While these terms are, on occasion, overused and misappropriated, that is not the case with Pastor Marvin Winans. The front man of the legendary brother contemporary quartet known as The Winans, has over a quarter-century of experience in the music industry and an unmistakable tenor voice that helped spark a musical revolution.
Having amassed nine albums with The Winans, two with his church choir (Perfecting Church Choir), and a myriad of Stellars, Doves, and Grammys, Marvin Winans is now poised to march into new territory.
GOSPELflava.com spent some time with the music pioneer to discuss his career and his new solo effort on PureSprings Gospel titled Alone But Not Alone.
Winans first hit the recording scene with the debut album of The Winans titled Introducing The Winans in 1981. It's been 12 years since Winans recorded Heart and Soul, the final album from the group. So what would prompt the Detroit-based pastor to return with his first solo effort?
"I'm going to give God the credit for that," acknowledges Winans. " I've been working on it for three years. Even though the album is just coming out now, He works things out in His time."
Alone But Not Alone is being heralded in many circles as an incredibly honest and transparent body of work. Authenticity is not novel to Winans.
"I hope that in all of my writings, I have been honest," says Winans. "I'm going to take a leap and say that I have. I think that has been the success of The Winans, in that we have been honest. It is so important for us to be transparent. People know what is real and they know what is fake. They know what has come through experience and they know when you're making something up. So I hope that The Winans have been honest and transparent in what we've done throughout the years."
Winans' new solo effort is backed by production from the decorated Tommy Sims.
"That was a coup," admits Winans. "I remember the first time that I met him was in Nashville. My brother-in-law Cedric Caldwell said 'You've got to meet this guy. He loves you'. Then, I met him but I had never heard of him. When he did CeCe's album [Everlasting Love], I said, 'I've got to pay attention to this guy'. He has a sensitivity to music that is rare. He treats it uniquely. That was just a blessing. He's a great musician, he listens. He's respectful in that he tries to hear what you're trying to do and he knows where you want to be. It's wonderful when a musician or singer can trust his producer. It's great to have a producer who is sensitive to the singer's voice and song. I told him, 'you're the producer for the rest of my life.' We'll find other people to do other things but it's going to have to go through the 'Tommy" system."
With the return of Winans to the recording scene, one could imagine that the options for label signings were endless. However, the process for Winans became easy and the answer became clear in a unique way.
"It wasn't even thinking about [signing with] a label. It was about me starting a label," confesses Winans. "I was actually in the shower and the Lord spoke to me and said 'Just go to CeCe'. So I called her and told her 'The Lord told me to be with you and sign with your label [PureSprings Gospel].' The folks there were so receptive. I told them that they don't have to pay me a whole lot of money and they didn't. Having this church and so many other responsibilities, I needed to be somewhere where I could trust and have a voice. So, it was easy."
Winans began serving as Pastor of Perfecting Church in 1989, while still touring with The Winans. As the ministry grew, Winans ultimately left touring to focus on his duties at Perfecting Church. The launch of a solo career brings the possibility of having to find a balance between artistry and his pastoral duties.
"I'm telling people that if you hear of me in your town, come. There's no telling when I'll be back!! Don't you dare say, 'I'm going to go to the movies this time. He'll be back next year.' No, no, no. If it's more than a one-shot deal, it's going to be years in between. It's all been a blast. I have loved my life. God has been good to me. I'm just speechless when it comes to the awesomeness of God. He has allowed some black boys from Detroit to travel the world and make a change. I told my brothers when we first started that God is going to use us to change the face of Gospel music and He's done just that. So, I'm good to go."
"Years ago, Kirk Franklin came to preach for me. We went to the back and he said 'Can I ask you something?' I said, 'Sure.' He asked me if I miss being on the road. I told him, 'Oh God no!!' He said, 'They told me that you would say that. I just don't see if I could ever live without it.' I told him that when the Winans were on stage, we left it on that stage. I have absolutely no regrets."
Uttering the words "God is going to use us to change the face of Gospel" was both profound and prophetic, as the Winans did just that. However, Pastor Winans felt no pressure in living up to the words that he spoke.
"It didn't bring pressure as much as it brought responsibility," admits Winans. "If you know that the hand of God is upon you, then you know you have to behave yourself so that God can continue to use you. It wasn't pressure because I knew that God had given us a song, a sound, and an assignment and we just couldn't mess it up."
While this mission to change Gospel music was great, the Winans had no intentions of having crossover appeal. "We don't know how that happened, other than God. You have to understand that at the time, the Winans were too urban to be gospel and yet too gospel to be urban. We fell in between the cracks and we didn't have anybody to say that this was gospel. We had gospel people saying 'This ain't gospel' and we had secular people saying 'This ain't R&B'. So God said, 'It is what I say it is' and folks just played it. It's amazing. That's the reason that I can never stop praising Him because it's only through Him.
"Some may say that I'm too spiritual because I do give Him all the praise. It is not that we had the greatest voices. It's not that we had the greatest anything. God made some promises to us and He's a God of His Word and that's really how that happened."
Since his days with his brothers, Winans has introduced the industry to incredible vocal talent. On his debut solo effort, Winans introduces the world to 16-year old DeShondra Rideout.
"When I hear people that can sing and have a genuine gift, I'm their biggest fan. When I heard Mary Mary, I fell in love. I listen to them now and just shake my head and say 'Oh my God'. I didn't know who they were when someone gave me their CD. I started playing 'What A Friend' in my car. That nearly melted me to nothing. I never went off to any other song, because when I got to that one, I got stuck. When I finally played something else, it was like everything on that record was wonderful. So Warryn and the girls, I'm a fan."
"When I heard Kayla Parker (on the record, I call her 'Incredible Kayla' because she had a very unique gift), she wasn't a great singer but she could hear things. She COULD sing, don't get me wrong. She was able to hear. I watched her work and labor with stuff until she got it right. That's what I like. A lot of times, people just do something and feel that because they say it's gospel music and they put Jesus in on it, people have to hear it. That's not the case. It has to be worthy, you know? Kayla was a perfectionist. That amazed me. Special Gift [Kayla's group] was very talented and still are. They had a group that worked."
In addition to Rideout's appearance, the album contains duets with vocal powerhouse Kim Burrell and an unexpected guest spot from Winans' late brother Ronald on "He Brought Me Joy".
"One Sunday, I'm at church and God puts this melody in my head and the band just followed me. We stayed in that groove. Another Sunday comes and we hit it again. Then I go home and the Lord wouldn't just let it go. So I go home and get on the piano and I start playing it. I came back and Ronald just went crazy. He told me that I had to record it and I told him that I would. He kept asking when I'd record it and I kept telling him that I'd record it. So finally, I went to Nashville and he said 'Take me!' and I said OK. This was in April 2005. I took him and I hadn't finished writing the next verse. Then all of a sudden, I suggested that Ronald sing the verse that I wrote for him:
'I remember when / I remember well/
"He sang it and he passed that June. I was just so blessed that we were able to get his testimony on tape and let him sing it to the world."
After 25 years in the business, Winans along with his brothers are preparing to be inducted into the prestigious GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. By no means is this a small feat for Winans.
"It's really something when I think about how far we've come. I remember the first time we went to the Doves in Nashville. We were not treated well", shares Winans. "As a matter of fact, we couldn't even get into a party for the nominees. We were nominated and they wouldn't let us in. We left hurt and said that we were never going back there again. We made up a saying. 'We came to the Doves and they sat us up with the pigeons.' Our seats were so high that had we won, we wouldn't have been down there in time to get the award. We never really went back until they begged us to come back. They paid so much money for us to come because we were in England. That's when 'It's Time' came out and they just HAD to have us. They said that they would pay for us to come back and that was the only other time we were at the Doves."
"So, we're nominated and inducted [into the Hall of Fame]. It's rewarding. We stayed the course and that's one of the most rewarding things. We were able to do what God called us to do without compromise and now we're in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Isn't that amazing?"
Having participated in nearly three decades of the music industry and with experience in both the secular and gospel arenas, Winans notes a number of notable changes within the business since his initial introduction in 1981.
"Respect is a great thing that's missing in music today," shares Winans. "Respect for the music itself. Respect for artistry. It's changed in respect for the audience. You listen to rappers and the likes and they have no respect. They feel as if people have to buy their music and that they have to go to their concerts. If stuff's not right, they blame everyone but themselves. I've had opportunity to sit with Tony Bennett. He's still so gracious and grateful."
"What has changed in music is that people make music and they are not musicians. They get a computer and they get some sounds and they put the sounds together. They make a lot of money. But if you give them a sheet of music, they can't read it. If you put them on a piano, they can't play it. If you give them a drum, they can't play it. They've never studied music. They don't know how to sing and there's no respect for musicianship. I think that it's diluted and degraded an art form, in any genre except classical music."
In addition to the secular arena, Winans has noticed a change in the gospel genre.
"I'm all for praise and worship. But now, taking one verse out of the Bible and singing it 153 times does not a song make. So hopefully, I will inspire gospel lyricists and composers to get back on their job because we have something to say. Although it may hurt to say it, it still needs to be said."
Winans' incredible exposure and experience to the music industry inspired him some ten years ago to launch his own performing arts school, known as the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts.
"I have 1100 students," states Winans proudly. "We began with 288 students and added a grade each year. Now we're at 1100 and we've graduated three classes and we're growing. We have two campuses and we're preparing to add a third."
The pioneering Marvin Winans is clearly a legend in our time and his solo foray is yet another chapter in his groundbreaking career that is destined to change the face of Gospel music. Again!
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