Shaken. Experiences in our lives, be they of our own doing or not, often leave us shaken. But for those with a solid foundation of family, friends and a relationship with Christ, those times do not have to leave us broken, but instead can be used to bring about new creation.
BeBe Winans has experienced some shaking. Some were of his own doing: he and sister/recording partner CeCe taking time off to pursue their own artistic dreams, BeBe's manifesting themselves as production projects and acting roles. Some were planned for and cherished: the birth of his daughter Miya Destiny, as one example. And some threatened he and his family with something they had never faced before. In 1996, BeBe's older brother Ron was diagnosed with heart disease so pronounced that doctors told the Winans family that Ron would not leave the hospital alive, a diagnosis that left BeBe shaken to his very soul. "When I stood at my brother's bedside, and with the pain that I felt, I was willing to give my life for him, because it hurt too much. That love hurt," BeBe says.
The Winans family experiences a bond that goes beyond simple blood relations, one that winds its way through a love and talent for music, through to the spiritual link their love for God provides. BeBe knew growing up he could depend on his brothers for support and protection, but now one of them was being threatened. "My father taught us to protect each other, and we could always depend on Ron and the older clan to be there," BeBe says. "There wasn't that much trouble for us in school because everybody knew we had a thousand brothers, and that really helped a whole lot."
But out of those dire circumstances, something unexpected happened that shook not only BeBe's life, but the lives of his family. Through the process of risky heart surgery, aided by the power of a family united in prayer, Ron recovered, and BeBe's relationship with him and the God he loves and serves would never be the same. "It was so dramatic for us because it was really the first time we were faced with the fact that someone was going to die, and there was really nothing we could do but pray." BeBe says. "I have to stop for a minute whenever I think about it, and I don't think that will ever change. It altered my life. When I see him or talk to him on the phone, it's a reminder of how great God is."
BeBe emerged from the family ordeal a changed man and a renewed artist. The joy over the outcome of his brother's experience shows through on "In Harm's Way," the first track from BeBe's solo album debut, BeBe Winans. It's a song that talks about the sacrifices we can make for each other, as well as the ultimate sacrifice Christ made when He went to the Cross.
"One thing that sticks in my mind was when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he knew exactly what he had to do, and he wanted his Father's will to be done. He knew that it was going to cost him his life, but he put himself in harm's way for us. That's the ultimate sacrifice," BeBe says. "Some songs take you back to a very painful moment. This song doesn't take me back to a painful moment, but rather the time when we ran up to the chapel in that hospital and were just climbing the walls in a kind of joyful pandemonium," BeBe laughs. "The other part you're really numb to, like, 'Did that really ever happen?' It's a constant smile because of the outcome. If I knew the outcome was going to be what it was, I'd go through it all again tomorrow, because I learned so much about God and saw his handiwork right in front of my eyes."
The accompanying video for "In Harm's Way," is directed by the well-known movie actor Denzel Washington, making his directorial debut. The video was shot on location in Harlem at the church where Washington's mother first met his father who was a traveling minister.
Much of BeBe's music comes from personal experience, as it has since BeBe & CeCe's first album in 1987, which contained the R&B hits "I.O.U. Me" and "For Always." In 1988, BeBe took home his first Grammy Award in the "Best Soul Gospel Performance, Male" category, for his contribution to the "Abundant Life" track on Ron's "Family & Friends Choir" album. That year also saw the release of BeBe & CeCe's second album, the gold-selling Heaven, which propelled the duo to star status and became the first gospel recording since 1972 to reach the Top 10 on Billboard's "Hot R&B" chart, when Aretha Franklin hit the mark with "Amazing Grace." "Heaven," which featured an appearance by Whitney Houston, received widespread acclaim and garnered "Best Gospel Vocal Performance" Grammy Awards for both BeBe and CeCe, along with a Soul Train Music Award, and NAACP Image Award, six Stellar Awards, and four Dove Awards.
BeBe & CeCe crossed the platinum-selling plane with 1991's Different Lifestyles spurred by the No. 1 R&B achievement of "Addictive Love." The album went to No. 1 on both the Billboard R&B and gospel charts, while scoring the Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album," in addition to a second NAACP Image Award and a pair of Dove Awards. 1993 saw the release of the duo's touching First Christmas album, as well as BeBe's production contribution to Whitney's "Jesus Loves Me" track on The Bodyguard soundtrack (for which he enjoyed 1993 "Album of the Year" Grammy Award honors). He went on to work in the producer's role with such top artists as Gladys Knight, Bobby Brown, and Stephanie Mills (his co-star during a sold out 1996 run of "Your Arm's Too Short To Box With God," staged in New York City.)
In 1994, BeBe & CeCe released their fifth studio album, the RIAA gold Relationships, which was highlighted by the Arif Mardin-produced ballad "If Anything Ever Happened To You." The pair again joined with Mardin to record their version of "You've Got A Friend" for 1995's Carole King tribute Tapestry Revisted. Also that year came BeBe & CeCe's Greatest Hits collection which included the previously unreleased tracks "Feel Like Heaven (With You)" and "(Lord Lift Us) Up Where We Belong." In 1995, when the duo decided to take a temporary hiatus from their joint recording career (which resulted in CeCe's Grammy-winning Alone in His Presence album), BeBe slipped from the limelight, working behind the board, and generally living life.
It was that time away from the spotlight that allowed him to compile the songs that would comprise BeBe Winans. "When I write a song, I write from experience. Sometimes it comes from a deep experience, sometimes it comes from a shallow experience, but it's important for me to express truth and to express actual experiences," BeBe explains. "Being raised in the church, you see a lot, and in reading the Scriptures, you see a lot. For example, 'If You Say' comes from a desire to go back to Genesis, forgetting everything else I know about Scripture, and to just read, and to discover more about who God is. And the way to find out about a person is to find out about his character," BeBe continues.
"I've been having the most wonderful time reading from Genesis all the way through, and as I've been reading, appreciating more than I ever have about when Jesus came and what he did, because God the Father didn't have that much patience," BeBe notes with a laugh. "When you learn and realize what happened in those days, you start to find yourself blurting out 'Thank God for Jesus,' because in those days, most of us would have been dead several times over. "What I love about Jesus is that he shook things up, especially the people that had gotten settled in their ways. He shook them up to the point that it confused them, and they started calling him different things," BeBe says. "From the beginning, people would say the same kinds of things about me and CeCe. That we weren't Christians, that if we were Christians we would sing things this certain way and our lyrics would say things a certain way.
"If you're willing to be misunderstood, and you're willing to be talked about, God can really use you. But if you care about what people think or say about you, you can only be used to a certain degree," BeBe relates. "I give no excuse. I made a decision that I was going to be true to me and to God, and He's the one I want to please. When you please God, that's all that matters, because those who follow God will be pleased, and those who are just in the way won't be, and will be disappointed."
Fans of BeBe's smooth vocal style and insightful lyrics will not be disappointed with the outcome of his first solo album. From the happiness expressed in "So In Love" to the gratitude and appreciation of "Thank You," and "Did You Know" (sung with sister Debbie) to the glory and power of "Oh Happy Day" (which teams BeBe with Hezekiah Walker's Love Fellowship Crusade Choir), BeBe Winans explores the width and depth of a man in love with God and all of his Creation.
"One thing that I've accepted, before I'm a Christian, I'm a human being. When he formed me in my mother's womb, I was a human first, before I was a Christian. And sometimes I think we forget that, and we look at things as if we were aliens," BeBe says. "However, I'm a human being, but I choose to let God relate to every area of my life. And I write about those relations. The first thing that comes to my mind whenever I get good news or bad news, it doesn't matter, is 'God, you've got to help me through this,' because that's who I depend on. "Everything I am, He's created in me. Everything I go through, I try to relate to Him," BeBe continues. "It's built on the personal relationship. That's what I've been trying to convey for years, even in the things I've done with CeCe," he says. "When you have that personal relationship, it surpasses what people have had all these years with tradition. What I have always tried to convey is that there's more to it than just going to church on Sunday. It's a real relationship, and when you have a relationship, you have situations you can reminisce about, and how much you love God and the people around you."
BeBe Winans has used those situations, even those that have shaken his very being, to create music that stirs the soul, and lifts high the name of the One that brought, and continues to bring, him through.