CBN.com BeBe Winans has long been one of gospel music's brightest stars. With the release of his brand-new CD titled Dream, the multi-talented performer feels he has finally become himself. "This one feels different," says the man born Benjamin Winans of his latest solo recording. "If I could erase the others, I wouldn't because I think it's a part of my journey. But this is who I am. And I’m not afraid to be who I am."
Winans' talents have only grown through a career trajectory that saw him establish new standards for contemporary gospel music in the late '80s as part of the groundbreaking sibling duo BeBe & CeCe with sister Priscilla, and earned him a Grammy nomination for his 2000 solo album Love And Freedom. With his beautifully modulated baritone stronger than ever, the veteran vocalist and songwriter has continued to create thoughtful, moving tributes to faith through the power of music.
It's been an interesting journey for the performer, who is a member of a family that also includes the four-sibling The Winans, singing sisters Angie & Debbie, Grammy-nominated sister CeCe Winans, singing nephews Winans Phase II, and former sister-in-law Vickie Winans. After singing backup on other family projects, he teamed with sister CeCe for their 1986 debut album, but broke through to critical acclaim with their 1987 project Heaven, which earned them airplay on secular radio. The duo recorded a total of five albums and earned two Grammy Awards. In the '90s BeBe and his sister decided to record their own projects, and BeBe debuted in 1997 with a self-titled album, and followed it with 2000's Love And Freedom and 2003's concert recording Live And Up Close. Along the way, he has contributed songs and vocals to projects by a diverse array of other artists, including Brandy, Dave Koz, Hezekiah Walker, Kelly Price, Yolanda Adams, and Stephanie Mills.
But now more than ever, it's BeBe's time. After a period of change and personal challenges over the past few years--including a painful divorce, a slimmer physique, and a burgeoning acting career--the Detroit-bred singer has emerged victorious. Now living in Nashville, the seventh son of gospel’s first family has found his place as an artist in his own right. On his latest offering, Dream, the clarity of his creative vision, humanity, and devotion shine brighter than ever.
The album may be called Dream, but this is as real as it gets for BeBe. His first studio album in four years is his first release on his own The Movement Group (TMG) label, which he founded two years ago. It’s also his first in partnership with Still Waters, the brand-new inspirational division of Hidden Beach Recordings, home to such standout artists like Jill Scott, Mike Phillips and Kindred The Family Soul.
Dream was produced by Winans in Nashville in conjunction with guitarist/producer Tom Hemby. The music of Dream is all BeBe. It is neither the choir-based grit of traditional gospel nor the smoothed-out R&B funk of contemporary gospel -– places he has previously been musically – but boldly strikes-out in a new direction, fusing pop, inspirational Christian, and stripped-down soul straight from his heart. It's meditative, reverent music that is tenderly overlaid with messages of love in all its earthly and heavenly forms.
"Everything I think I've ever done has had a double meaning because I've always believed that God was concerned about my everyday life--my relationships, both spiritual and natural," explains BeBe of the song choices on Dream, which include both tributes to faith as well as songs about romantic love, family bonds, and friendship. "To me you can’t really shake one away from the other because that is what God is: God is love. And love is what we have between each other and causes us to say, 'Be my wife, be my husband, be my girlfriend.' It's love that brings us to that point and that's who God is. So I've always taken the liberty and I've always written about my life and what God means to me in every situation and circumstance."
It's BeBe's voice--by turns hushed, rough, confidential, compelling, and committed -- that keeps his message mighty real, indeed. He says that the lyrics and music of Dream are meant to be thought provoking, and while BeBe has always been a powerful singer he doesn’t believe in overpowering the listener with vocal histrionics. "I've always been the type of recording artist that believes you have to save some for the stage. I'm a lyric man; I really want people to hear what I'm saying and sometimes vocally if you do too much you obscure what you're trying to do. So I do believe in being reserved to a certain degree and saving some for live performance."
The album’s first single and one of BeBe’s favorites is the modern gospel hymn "Safe From Harm," a magnetic, embracing song that’s made even more relevant in light of these trying times. Its message reaches beyond the borders of the music world, gently touching the hearts and minds of those who need words of hope and reassurance.
Another highlight and the first single for urban adult radio is “Love Me Anyway,” which embodies the singer’s skill at addressing the dynamic between loving adults as well as with a higher power. Winans says that his true feelings are often revealed in songs from this collection, and the process can be difficult but it's also liberating and a way to connect with his listeners. "I've had big, big ups and downs in my life, “BeBe admits, "but while it hurts sometimes being transparent, I've also loved those feelings that come from being transparent. I've never tried to act like I've had everything together."
"That’s A Friend" is a personal song close to Winans’ heart. He says, "I talk about friendship, a past friend who has been there for me through ups and downs, for 30 some years. I wanted her to know I appreciate her for the love we have for each other, the commitment, the love, and also the understanding with that: what was taught to me as a child going to church, is that God wants to be a friend to the friendless."
The centerpiece of Dream is "I Have A Dream," a tune inspired by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous I Have A Dream speech from the March On Washington in 1963, when Winans himself was just an infant. Winans wrote the tune some five years ago after hearing a cable news special commemorating the civil rights leader's world-famous speech and the words seemed to truly reach his ears for the first time.
"It hit me like a brick," says BeBe of MLK's powerful speech. "I called a friend and told him to fax me the whole speech. Up to that time I had never read the text of the whole speech and it wiped me out. I went to the piano room, sat at the piano, and in about five minutes I had written 'I Have A Dream.' It was written through me--it was an experience." The next part of his journey was getting the gracious permission of the King Family to use portions of the speech in his recording. "Yes, they’re all on board, and it really has been worth the wait because it was important to me that they knew this was not for my gain, but I was being used as a channel the same way he was being used as a channel when King wrote it," he explains.
Winans truly touches the spirit with the album-opening affirmation "When You Pray"; the melodious tribute to his daughter Maya, called "Love Thang," which also appeared on his 2000 concert album Live And Up Close; and the reassurance to troubled souls, “Help Is On The Way." BeBe soars with emotion on the gorgeous inspirational ballads "So Glad" (which was originally written and recorded by his friend, Christian recording artist Amy Grant) and "Let My Heart Go." In a more up-tempo vein, BeBe swings on the R&B-flavored "Have You Ever Had" and the gospel testimonial "Miracle Of Love," which features a surprise duet with neo-soul singer Angie Stone, while a hidden bonus track is dedicated to Winans' young son "Benjamin."
BeBe says he is looking forward to taking this material on the road, where keeping it real is one of his goals in terms of presentation. He jokes about some of his country artist friends, who can entertain audiences in a simple pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Admitting that he is also a laidback personality, he says, "With this album, my Dream tour that will follow will be a dream. It's the kind of album that causes you to kick back and relax, so I can tour in just jeans."
While fans can look forward to seeing the dynamic performer on the road, they can also expect to experience BeBe Winans in other media. The singer is already the host of The BeBe Winans Radio Show, a nationally syndicated gospel program, and is currently finalizing plans to star in his own television sitcom. His acting career got a boost after meeting director Jonathan Demme at a party; the director of Silence Of The Lambs and Philadelphia was sufficiently impressed with the singer's demeanor to cast him as an FBI agent in the updated 2003 thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Laughs BeBe: "People were shocked to see me (on screen) and I was shocked to see myself! I've been laughing because if I had tried to do what's happening right now in film and television, it would never have happened."
So as 2005 begins, the singer and father of two finds himself on the verge of a brand-new chapter in his career and it feels good -- in fact, it's a Dream. "This is good time in my life, and I'm just going to keep on going," enthuses BeBe.