From the start of an astonishing career with her brother BeBe to her 10 years as a beloved solo artist, CeCe Winans is a legend — at least in the minds of many of her peers. In her own mind she's something else altogether. And in truth? She's something — someone — far more personal than a legend.
If you were CeCe Winans and you had spent the past decade establishing one of the most prolific and respected careers in all of modern music, what would you do to mark your 10th anniversary as a solo artist? Release a special edition "Best Of" album? Embark on a commemorative tour and follow it with an accompanying live DVD and CD? If, like CeCe, you had spent eight years prior to going solo recording as part of a platinum-selling duo (BeBe and CeCe Winans), you'd have 18 years of stardom under your belt. You might anticipate a tribute album — even encourage it through unofficial channels.
But not CeCe. None of that is her style. For her 10th anniversary as a solo artist, she just went out and recorded her most personal album yet. Should we have expected anything less?
The lyrical themes on the new disc are not only personal, they're extremely broad. Whether she's talking about sibling relationships, racial diversity, reliance on God in the midst of hardship, troubled marriages, the hope of heaven, romance, praise and worship or prayer, it's open season on pretty much anything and everything.
The Mystery of Marriage
Consider the song "Just Like That" from Purified (Wellspring/INO), which released in mid-September. CeCe layers the track's slow groove with words of profound encouragement, counseling those listeners whose marriages are plagued by passivity, shame, fear and mistrust. In one particular, cut-to-the-chase moment, she sings on God's behalf, "I can change your husband's heart and make his love for you come back. She makes you believe it.
"I've lived long enough to know — and surely you don't have to be 40 or over to know this — but God's right all the time?," says CeCe, making eye contact with thoughtful ease. "I've been married 21 years. I didn't get nervous about being married until probably 10 years into my marriage. I went to a marriage conference our church had. I was like, 'We don't need anything, but I'll go.' That's where I really found out what marriage meant, and I got nervous. I was like, ?Aah, I agreed to do what?'
"I always had the thought, 'As long as you love me, I'll love you. As long as you treat me right, I'll treat you right. The minute you don't, I'm out of here.' Even though we were happy, that was always in the back of my mind. It was like, 'God hates divorce, so if I get divorced, I just won't ever get married again.'"
As is often the case with epiphanies, CeCe's was triggered by a verbal illustration. Her pastor said something that changed her life. Speaking of his wife, he said, "If she decided to leave me today and decided to be a prostitute, I would buy up all her time because her soul is more important than my pride."
Says CeCe, "I was like, ?Are you serious?' I'm in the wrong place! [Laughs] I gotta get out of here! I gotta go!'
I had to be humble and realize what marriage meant and what it was supposed to mean to the world? There've been times when I've wanted to leave, you know, but it's like, I can't go anywhere. The Holy Spirit would say, 'No, you're not going anywhere. So what if this happened, and that happened. So what?'
"And man, I'm so glad I listened to Him. So glad. Because He had to get some stuff out of me. I had to humble myself and had to purify myself. I had to fast and pray. Then you really get a chance to see what marriage is. It's an awesome thing. It's really unconditional love. Since I've changed my attitude and my mindset, I've seen God do incredible things in my marriage. I love my husband. I am so crazy about him."
Home and away
Although she speaks with deep conviction, CeCe has a ready laugh. The conversation turns as she considers the discernment it takes to walk the line between being public with your personal testimony and protecting your family's privacy.
"When it comes to my husband, my children, my family, what you see is what you get. I don't live two different lives. I believe the Word. God said, 'Be holy as I am holy because without [holiness] no man shall see the Lord.' I believe that, so I'm striving to be holy whether I'm onstage or not.
"My kids grew up with me being a public person. We have missed the mark several times in our years, but we strive to live a life of holiness. There are things God could have exposed, but He has just covered us, you know, like He does."
She says that, 'a lot of times, artists forget that it's very important to have a home church, to have people to tell you what you need to hear — not what you want to hear. That all plays a part in keeping a balance in your lifestyle.'
Standing in the shadows
After only a few moments in conversation with CeCe, you discover she's a woman whose streams of thought and emotion run deep. And her ability to convey these thoughts and feelings is just as striking.
This wasn't always the case — something you'd pick up on by reading her interviews from back in the day — back when she and her brother BeBe were recording as a duo, burning up the Christian pop, gospel and mainstream airplay charts and selling truckloads of CDs. In those days, either BeBe was verbose and assertive in interviews or CeCe was?well?shy.
"You know, both those statements are true," she reveals. "He had to talk all the time. I never really wanted to. I was shy growing up — shy to the point where I never would have chosen this, being out front, for myself. I've always loved to sing, but singing out front, God forbid. It was rough enough to be a duo. God knew He had to do it gradually, you know.
"The funny thing is that when BeBe and I were doing duets, he would speak or say something in between songs during concerts, and that was different for him — to really talk. So he would, and if it was something off the wall or he didn't do it right, I would just chew him up [laughs]. I'd say, 'That didn't make any sense — what you said. You messed up so bad up there!' He would be like, 'well, why don't you say something?' So I always gave him a hard time behind the scenes, but I wouldn't help him out up front."
After releasing their self-titled debut in 1987, BeBe and CeCe spent the next 10 years establishing themselves as the biggest Christian urban pop act in the world, before embarking on extremely successful solo careers.