BeBe and CeCe Winans are a slice of the successful family music dynasty that treaded both the gospel and R&B charts during the past three decades.
Born Benjamin and Priscilla in Detroit, the two are the seventh and eighth of 10 kids born to Delores "Mom" and the late David "Pop" Winans. With four of their elder brothers already a sensation with their gospel group the Winans, BeBe and CeCe made their debut in 1982 as part of the PTL Singers featured on the Christian television show “The PTL Club.” They even issued an album, “Lord Lift Us Up,” for the show.
After landing a record deal with Sparrow Records, the duo released its self-titled mainstream debut in 1987. The album launched what became a hit-filled career for them, and introduced them to crossover success that was unparalleled for black gospel artists at the time. BeBe and CeCe were one of the first black artists to receive significant airplay on contemporary Christian music radio stations, while gaining heat on R&B charts as well. This landed them in hot water with Christian music purists who thought they cheapened gospel music by adding R&B melodies.
"I choose to write about those things that everyone can identify with and tell them what God means to me in that situation, so my songs are kind of 'easy-listening,' I guess you could say. We have a message there that even those who don't want to hear about church can listen to and be uplifted,” BeBe told The Times in 1991. “That's rewarding to me. That excites me. You get some criticism because some people don't understand everything, but you'll never have it where everybody understands. If everybody liked me, I would be scared ."
BeBe and CeCe became breakout crossover stars with their second album, “Heaven,” which made them the first gospel artists to land a No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart and their 1991 disc, “Different Lifestyles” only further propelled them into gospel-R&B stardom. It featured hit singles like "Addictive Love" and a cover of the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There” — both of which topped the R&B chart.
"What used to be so different in gospel music, aside from the message in the music, was the production of the music. Then when the record companies started taking gospel music seriously and started giving the production budgets what the mainstream artists had, they saw a difference in sales. And once that happened, they stopped treating gospel artists as limited artists," BeBe said.
Known for their savvy command of modern R&B sounds and faith-based lyrics, BeBe and CeCe paved the way for gospel singers to cross over and dominate secular soul music. Artists like Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp and Kirk Franklin could easily credit them, but just as much glory is deserved to the entire Winans clan. Their parents performed and recorded together, and the majority of the siblings have enjoyed success.
In 1995, they parted ways to focus on fruitful solo careers, with BeBe releasing six solo albums and CeCe issuing eight. In 2009, the two reunited for their ninth album, “Still,” which earned two Grammy Awards in 2011 for contemporary R&B gospel album and gospel performance for the song "Grace."
Both as a duo and as solo performers, the brother-and-sister duo racked up numerous accolades, including Grammys, Dove Awards, NAACP Image awards, Soul Train Music Awards and Stellar Awards.
"Our music has crossed from the gospel realm over into the realm of the mainstream, where a lot of people don't really know about God,” CeCe told The Times of the group’s success in 1991. “I believe that's one of the main reasons God has put us there — not to preach to them that you should do this or you should stop that, but just to share with them what God has been to us.”