Bebe and CeCe Winans are two of the most famous and recognizable voices in Gospel and R&B music. Now… a new play, “Born For This,” is telling the backstory of this brother and sister duo. From Atlanta, Jaki Johnson reports.
Johnson_1: BeBe and CeCe Winans came from a large and very musical family, often known as the first family of American gospel music. And they got their big break on the PTL network back in the 1980s.
PTL (00:15) Fade under and talk over…
Johnson_2: You remember PTL… Praise the Lord. The Christian television network run by Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. When Bebe and CeCe started singing there, they were the only black singers on air. But how do you take these lives and put them on the stage? That was the challenge that the production “Born for this” faced. This is musical director Steven Jamal…
Steven Jamal: “I think it answers some questions that not a lot of musicals ask. I think to it’s all around just incredible. Anything that deals with faith and fame in such a beautiful well-crafted way should be seen.”
Johnson_4: Part of that craft comes from Bebe Winans himself, who wrote the play’s music and lyrics. It highlights the racism Bebe and his sister CeCe faced, as well as their struggle to break free from the confines of the Gospel format. Alison Whitehurst played one of the PTL singers who sung with BeBe. For her, the play itself, was a learning experience.
Alison Whitehurst: “I learned about his strength of character, I learned about his courage. I learned about how very very real that kind of tension still existed back then.”
Johnson_5: Working with BeBe was great for Whitehurst.
Allison Whitehurst: “I got to watch how two people who loved the Lord can love other people despite the adversity that they face.”
Johnson_6: Juan Winans, Bebe’s nephew, plays his famous uncle. .
Juan and Deborah Winans: “The thing for us is that we learned a lot of things about them that we didn’t even know. These people that we love so much and have been around our whole lives..”
Johnson_7: Juan’s sister, Deborah, played her aunt, Cece, and in doing so, learned a lot about their family’s history, things she’d never known. For example: the racial tension at PTL. Some may call it hidden racism. BeBe and CeCe were called Negroes and Colored in the 1980’s and even received hate mail and threats from the public. Just for being black singers on a Christian tv network.
Deborah Winans: “What was interesting is that during this process because of course we were asking is this fact, is this real, and Uncle BeBe was confirming certain things and he said we didn’t even find out about those threats until we left. That is how much Jim and Tammy Bakker covered them. That is how much they loved them, they didn’t even let them know all that was happening until they were gone.”
Johnson_8: Deborah’s mannerisms and look are exactly that of her aunt. Of course, she has an advantage over other actors… Being around CeCe over the years, helped her to perfect the role.
Juan and Deborah Winans: “It’s funny the directors and a lot of the creatives were saying, aw man you do this thing and you do this thing and it’s so CeCe. It’s not even something I thought about
Johnson_9: And that’s what theater is all about. Helping audiences disappear into the moment. Professor Marion Wright of the Drama Department at Spelman College says
Wright: “Audience in theatre they can see everything that’s happening on the stage whereas in film and television it’s being edited for you so the story that is being told is being told through the editor’s eyes and the directors eyes. In theatre you’re experiencing mostly through your eyes and you have your own interpretation.”
Johnson_10: “Born for this” is an eye-opener, and a platform to learn about BeBe and CeCe’s life and struggles, and also the lives of musicians like them.
Wright: “It is an opportunity to probably see a story about inspirational Gospel music that you’re probably aren’t going to see in a lot of places because I feel like that genre of music is sometimes marginalized by the greater community of music.”
Johnson_11: And how are audiences responding?, Carol McCollough was amazed to hear about BeBe’s story.
Carol McCollough: “It was really different for him. I’m just glad that he overcome those challenges and was able to be as successful as he is today. I never knew about CeCe’s and her beginnings. It was just really interesting to find out all about them.”
Johnson_12: The songs, those collaborations with artists like Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, and Bobby Brown… Those hits don’t tell the whole story of Bebe and CeCe’s struggles against racism in the Christian community.
Jaki Johnson, Columbia Radio News