In his two decades in the Gospel recording community, BeBe Winans has certainly made a name for himself with Gospel audiences, but his popular appeal pales in comparison to his status among other artists in the Gospel and Urban Adult Contemporary arena. A member of the legendary Winans family, he has built a multi-faceted career that continues to gain for him new audiences, both within and outside the world of Gospel music.
Born Benjamin Winans, BeBe spent his early twenties singing background for his more famous siblings, The Winans vocal group. Then he and sister CeCe formed their own duo in the mid-80s and surprisingly landed joint contracts with Sparrow and Capitol Records (for Gospel and secular markets) for their self-titled debut in 1986. Working with producer Keith Thomas, the duo matched an unusually sophisticated, slick soul sound to Gospel lyrics and began building an audience among Gospel, soul and adult contemporary listeners. If their older siblings, The Winans, brought the sound of the Temptations to Gospel, BeBe and CeCe brought the sound of Marvin and Tammi. Their debut was as good as anything on urban adult contemporary radio that year, and garnered some well deserved success, especially with the very nice midtempo hit, "I.O.U. Me."
While their debut showed promise, real success came with their second disc, Heaven, the title track of which became a top ten smash and elevated BeBe and CeCe to stardom with Gospel and Contemporary Christian Music fans. And they became urban music stars with their third album, Different Lifestyles, which included the chart-topping "Addictive Love" as well as a fine remake of the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There." However, despite its popularity, Different Lifestyles was not as strong as its predecessors, and showed the first slippage in the quality of the duo's material and the freshness of their sound. Further slippage came on their next album, 1994's Relationships, on which the duo replaced Thomas with pop producers David Foster and Arif Mardin. The result was their lone commercial and critical failure.
Relationships became the final BeBe and CeCe Winans album, as the two began working on separate projects, coming together only sporadically over the next decade. CeCe went on to become arguably the top female Gospel artist of the latter 90s, consistently scoring with tasteful, well performed albums. BeBe's success was more varied but also more sporadic. He became a sought-after producer and songwriter for a number of artists, including Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams, Stephanie Mills and Dave Koz. However, his solo recording career, while generally interesting, failed to match the duo's success. In 1997 he issued his self-titled debut, a solid disc that scored big on the Gospel charts and had some urban success with the ballad "In Harm's Way" and the infectious gospel dance number "Thank You." It also included the beautiful ballad, "Did You Ever Know," which has since been recorded by a number of other artists. His follow-up, 2000's Love and Freedom, which included guest performances by Luther Vandross, Donnie McClurkin and Brian McKnight, was his biggest, topping the Gospel charts and hitting the Pop top 30. He followed it up in 2002 with the less successful Live and Up Close.
However, while Winans was having only moderate success with his recordings, his reputation in the Gospel and Soul community began to create other opportunities for him. His friendship with Denzel Washington (resulting from work together on a music video) led to an acting role in The Manchurian Candidate. More importantly, his strong relationships with the biggest Soul and Gospel artists became the basis for The BeBe Winans Radio Show, perhaps Gospel Music's most important national radio show and BeBe's first major hosting gig. Central to the show's popularity is Winans' ability to get many of the nation's biggest African American artists to visit to discuss their new projects. It is now heard in virtually every major market.
Amidst the other activities, Winans returned to music, releasing in March 2005 what he says is his most personal album to date, Dream, his first on Hidden Beach Records' new Still Waters inspirational label.
By Chris Rizik