Easy Does It
As usual, what BeBe Winans wears for his November "Crook & Chase" television appearance spells class: a black suit with coordinating shirt, shoes and socks, a black coat trailing behind him as he sweeps past security and an anxious segment producer.
And a scarf.
Not just any scarf mind you. It wasn't plaid and made of flannel or bulky and crocheted. It was velvet. Seductively smooth velvet embellished with braided fringe in a brilliant, emerald green. This scarf not only symbolizes the suave singer who wears it; it represents his musical style on his first solo project--one of smooth vocals embellished with warm, intimate lyrics and a soothing, groove-mastered sound. It's titled BeBe Winans, and it deserves no other name, for not only is it the soul singer's debut, it's his autobiography.
The album, released back in October, is the latest effort by one of a handful of artists who appeal to both the Christian and general markets. Best known for his duo records with sister CeCe as well as for his production work, the artist who has won his share of Grammys, Doves and NAACP Image Awards has spent over two years writing, recording and producing while shedding 75 pounds. And this past Nov. 3, just days after his solo effort hit the streets, Winans takes credit for breaking the Kansas City Chiefs' 25-year, at-home losing streak to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I told the players and the owners that I know I carry an anointing with me," he says, pausing for a deep, throaty laugh. "Whenever I sing the National Anthem, the home team wins. So I said, 'Y'all are going to win tonight, and this ain't no hocus pocus.'"
As Pittsburgh took a 10-0 first-quarter lead, things looked grim for Kansas City. But the Chiefs dominated the second quarter and clinched the game, 13-10.
This should not come as a surprise from the man whose older brother Ron (one fourth of The Winans quartet) calls daring and adventurous.
"BeBe's never been afraid to press the envelope," says the older sibling, "and sometimes it makes me nervous. But it's who he is. I try to warn him against things I know won't work, but I've got to let him be who he is. He's not afraid, he's not inhibited. He doesn't believe there's anything he can't do if he puts his mind to it."
A Solo Debut Now his mind is set on promoting his solo album, a project boasting a little help from general market talents Luther Vandross and Eric Clapton, and a video directed by his friend, actor Denzel Washington. But the record is hardly flashy like the names on the album credits. It is sincere and personal like a series of journal entries intended for no other eyes but the writer's and God's.
"It's my life," says BeBe over lunch at Nashville's Houston's restaurant following his "Crook & Chase" interview. "I could go through each song and tell you what I felt and what I was going through. I'm in love with Jesus, and I love Him because He loves me like no other. He has a way about Him that I'm attracted to."
His ballad "This Song" sums it up this way: "I felt by writing this song/It would reveal my heart/And tell you the way that I'm feeling/I feel like telling you how much I love you so/No special reason, just thought you should know."
"Sometimes we have selfish reasons for telling someone we love them," says Winans. "So the song is saying I don't want anything. I just want you to know that I really love you. The album is just celebrating the love I have for Him and the love I have for family and friends. I'm just celebrating love."
There is, however, one special love song missing from the album, one he wrote a little over three years ago.
"It's titled 'It's a Love Thing,' and I wrote it the day I found out my wife was pregnant," he says. After nine years of trying to have a baby and multiple miscarriages, Winans and his wife Debra had just about given up. Then came Miya Destiny born Aug. 8, 1995, and weighing in at 2 pounds 15 ounces. Her twin died in the womb months before the "miracle baby" was born.
Miya's bright, independent and stubborn ("just like BeBe," says Debra Winans), and she's got daddy wrapped around her sweet little fingers.
"BeBe and Miya will always be close," says his wife. "They have their own little world in which she brings out the vulnerable in him. She touches that place in him that no other thing, no other person, no other achievement could ever touch."
What Kind Of Love
But don't be misled. There are still a few achievements this proud papa would like to see happen career-wise. BeBe hopes his new material will shoot to the top of both Christian and R&B charts even though he knows his musical love fest will spark its share of criticisms, the same criticisms lashed out at his and sister CeCe's duo projects: that the songs are not Christian enough, that the lyrics are misleading. Who is he singing to anyway? God or his wife? Or could it be another woman?
"I get sick of it," says Winans, "but I have to be comfortable with where God has placed me in the industry. My songs can speak to both issues of love toward Him, but also about relationships and sex because God is concerned about all those things."
On the other hand, he refuses to make music strictly for the general market.
"It's not who I am," says Winans. "God has people everywhere, and I'm honored that my music can be misunderstood and service both Christian and non-Christian markets."
He breaks into a story about a man he met at a church service who had once left his faith to pursue worldly pleasures.
"He told me that the only albums he wouldn't let go of were mine and my sister's," recalls Winans. "He loved our style and our lyrics, and it was a song that I sang, 'Searching for Love,' that one day convicted him. He realized God was what he was searching for. When he broke this thing down, I started to cry. I realized this is the reason why I don't mind being misunderstood."
Moments later he shares another story. This one about a waitress in Chicago. "She said, 'I must be unprofessional for just a minute,'" Winans relates. "'Because of you and your sister, you are looking at a woman who is no longer on cocaine and now a mother to her child. I just wanted to thank you.'"
But it's the parents who nurtured his artistry (and donated those singing genes) who deserve the thanks. David and Delores Winans are known in music circles as Mom & Pop Winans.
"My husband and I sang for years before we were married, and we just kept singing in church after we were married," says Mom Winans, who worked full-time as a medical transcriber while her husband worked factory jobs until he became a barber. Between them, they owned a piano, a saxophone and a clarinet--and 10 children. The only music Pop Winans allowed in the house was Christian.
"I understand what my father did," says BeBe. "With seven boys and three girls, and working practically 24 hours a day to support his family, he needed all the help he could get. He didn't need any negativity coming through the house, and I say bravo to him. So we were all influenced by music that told us to love our neighbors and be Christ-like."
Winans began developing his musical gifts as a youngster in Detroit, where he was born Benjamin Winans on Sept. 17, 1962, Mom & Pops' seventh.
"By the time Benjamin was born, my husband had already formed a musical group with the other children," says Mom Winans. "As BeBe got older, he eventually formed the Winans Part 2 with the younger ones. He was kind of like the leader in his little group."
All the kids began writing songs at a young age, and although Winans did well in school, he skipped college to pour his energies into music. Younger sister CeCe, number eight, joined him, and in 1982, they began performing on television's "PTL Club." Their self-titled debut appeared in 1987, but it was their sophomore release, Heaven, that propelled them into the spotlight.
All the Winans' children have achieved a certain degree of success: David, the oldest, is a guitarist and recording engineer in Los Angeles; Ron, Michael, Marvin and Carvin make up the Winans; number six, Daniel, is a Grammy-winning solo star; after BeBe comes CeCe, who released her own Grammy-winning solo album, Alone in His Presence, two years ago. Lastly, the two youngest, Angie & Debbie, released an album last fall titled Bold, on which the song "Not Natural" left gay rights groups in a fury.
"There are a lot of things that I talk about in my songs, but I say them with more wisdom and more understanding. That's what age does for you," says BeBe Winans. "But at the same time, it's something they wanted to say, and as I listen to radio these days, it's something they needed to say.
"Really what Angie and Debbie and what all of us are saying is God loves the lesbian as much as He loves the murderer as much as He loves the straight person. But sin is sin, and we must allow God to save and cleanse us. The song is not a bashing. It's a wake-up call as well as a message of love."
This message of love is perhaps most pronounced in his and CeCe Winans' 1992 Dove-winning song "Addictive Love." But the man who wrote and sang about this spiritual obsession also confesses another "addiction": clothes.
"I could buy a suit everyday," he admits. "And you have to have the right stuff to go with each suit. Have to have the right everything. Have to, or I'll just stay home. I'm pitiful."
So pitiful that his wife says their Brentwood, Tenn. home houses six closets, and his clothes take up four of them.
"And he has a clothes rack in his office. It's sickening," his wife muses.
How many suits does he own? "At least 50. Definitely 30," says Debra Winans. "And he probably has two or three shirts, two or three pairs of shoes and two or three ties per suit. Some pairs of shoes he only wears with one suit and that's it."
And his taste doesn't run cheap. "My favorite store is a store that's expensive," says Winans with another deep, throaty laugh. "I could find a store that has a sale in it and find something that ain't on sale. I'm pitiful I tell you."
Sleek shoes aside, Winans is stepping into all sorts of arenas over the next few years. General market partner Atlantic and he plan to start a record label for which he will produce new talent. He also hopes to reunite with sister CeCe for a live record. Then, there's Hollywood.
"It's funny," says Winans. "One of the things Denzel said to me when we finished shooting was that I ought to take acting very seriously. Then I had dinner with him to celebrate the release of the video, and he tells me he's getting ready to direct his first feature film and that there's this young guy in the film. I said, 'What? You want me to audition for it?' And he said, 'I can give you the part.' No, I didn't want him to give me no part."
But Washington did promise to send him a copy of the script and let him read for it.
What does sister CeCe think?
"BeBe's always been a bigger dreamer than the rest of his brothers and sisters," she says, "and his dreams have no limitations. He's destined to go places in anything he tries."