*BeBe Winans has that voice. You know the one. It’s the smoky one. It’s full-bodied. It’s smooth. It’s the one full of richness and thickness.
And when he sings, the texture of his music is emotional and soul-searching. His singing is full of passion. It sounds like deep, rich chocolate tastes.
For years he’s been singing gospel as a solo act, but most notably as part of the successful gospel duo, BeBe and CeCe, which includes his sister. Their collaboration, which includes nine successful gold and platinum recordings, has proven to be a winning formula that was initiated by Jim and Tammy Bakker.
BeBe and CeCe are part of the famous Winans family gospel music dynasty. All of the siblings are popular and accomplished award-winning singers.
A six-time Grammy Award-winning icon, Winans, the youngest male member of the renowned Winans gospel family, is changing course.
He’s thrown his hat into the ring as a playwright and producer – putting his life story up front and center in a new musical called, Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story. The show premiered last year at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and the Arena Stage in Washington, DC.
The musical, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, with book by Randolph–Wright (director of Motown: The Musical) and Winans, will be performed at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica beginning July 11, with original music and lyrics by Winans.
The show is billed as a hilarious and heart-warming journey toward self-discovery. Detroit natives BeBe and CeCe Winans, youngest siblings of the Winans family dynasty, experience the ultimate in culture shock when invited to join Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord Network television show. The Winans teenagers became not only television celebrities, they also became like adopted children to the Bakkers, integrating TV evangelism in Pineville, North Carolina. As BeBe and CeCe encounter fame, fortune, and even a young Whitney Houston, BeBe must learn to balance his desire for success with his true calling. Winans, who is divorced and has two children, doesn’t appear in the musical, nor does his sister, CeCe. Winans is played by his nephew Juan Winans, while CeCe is played by Juan’s sister, Deborah Joy (Greenleaf).
Today, Winans, who now calls Nashville home, is donned in a black cap, black shirt, jacket and black shoes. He’s looking rather chic as he sits in The Rooftop Grill on top of the Montage Beverly Hills hotel waiting to be served his favorite lunch (a turkey burger).
The 54-year-old singer, whose face is now sprinkled with a salt and pepper beard and m ustache, is a handsome, confident, amiable, and level-headed man with a pleasing personality and a powerful, even regal presence.
While sharing a lunch with Winans, whose real name is Benjamin, it’s clear he’s in a good mood. He’s eager to talk about his show and how he’s presenting his story – his way! He’s hoping his story inspires others.
DD: Describe the show.
BW: You’re going to see what people don’t know. A 15-year-old CeCe and 17-year-old BeBe coming of age story. We’ll see how they became a duet. We weren’t a duet in the beginning. If it wasn’t for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, we wouldn’t be. And then you’ll follow my journey and how I navigated my life in order to obtain fame, but not trade in my faith. You’ll see the fight and the struggle with that. I’ve seen fame destroy people. It almost destroyed me but my faith brought me through it. The young BeBe you’ll see is the BeBe that got lost and struggled with little things that people not from my background would ever struggle with. Everything in my upbringing was a sin. My first movie was ET, The Extra Terrestrial. It was at the movie theater. I went there with some friends and I couldn’t enjoy the movie because I knew my life would be over when I stepped out of the theater. That’s the backstory of my family’s life. It’s what my parents meant to us. My brothers. People have a way of putting you on a pedestal. Our life was not easy, but our music played a very important part of our life.
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DD: Why the name Born For This?
BW: It’s the title track to a song I wrote. It says it all in the midst of trying to find out what I wanted to do with my life. If it was something my life could become. I was born to sing. I was born to do what I’m doing. It caused me a lot of pain. I wanted to hang it up and promise I would never do it again.
DD: What was/is your true calling?
BW: To be 19 and get a phone call from a mainstream producer that wanted to do a solo album with me and wanted me to go secular and have more exposure. I had to really ask myself the question is that what you’re supposed to do? You become more famous and have more outlets. I was born to sing this. This is what I was born to do. Fate has a way of guiding you where you’re supposed to go, but not telling you where that is.
DD: What is success to you?
BW: At a certain age it was a house and car. At another age it was a gold album. Success with age and time is a different description. Now it’s being at peace with who I am and where I am and what I have and what I don’t have.
DD: Was fame and fortune worth it?
BW: Um, there are pros and cons. I say yes to some degree and to the other degree I say no.
DD: What are the degrees?
BW: We don’t understand peer pressure at all. I’ve never been under peer pressure. If you could live through my family upbringing then you knew who you were. My father taught us who we were before we left the house. My father would say, “You’re going to know who you are before you leave my house.” Therefore, the outside influences weren’t that important to us. I never went after fame for the sake of having everybody know my name. Fortune, that’s another thing. I don’t know anyone who just desires to be broke. The hard part for me of fortune was…..we were almost taught that if you loved money that you didn’t love God that much. I had to break through that mold. I had to break through the philosophies of man. There is nothing wrong with having money. It was the love of money, not money. It is the root of all evil, but not money. You have to find the balance where you’re not loving money, you’re just making money and that’s OK.
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DD: Why did you feel it was important to tell your story now?
BW: I’ve been writing it for 10 years and I always trying to tell people that I didn’t wake up and say my life is a musical. It was in one of the conversation I had with one of my dear friends we all love – Roberta Flack and she detoured and asked, “Baby, when are you going to write that musical about you and your sister? You gotta get to it.” And then she went back into a different conversation. Five days later I went into a hotel room in Montreal, Canada and like a faucet came on and I wrote the first draft for what is now Born For This. This was destined for me to do. I know that now.
DD: For people looking in, it could look like an easy journey.
BW: This is not an easy journey at all. What I’ve learned from the Alliance in Atlanta is that my story is a lot of people’s stories. It’s important now because we’re all divided. Anger is not the answer. I endured in this story racism in the south. Instead of being angry I decided to laugh. Laughing is good like a medicine. I choose love. We tell that story. I think people need to be heard. That’s the only way we’re going to come together.
DD: Tell me about the first time the show opened. Did you watch from the wings? Did you watch from the audience? What was going through your mind?
BW: I watched from the back of the audience. I believed it. What was so impactful at that moment was I saw, I believed in the show. I saw this on the stage. I saw this moment happened. What was so impactful was I had a chance to see the faces of the people I saw in my vision. Now I’m seeing them face-to-face. That was unbelievable. There were black faces, white, young, old, there were faces I imagined and now I’m seeing. That was incredible.
DD: How long have you been working on the show? How long did it take to write? What is your process for writing a song?
BW: Ten years ago is when I started working on the show. I’ve always written songs. In writing I write when I’m inspired. I’m not a 9-5 writer. I can tell when I’m getting ready to receive the song. I can tell in my body and spirit and then I find a place and sit still and I write it. And then I continue what I was doing. I know the story of BeBe and CeCe. What do we tell what don’t we tell? What do we tell without it being nine days long. I learned about theater in New York. It was an incredible journey of learning Broadway and how to present this story.
DD: What did you learn about yourself while writing the show?
BW: That I was naïve, but I was determined. I didn’t know I had as much determination as I did. Sitting back and watching the show I kept saying I could have given up then.
DD: Do you like yourself?
BW: I love me. I’ve always been this way. If you don’t like yourself how are you going to expect other to like you? That’s why I have a lot friends.
DD: Any regrets about anything?
BW: Under his breath, ever so lightly, he begins to sing a few lines from the song Here’s To Life.
No complaints and no regrets
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets
DD: Is that a bit of insight into what is going on inside his head? He’s not telling. All he’ll say is…..
BW: The regrets have become roadblocks. If I didn’t have those mistakes then I wouldn’t know that correction.
DD: What did you expect from this business and what did you get?
BW: I expected it to be easier and it was harder. I expected for people to be truthful and they were liars.
DD: What did CeCe think about the story? Did you run anything by her?
BW: No, not at all. No Winans had any influences. They didn’t know anything until they came to see it. It’s my story.
DD: Was writing this cathartic? Did you work some stuff out?
BW: It was. It was just like writing the book, my first book, I found the Whitney (Houston) I knew. This was therapeutic for me. Whitney…..it was difficult. But writing caused me to accept it and walk through it. Writing my story was the same, not as difficult, but you really do have to be bold and brave. I sat next to this lovely woman one day. Before the first act, she hit me on my leg and said, “I didn’t know you were so selfish.” I was just 18. You have to be brave to let people see things they don’t know and can’t see through your music.
DD: At what point did you fall in love with yourself?
BW: I have always been in love with me. I’ve always been confident. I can be a better singer, a better this and a better that. I was OK with me.
DD: Talk about working with Charles Randolph Wright. Why was he the right person to work with?
BW: He loves himself more than I love myself. He said one word when were talking. Pineville. I said, “What do you know about Pineville?” That’s where PTL (Praise The Lord) was. It was a suburb in South Carolina. I knew he was the person. He was raised there. I didn’t know that. Charles has concerns that I don’t have. It was a great match and we’ve taught each other some important lessons. I can bet you if you ask him has his faith increased since he met me, he’d say, Yes. It’s quite different with a black producer than a white person. It’s about faith.
DD: Talk about your nephew Juan and your niece Deborah Joy playing you and your sister. What pointers did you give him?
BW: I think that, to me, has been quite a needle in a haystack. It’s been an absolute joy. My niece got her Masters’ in theater. Since she was three, four, or five she knew she wanted to be an actress. She didn’t pursue music. She worked on acting. And so I got behind her early on. And then she came out here and I supported her. My nephew was always mimicking me, more with me than he was with his father. He was my shadow. When we first started developing, I brought her in right away. It was an opportunity for her to use her craft. The interesting part for me was through the journey they have learned about me and CeCe and what we were all about. They learned way more than what they knew about Aunt CeCe and Uncle BeBe. They knew the struggle. I was an open book. It’s been good for them because they are more determined in the gift they have.
DD: How did Jim and Tammy Faye become familiar with you and CeCe?
BW: It was scary for us there, but God had a plan. My father didn’t want us to go across the street to spend the night. For him to let us go to South Carolina was huge. I went so CeCe could go as a singer. I went so she could have that opportunity. I got a job at the grocery store. Later I became a singer. Jim is still a very close friend. He came to the opening of this show. He found out things he didn’t’ know. They became very protective of us and just assured my mom and dad that they would take care of us like their children and that’s what they did.
DD: Why didn’t you and CeCe play yourselves?
BW: I didn’t want to. I’ve had the opportunity of doing Broadway and I’ve had my share. I’m more passionate about writing what I’m doing now then I am about singing. Oh, Lord! I don’t really have to sing any more. I’ve always been that way. People just don’t know.
DD: Wait! What? Yes, you do!
BW: If you told me at the beginning of my career to choose between singing and writing, I would have chosen writing.
BW: Believe that. Believe that!
DD: No! Why?
BW: If I’m on stage singing I can enjoy that, but getting to the stage I’m going through turmoil. There’s so much about it that I don’t enjoy.
BW: Like managers. Like agents. Like travelling. Like sound checks. Like what are you going to wear? Wardrobe. Like the band. Like kids and babysitting. Like CeCe’s not ready. I can go on and on and on and on. With writing I don’t have to go anywhere. I can sit still.
DD: What is left for BeBe to do before he leaves the planet?
BW: Continue to go through whatever door opens. I call this my second bow. When you turn 50 you realize you’re not 20 anymore. I want to have fun with the time I have left. I want to have fun. I want to make sure it’s really who I am with what is represented. There is a lot to be done. Whether it’s movies. Anything I can do to open up a door and educate people who have the same desire and same ambition that I had when I was 17, that’s what I want to do. Do it to the best of my ability. I’m downsizing, but you can still be impactful with the little things you do.
DD: Tell me about being an Ambassador for Metro World Child, an organization committed to providing hope and building futures for children living in adverse conditions in metropolitan areas around the world.
BW: I think it is one of the most incredible secrets going on. Bill Wilson is a man, who at the age of 13, his mother drove him to a corner and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ This man saw him and asked where is your mother? He took him in and raised him. He can’t see a child that he doesn’t help. This is an incredible organization that helps children.
DD: When can we expect some new music from you?
BW: We are getting a soundtrack together that you will enjoy. It’s coming in July.
Born For This, The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA, July 11-Aug. 6; 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 7:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. through Aug. 6; www.thebroadstage.com or 310 434-3200.