CeCe Winans – Embracing fame to build faith


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One evening, CeCe Winans might appear at the GRAMMY Awards, engaging in an emotional tug of war with her soulful duet partner, Whitney Houston, inducing a spine tingling chill with each chorus’ towering crescendo. The next morning may find her at the studio, facing Johnny Mathis in a bout of vocal tradeoffs for their Christmas collaboration record, or perhaps in a planning session with Lauryn Hill about album production. Before the week is over, Winans might possibly run the talk show circuit (from “Good Morning America” to “The Tonight Show”) or make the television guest star rounds (her credits include “7th Heaven,” “All My Children” and “Doc”).

Beyond the red carpet hype, celebrity alliances, posh studios and media clamor, Winans is thankful for such a platform in which to represent her faith, even if it’s only for a few minutes under the bright marquee lights.

“When I’m in those situations, my prayer is that God will do the supernatural,” says Winans humbly. “Sometimes those three or four minutes you have on stage may be the only chance some of that audience has to catch even a glimpse of the Lord. But God can do more in a few minutes than we can do in a lifetime. I’m just honored to have had so many opportunities to be that vessel — that voice in a dark place.”

Since her industry inception with brother BeBe Winans in 1985, followed by a transfer to solo terrain a decade later, such opportunities for the personable and compassionate star have been seemingly endless. In all cases, Winans has stepped outside her comfort zone — the church — to share Christ’s love with people from all walks of life.

“I would love to take some credit for those opportunities, but the Lord just opens up doors,” explains Winans. “Some of those spots are planned out, some are given last minute, but I just pray that the Lord would have His perfect will come through in each project I take on.”

Though the public perception of Winans’ ministry has always been on stage or under the camera lens, her focus as of late isn’t about landing an interview spot on “Oprah.” Instead, Winans is channeling her notoriety and subsequent resources into a series of charitable programming that focuses on building more personal relationships with the previously unreached. The bulk of that vision is manifested in the nonprofit organization, Sharing the Vision, which not only serves its local Nashville, Tenn. community, but also provides services to other outreach organizations.

“I have been involved in charities and benefits throughout the years and I continue to help out when I find something I believe in,” explains Winans. “I created Sharing the Vision to plug into other ministries with time and funding, allowing more than just one specific need to be met.”

Indeed, Winans’ assistance pool is diversified across many needed spectrums, including “My Sister’s Keeper” (helping at risk girls), “Teen Save” and “Initiative Teen” (suicide prevention) and the YMCA (the hosting outlet for each summer’s Camp CeCe, for underprivileged youth). Through each outreach, it’s Winans’ goal to spread messages of spirituality and self-esteem, two elements often missing from teens’ lives.

“There are several reasons I’m drawn to kids and teens. That’s how I started ministering and now I have teens of my own,” she says. “Now, more than ever, we need to show God to our young people, who are not hearing it (the gospel) from the world. When I heard kids were taking their lives and being found dead in their rooms by their parents, it just hit my heart right away. I couldn’t join up with these (organizations) fast enough.”

Sharing the Vision doesn’t stand at an arms distance as merely a financial funnel for these heart-jarring causes; it continues with personal involvement from all those associated, including Winans herself. Take, for example, her recent meeting with the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Kelsey Shine, a nine-year-old girl from Louisiana who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia last year. Thanks to her grandmother’s admiration of Winans, Kelsey has been a longtime fan of the performer, always hoping to meet her someday. Winans truly enjoyed her time with the little girl.

“I get excited about doing things like that because it can really bless a person and lift their spirits, especially if they’re battling a serious disease,” says Winans. “Really though, I probably get more out of those meetings than someone like that little girl does because I’m touched by her joy when she could understandably be depressed or complaining. A meeting puts into perspective how we can have everything, yet complain. And here, someone is fighting for their life, yet they’re hopeful.”

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Meeting Kelsey at the Shreveport, La. “Women of Faith” conference may have been unexpectedly impacting for Winans, but the little girl shared how her hope-filled attitude is derived from the singer’s life-affirming musical repertoire.

“They intermingle, they’re really the same thing,” explains Winans of her charitable and musical paths. “When I’m offstage meeting with people, in the studio recording or onstage performing, it’s a ministry that’s meant to bring hope, life and laughter.”

Despite Winans’ increased diligence with Sharing the Vision, fans need not fear for Winans’ recording future. She has been working in the studio on an album to follow-up her 2001 self-titled release. Due in stores Aug. 26, the brand new Throne Room builds upon Winans’ rekindled interest in sparking others’ faith, while revolving around a framework designed to usher listeners into God’s presence.

“It’s such a special CD because it encourages meditation and prayer. It touches the soul and the spirit,” says Winans. “My prayer with this record is not just to entertain, but to meet the needs of the people and create a worshipful atmosphere.”

Whether reeling from the aftermath of war, seeking out hope amidst a storm or trying to turn over a new leaf, Throne Room offers lyrics to help people through difficult times. “Even amidst all the struggles, we need to focus on how great God is,” she continues. “There’s no need to live in fear or dwell on our problems because great is His power.”

Although such sentiments may ring true upon listening to the album, this praise-laced project happens to be the latest in a string of worship releases from Christian music’s A-list artists. Winans joins the likes of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, the Newsboys, Caedmon’s Call, Rebecca St. James and Third Day, all of whom abandoned post-millennial pop in favor of worship. Regardless of that fashionable coincidence, Winans’ insists Throne Room has been on her heart’s radar screen long before the rage.

“I think you’re always going to have one thing become popular and people will kind of put things out just to put it out, but I don’t think you’re ever going to have too much (worship),” she says. “It’s very important that you move with the Spirit. I’m not doing something because others are doing it, I had to go in the direction I was called in.”

In a sense, the decision to follow her heart throughout the Throne Room sessions is a throwback to the Winans’ family roots, which she credits as the basis of her moral and artistic fiber, even after a lifetime in the performance profession.

“The older I get, I’m constantly reminded of how blessed I am to have a family that embraced God and each other,” says Winans. “I could never thank my parents enough for making music a part of our home and I continually draw from the past for inspiration. We were always encouraged to express ourselves without putting ourselves in a box and to always reach for the top.”

As opportunities and accolades are inevitable along Winans’ continual ascent, hopefully her carpe diem mentality will remain a stirring supplement to listeners’ lives, who, in turn, will be encouraged to lay down their burdens, dreams and devotions at the foot of Christ’s throne

Copyright © 2004 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.

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