”, she say, throwing her head back with a good-natured chuckle. “I love the guys! Actually, their voices are so incredible, you really don’t want to sing with people like that. I mean, they really don’t need ME! They’re vocal musicians. But this time, they asked me to be a part, and they sent me a tape of this song. It’s just so powerful, I said I would just be honored, so that’s how it came about.”
With the track record that she has, (8 Grammys, 9 Doves, 5 Stellars etc.), no-one would be surprised if this new project doesn’t generate more trophy hardware for the Detroit-rooted singer. Her latest music honor was in September, when she was awarded the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award in the Gospel category, for last year’s Christmas album, His Gift. Puzzlement was on the faces of a lot of industry folks for that album choice, since the Everlasting Love project received far greater publicity. It doesn’t really surprise CeCe though.
“You know what?”, she says, “Awards shows are hilarious. They always have been! It’s amazing, sometimes you think a certain project has done a certain thing, and they (radio) won’t play anything from it. So that’s funny to me! Sometimes [the awards shows] just throw you in to be a filler in a category they have to have so many number of people so I don’t know how that happened. I’ll take the award!"
Then she goes and puts it into perspective. “It’s so important that you don’t let the awards shows, the charts, dictate to you who you are, and the value of what you do. [If you do], you could go crazy! I’m out here doing what I know I’ve been called to do. I can see the fruit of my work, because when you get letters from people saying they were going to commit suicide, but decided to give life another try because of our music, then you know you’re doing the right thing. I’m not here to impress man, I’m here to reach men. But not to find out what they think of me! It’s encouraging to be acknowledged by your peers, but it’s not at all why I do what I do.”
Seeing as ‘doing what she does’ is music, CeCe has a strong perspective on the power and the influence that it wields. As she vividly describes in her autobiography, On A Positive Note, her life has always revolved around music. She grew up in a large and lively family, and one always filled with music. However it was also a home where the only music allowed was Gospel. Anything else was strictly off limits. And that’s a concept that she and her husband have carried over to their own young family. She states it in her book, and she’s not shy about volunteering the same perspective in front of her concert audiences.
Elaborating on the reasons behind this family decision, she explains, “Music is a powerful tool. When I was growing up, I really didn’t understand that. I don’t believe that all non-Gospel music is bad music. I don’t believe that! But, it’s hard to find whole CDs where something doesn’t come out that God doesn’t smile upon, you know? You can get one song that’s great, but then on track 10, that one might be totally…..totally off! So, I can’t tell my kids, ‘listen to this, except skip track 10’. That’s crazy! There’s wonderful love songs in this world. God created love, and I plan on doing a love album myself one of these days. But it would be a pure love album. It would be something that God created and that He would smile upon. There’s musicals that are wonderful, talking about things in life. But it’s really hard -especially for the young people, with the new groups that are out, to find a whole CD without filth on it. So I want my house to be a place where my kids can be safe. They have to fight enough when they leave out the doors. I’m their parent, I love ‘em, but I can’t follow them everywhere. But when the come in the house, they should hear only God’s praises. They should hear things that He’s pleased with, in order to build their character.”
“It worked for us, so I’m trying to do the same.”
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