New Artist Spotlight: Winans Phase 2
In Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do small-town act The Wonders are suddenly discovered thanks to one hit song, land an immediate record deal, meet star-studded producers and gain immediate celebrity status. It all sounds so exciting, but like most movies, it’s also completely improbable.
Well, maybe. If you're a member of Winans Phase 2, it’s not such an unusual story. Success in the music industry is commonplace to this family. Michael Jr., Marvin Jr., Carvin III and Juan I (as he calls himself) are sons of The Winans and friends and relations to countless other winning Winans acts, such as Mom and Pop, Daniel,
Vickie, BeBe and CeCe, and Angie and Debbie. Yes, it only takes one glance at this gene pool to recognize that Winans musical ability is begotten. It would be weird if these four Detroit-raised teenagers didn't sing.
But just because everyone else in the family loves a microphone doesn't mean these guys always planned to glue one to their lips as well. "Our family has really been blessed to be able to sing," admits Carvin. "But growing up, it wasn't something we pondered... We didn't grow up assuming we'd eventually make a career of it."
Somehow, though, a plan was in motion from the beginning. The young cousins, who attended the same church and mixed at family functions, eventually grew into teenagers who found an easy-going harmony as both friends and singers. The rest followed quickly: They sang on a few station-identification guest spots for an NBC-TV affiliate in Detroit in 1998, were signed to Myrrh’s Black Music Division that year, and their debut, We Got Next, released in August.
Today the guys, aged 17 to 19, are excited about the possibilities before them yet truthful about their hesitancy to enter the family business. "I never really wanted to sing," Juan says simply. "People would tell me I had a nice voice, but... I was rather shy. But [then] God called me to sing, and if He's given me a talent, the least I can do is use it for His glory."
Surprisingly enough, their parents didn't plot the guys' singing course either. Juan explains: "They wanted us to be professional businessmen—doctors or lawyers. But God had something else in mind."
And according to producer Rodney Jerkins (Brandy, Kirk Franklin, Whitney Houston), that something is big. "I think this album is going to touch masses around the world," he notes in a Myrrh promotional video. "The ones that would say they would never listen to gospel music—they're the ones that are going to buy this. The radio stations that say, 'We can't play gospel music,' they're going to play this."
For his part, Jerkins is grateful to be part of the next wave: "Knowing how the original Winans group went down in history as one of the best male groups of gospel, it's good to know that I'm going to be part of the next one to go down in history."
Still, despite power producers and such an immense musical heritage, no one can claim that breaking an urban act in the Christian market is easy. But these guys aren’t worried. Armed with a good-natured sense of humor and a strong sense of mission, Phase 2 looks forward to the challenges ahead. For proof, just ask this foursome what makes them different from their parental predecessors.
"Now we really sing," Marvin jokes. "They were doing, like, Milli Vanilli things for 25 years. We're bringing vocals now!" he says, laughing.
Michael adds, more seriously, "We're younger than they were when they started. We understand how peer pressure can affect your relationship with God." Citing relatively new teen problems such as school violence, he continues, "The issues are a little different, and we have to get a little deeper. We're still singing holiness. The message is the same, maybe the delivery is a little different."
The delivery—seamless vocals wrapped around slick R&B and pop offerings—is enhanced by the aforementioned Jerkins who is joined at the production wheel by Narada Michael Walden (Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin), Cedric Caldwell (CeCe Winans) and Joshua Gen Reubin. The producers and teenagers shared the majority of the writing credits for the project, though singing/songwriting powerhouse Babyface wrote one tune, "Just for a Day," specifically for Phase 2.
"We could sing about anything they're singing about in secular music," says Carvin, things like love songs, which he calls taking "the easy way out." But instead, he says, Phase 2’s response is, "Lord, You've called us to go out and preach Your word... to make disciples. Send us, ’cause we'll go."
Adds Juan, "We're singing to the glory of His name, for the edification of His kingdom. We have to hold up a banner, let our light shine!"