Multi-Award-Winning Artist BeBe Winans

The heralded singer discusses his latest project, Born For This: The Musical.

BeBe Winans is a groundbreaking inspirational, R&B, and Gospel vocalist, writer, and producer, BeBe has won four Grammy Awards, ten Dove Awards, six Stellar Awards, two NAACP Awards and a Soul Train Award. 

His latest project, Born For This: The Musical, opens July 11, 2017, at the Theatre at The Broad Stage in Los Angeles.

Like BeBe Winans on Facebook.

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Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

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BeBe Winans is the seventh child of a prominent gospel family. He earned cross-over success with this sister, CeCe, and then went on to record and produce songs for other top artists. His incredible journey is told in a new musical at the Broad Stage here in L.A. — Santa Monica, to be exact. It’s called “Born For This”. I am honored to have him back on this program. Benjamin?

BeBe Winans: Sir?

Tavis: How are you, sir?

Winans: I was gonna say, you don’t call me BeBe. Who is he talking about?

Tavis: I had to go with the script, yeah [laugh]. Then I can get into the real deal. Benjamin and Priscilla, for all the fans, as I am, of BeBe and CeCe. We know the names their mom and daddy gave them. When I last saw you on this show, at least, we were in Detroit. You remember this? You and your brother?

Winans: Yes, me and my brother, Marvin.

Tavis: You did a live performance for us. We were doing our show from Detroit.

Winans: Yes, sir.

Tavis: That city, it’s bouncing back.

Winans: It’s bouncing back.

Tavis: It is bouncing back. Your hometown.

Winans: But Marvin really believed it never had to bounce back [laugh].

Tavis: Marvin loves Detroit.

Winans: He loves Detroit [laugh].

Tavis: That’s true. Marvin’s a die-hard Detroiter. so I ain’t mad at you. Detroit versus everybody, as they say. I love that. If you don’t love your hometown, nobody else will.

Winans: This is true.

Tavis: I’m glad he stuck it out.

Winans: This is true, and I think you have to love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, how do you expect other people to love you? So I’m with you.

Tavis: All right. That is a great segue, love yourself to this play, “Born For This”. Is this in part a journey about learning to fall in love and, if so, with what? With the music, with yourself, with the journey? What’s it a story of falling in love with?

Winans: A coming of age story, but falling in love with what you believe you were born to be, you know. I think, you know, music has always been a part of our lives, as you know. My mom and dad sang and my grandparents sang, so singing was a part of my household.

But I didn’t understand how that was going to become my career. It was just a passion, but yet it still became my career. It became my everything. At the same time, it’s just 10% of who I am. The other part is a little bit hidden where this story includes people on that part of my life.

Tavis: You think you had any other choice? I hear you that you didn’t know that this would become your career, your calling, your vocation, your purpose. I get that, but did you really have any other choice?

Winans: No, no. And the reason I say that is my songs — see, I love to sing, but my passion is writing. I’ve written everything pretty much that me and my sister have sang in my solo album and, with this musical, every song that’s in it, I’ve written.

So writing has been a part I believe I would be and it would be my career, but singing was something that I always heard some people who could sing a little bit better, so I was like, well, now, maybe there’s not room for me, especially my brothers. It was a challenge to believe that we could…

Tavis: Because they were out first, the Winans, yeah, yeah.

Winans: Right. So finding my way, finding my place and believing in myself.

Tavis: I don’t know anybody who grew up in the same kind of church environment that we grew up in, whether it’s Pentecostal, whether it’s COGIC, if you grew up in that, there’s a back story.

Winans: Right.

Tavis: And the folk who’ve known you for your whole life know the back story of you growing up in the church. And that back story is often fraught with all kind of stuff. I don’t want to color it too much, but how much of the back story of what you had to go through, your relationship to the church, your questions about the church, about your faith, I mean, you gonna be honest about all that stuff?

Winans: I’m gonna be honest about it. You know, everything that we did was a sin. I was going to hell 24 hours a day [laugh], you know, because I wanted to listen to this type of music or I wanted to achieve success. You know, I wanted to go to college. I had a cousin who was accepted to be a professional baseball player and the church we grew up in said that’s a sin.

Tavis: Condemned him, yeah, yeah.

Winans: So it really destroyed his life, so I fought a lot of things when me and CeCe moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where we joined PTL. People don’t know that if it wasn’t for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, it would be no BeBe and CeCe because we weren’t a duet. You know, he put us together and then we started getting phone calls. It’s like, wow.

Then we had to go back home and tell our brother and our sister-in-law at the time that we’re no longer a group. It’s just BeBe and CeCe. That was a difficult day and moment because, you know, as my father would say, as you know, we always have to stick together.

And it’s like how do you turn your back on your brother and your sister-in-law when you guys said you would come back and do this? But we knew God had a different plan for us, so it’s been interesting to say the least, the journey of what I had to become and what I had to let go of.

Tavis: Does the story get into any of the — I assume. I could be wrong about this — does it get into any of the tension, any of the conversation you had to have with yourself about how to do what you were born to do? How to do what you were born to do?

What I mean by that is, there were people who had questions and had criticisms about the way, about how you and CeCe were doing it. When you guys hit, you hit so hard that everybody loved you. They were playing it on crossover radio. You know where I’m going with this.

Winans: Oh, yeah [laugh].

Tavis: I mean, how much of that is in the story?

Winans: A lot of that is in the story because, from the beginning, CeCe and I crossed lines that we didn’t plan to cross. But because we crossed it and we got talked about, we were told that we didn’t love God because our music sounded different from other traditional songs.

So you sit there and you say, “Okay, wait a minute. I believe this. I feel this. I know I’m to do this, but how do I go against those things that I was taught?” You know, the first time — it’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then. My first movie was “E.T.” I thought God was coming through that theater…

Tavis: Just for watching “E.T.” [laugh].

Winans: Tavis, it was gonna kill me, and the last thing I was gonna hear on earth was “Phone home”, you know [laugh].

Tavis: I got one better than that. Growing up, again, in that same Pentecostal church, my first movie, I was really going to hell for what I saw.

Winans: What did you see?

Tavis: “Purple Rain” [laugh]. So you know…

Winans: You were doomed.

Tavis: My first time ever going to a movie theater, I couldn’t go my whole life. When I finally got to college, I went to see it and it was just me looking at this big screen and Prince. I’m like, “Good Lord!” [laugh]. I felt condemned the whole time, but it was a great movie.

Winans: It was a great movie.

Tavis: It was a classic, yeah, yeah.

Winans: Oh, man. But that was a fight and then it’s been, you know, a continued fight because you have this world, mainstream, that is saying this and then you have this, the gospel world, that is saying this. So you have to find within that who you are, and that’s what this journey is and that’s what the musical tells you.

Tavis: Let me just put this right out there. I say this with all the love for the Broad Stage here in Southern California. I’m delighted they made a choice to put this on the stage there, but I was surprised. I’ll be honest.

I was surprised and shocked when you told me that it was going to come to the Broad not because you’re not talented enough to be there, not because the music isn’t good. You’re not in the play. Who is it? Your niece and your…

Winans: My niece and nephew, brother and sister, Juan and Joy.

Tavis: Exactly. So you’ve written the stuff, but you’re not in it. But I was surprised when they made the decision to do this because it’s not that it doesn’t belong there, but I didn’t know that that audience would be interested in a story like this.

So, obviously, I’m wrong. There must be something about this play that an audience at the Broad or other mainstream venues are going to get something out of. What am I missing? What are they going to get that I didn’t think?

Winans: Their story. They’re going to get their story.

Tavis: What do you mean by their story?

Winans: Their personal stories. If you experienced a loss, no matter what color or creed or where you come from, then that’s your story. That’s my story. If you experience rejection, you know, then that’s your story as well as my story. So they see themselves…

Tavis: They can situate themselves in the story.

Winans: Yes, sir.

Tavis: Okay, that’s it. But that’s what great art does, though.

Winans: That’s what great art does. And, you know, the people at the Broad — Jane, to be exact — they decided to take a risk and that’s what life is, to me, all about. It’s taking risks. But we saw this in Atlanta. We saw this in D.C., the crossover appeal that has happened with this musical.

And songs have a way, I think, like nothing else, knocking down doors, segregation, allowing people to feel sometimes what they don’t even understand and relate to it.

Tavis: It occurs to me. I’ve actually made a mistake and maybe others have as well when they talk about the success that you had so long, the success that CeCe and you had together. We say they then crossed over. That really ain’t the truth. Y’all started crossover.

Winans: We started it.

Tavis: When you start with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, that ain’t…y’all started crossover.

Winans: Yes, sir. And it was 85% of our audience was mainstream, and then 15% the other. This made me angry in the beginning because they didn’t want to support us, but when they saw the support over here, then they owned us [laugh].

Tavis: Well, I get that. But it is funny when you think about it. Y’all literally had to be discovered by Black folk coming off of the good white folks’ stage.

Winans: Yes, sir.

Tavis: Then y’all had to go the other way. I mean, seriously, the other way around. You started on Black venue, then you worked your way to cross over. But y’all actually did it, as I think about it, the other way around.

Winans: Yes, sir.

Tavis: So I can see that. I can see how it makes sense for the Broad Stage. I can see how it makes sense that people would get a story that they can kind of situate themselves in. Tell me very quickly about the music. You’re such a great songwriter, but tell me about the music.

Winans: Did you say I was a great songwriter?

Tavis: You are a great songwriter. Did you hear that, Marvin? I know Marvin [laugh]. I know your brother said, “I taught BeBe and all the rest of them how to write songs.” I can hear him saying it right now [laugh]. Not that Marvin isn’t a great songwriter, he’s a great songwriter.

Winans: He’s a great songwriter.

Tavis: He’s a great songwriter, yeah.

Winans: You know, it’s been 10 years this journey, so I’ve written these songs and I’ve — one of the things I think it’s brave of a songwriter is to write about your pain, write about those things that causes you to be exposed, you know, So these are songs that I’ve had to live first. I think if it comes from the heart, it goes to the heart.

So there’s a song called “My Seventh Son”, which my mom sings to me because I get lost, you know. I find success leading me away that was not good in some ways. So she sings this song about her seventh son asking God to help and to give me what I need in that direction.

So there’s one woman came out of the audience and I was there that time. She said, “My seventh son, I only have one, but that’s my seventh son.” So there’s songs, I believe and I’ve seen, cause people to accept some things, cause people to dream again, cause people to smile. You know, it’s been a wonderful journey, but these songs mean more to me than anything that I’ve ever written.

Tavis: That’s saying something because you’ve written some good stuff.

Winans: Thank you, sir.

Tavis: I was just rocking “Love Said Not So” last night [laugh]. That’s a great song.

Winans: And it still says not so [laugh].

Tavis: “Love Said Not So” is a great song. Anyway, “Born For This” coming to the Broad Stage here in Southern California, July 11. I’m going to check it out opening night myself and I’m there’ll be a lot of folk there then. But for all the nights to follow, you can catch it while it is in our neck of the woods. Benjamin, congratulations in advance on a great run here in Southern California.

Winans: Thank you, sir.

Tavis: Good to see you. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

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Tavis: And by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working with diverse partners to build a national culture of health so that everyone in America can live productive and healthy lives.

The California Endowment. Health happens in neighborhoods. Learn more.

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: July 7, 2017 at 2:08 pm