Exclusive interview with the mother of BeBe, CeCe and the rest of the Winans brood
It's impossible to measure the extraordinary impact that Delores "Mom" Winans has made on the world. As the first family of gospel music's matriarch, her last name conjures up images of Grammy awards, national concert tours and an endless playlist of soul-stirring songs.
But consider her legacy in terms of the countless people whose lives have been uplifted, inspired-and possibly saved-by the gospel songs and church sermons she, David "Pop" Winans and their 10 children have collectively shared with the world.
This unparalleled musical ministry exists as a result of her love and dedication as a wife and mother who practices and preaches absolute faith in God.
"With our family, church has always been the first thing on the agenda," says the 76-year-old grandmother of 24 and great-grandmother of four (with a fifth on the way).
After meeting in the Lucille Lemon Choir, she and David Winans married at his grandfather Isaiah Winans' Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ on Mack Avenue on Nov. 21, 1953. She was 17; he was 19. Both were from broken homes.
"My husband and I always loved going to church, and we brought the children there. I felt the spirit in the church would be something that got in their spirit."
It did. At home after church, Winans says the children gathered around the piano.
"My children used to listen to sermons preached and they would-especially Marvin-take the sermons and write songs from them," she recalls.
"That's why their music impacted so many, because they were a form of the Word being sung. Gospel music spreads the Word in a beautiful way. Mostly every song they've written has come from a sermon that was preached about something they were going through. They went to the word of God for the words for their music. One of the first songs they started singing together in the early 1960s was 'Long As I Got King Jesus!' and I like 'Ain't No Need to Worry.' Those old songs … really fit in for today."
The children also taught themselves to play the piano and listened to songs by Andraé Crouch and James Cleveland.
"This would be a form of entertainment for them," says Winans, who prayed with her children before sending them off to school and continued as they left the house.
It also engaged them in wholesome fun during the late '50s and '60s, when Pentecostal preacher "Pop" worked as a custodian, barber, car salesman and taxi driver.
Ultimately, Crouch signed brothers Ronald, Marvin, Carvin and Michael to Light Records, which released their first album, "Introducing the Winans," in 1981. Managed by their father, they became one of the most popular gospel quartets ever.
David, Daniel, Angie and Debbie also launched musical careers, while BeBe and CeCe teamed up for hits "Addictive Love" and "I'll Take You There," which pioneered gospel playtime on R&B radio stations.
After the family performed at the Grammy Awards came the parents' debut album, "Mom & Pop Winans," from Sparrow Records in 1989. Nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional Soul Gospel album, it includes Mom's jazzy solo "He's the One."
Then on Christmas Eve 1990, the Winans family performed on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
The next year, Mom and Pop Winans' second album, "For the Rest of My Life," featured the church favorite, "Go Tell It on the Mountain." The couple shared their story in a book, "Mom & Pop Winans: Stories from Home."
In 1992, the family delighted audiences in arenas nationwide for a syndicated TV special, "The Winans Family Christmas." And they showed support after the Sept. 11 attacks on the "Together We Stand: The Winans Family Tour."
Meanwhile, Mom Winans' 2004 album, "Hymns from My Heart," received two Dove Award nominations, while the family has earned dozens of Grammy Awards, Stellar Awards, Dove Awards, NAACP Image Awards and Soul Train Music Awards. She also has proudly watched as her grandchildren launched Winans Phase 2.
This Mother's Day, Winans reflects on her family and faith with B.L.A.C. Detroit.
When you first married, how'd you juggle the responsibilities of a growing family?
We didn't plan on having 10 children, but the church's teaching was not to use any contraception. I wanted a girl, but I had seven boys straight! Finally, I had a girl (Priscilla "CeCe"). All of our children turned out to be a blessing.
My husband had a good job in the factory, but the factory would lay off. We did a couple of hits on welfare, but not for long. I worked for about 33 years of my marriage. I started working for the city (of Detroit) as a typist, then I went to Metropolitan Hospital as a medical transcriptionist.
We stayed on Seward on the west side (in a four-family flat owned by my mother-in-law), so she kept the children when I worked and another lady from the church helped me. Thank God I was young and I could juggle all that.
Around 1960, we moved to the east side-Warren and Conner, to the Parkside Projects. Actually for me, it was a dream come true. It was a beautiful place, very spacious for kids to go out and play. I was so happy to live there. We stayed there until we saved enough money to buy our own home around 1963, on Woodingham and Seven Mile between Wyoming and Livernois.
Did you eat dinner together as a family, and did you talk about current events?
When the children were little, we did have dinner together every day. I loved to do that. Every day, I would cook dinner: spaghetti, beans, roast beef, pork chops. I had to plan the menu for the whole week. That's a job when you have an army to cook for. Those boys ate like men!
When the children started getting older, we'd have dinner at church on Sunday. Sometimes on Saturday, we'd have something different, like hot dogs or McDonald's.
We'd all eat at the table together and we'd talk about (the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War). Most of the boys were older, so they even had projects in school, so we talked about that even as we sat around the TV watching it unfolding.
There was a lot of history happening. When Dr. King marched in Detroit (in 1963), we watched on television.
Raising children in such a changing world was quite a job. It was so wonderful that we were grounded in the church and the doctrine, because the Bible speaks to the changes that are coming on the world.
At one time, things were happening so fast with all the assassinations. It would kind of shake you a little bit. Being grounded in the church, you couldn't stay shaken for a long time. You could explain to (the children) by the Word, and how much more important it is to know that there's a God on your side in times like that.
Even today, with (the Boston Marathon bombings), to know that you're still safe in the arms of the Lord is comforting.
What's your advice for today's busy working mothers?
We were always in church together as a family. This was the most important thing with me and with my husband: God was always first. That's what we taught the children.
My message to parents now is that it's very important, but you don't see it as much as in my day. I'm afraid we see the fallout from it. Everything you can think of is on TV and the Internet. They're learning a lot of things that they should not be learning at such an early age.
The Bible says (Proverbs 22:6), "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." That way, they know right from wrong and are hesitant to do wrong. A lot of children are missing that.
But it's never too late. God is always there. I don't care what you've done and how you've done it. If you want to do better, he's always there to help you.
I see hope. A lot of people are waking up. It's been a very grievous time for me because I haven't seen parents teaching their children the right way. That is our guide to survival. I'm seeing a lot of them going back to the Bible now as the basis for their children, and that makes me happy.
How is faith your guide to survival?
I can look to a God who knows the outcome of everything, and I don't have to be worried when all these things are coming up. It's a scary world out there now if you don't have the Lord, but if you have the confidence of his word and you look to him for everything, you don't feel hopeless. You have hope. God gives you answers.
One scripture (Hebrews 11:6) says if you "believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." I definitely believe that the Bible is inspired by God. If you put your faith in God, you can see that he never fails you.
I lost my second oldest son, Ronald. At 50 years old, he died of a massive heart attack. I realized then that (God) was who he said he was. He gave me peace. And even before that, with my oldest son at age 13. His appendix burst, and the doctors only gave him a 50-50 chance to live.
I was surrounded by prayer and the prayers of the saints. The doctors were amazed that he came through it fine. (God's word) has proven itself over and over again.
What's your advice to those dreaming of singing gospel music?
I have to always refer to the Lord, and when you, say, have that dream to sing, you have to love it yourself. You can't just get into it for the monetary advantage or looking to make yourself a star or a celebrity.
We did it because we love singing gospel and living for the Lord. That would be my advice: to love what you're doing and do it for the Lord. He makes the way and opens the doors.
You were married 55 years. Any advice?
Marriage is a very serious thing. You make a vow not only to one another, but you make a vow to God. There is a scripture (Ecclesiastes 5:5) that says it's better not to make a vow than to make it and break it. Also, God hates divorce.
Marriage is something you have to work at. The Bible is your guide. It tells the husband how to treat the wife, the wife how to treat the husband and how to treat the children. Sometimes, we want to be selfish. But you have to do things to please your husband or your wife.
My husband and I were very different, but I had to learn to love or tolerate some of the things he loved, and he had to do the same with me.
My husband didn't want to go to the mall, and the first time I had him going with me, I said, "We don't do so good together at the mall. I'll go by myself." I tell women, "Don't get mad at him. Just do it yourself." I've learned patience. My husband would start painting one room, but he might leave … and not finish. That could make me so angry. I learned to paint myself so I could finish up things. Sometimes we have to compromise. We have to give and we have to take. That way you keep love alive.
Your grandson, Michael Jr., was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme. He sold millions in fake Saudi oil bonds to church folks who hoped to get rich quick. They trusted him because of his family's name and reputation. Your thoughts?
It's a disappointment. (The younger generation is) not always so quick to listen. I know my grandchildren pretty well, and they've all been brought up in church. But a lot of times, their parents aren't as hard as we were. I'm not blaming them for any of this at all, but a lot of times you tell them something that doesn't look good, or don't do that, and they feel, "Well, it looks OK," and they're not as careful as you want them to be.
(Michael) got pulled into something and wasn't listening and got involved. When I heard about it, I warned him against it. Adults … have a responsibility to search things out before you give your money out and find out where it's going.
I believe his sentence was too harsh. (Michael) has never been involved in anything (illegal). I was very hurt that the judge gave him the sentence that he did, and I'm hoping he can appeal. I am praying that the Lord will turn him around … so that he does not have to spend all that time in prison.
There's been delay in completing construction of the new Perfecting Church at Seven Mile and Woodward, even though Oprah came in town for fundraising and the "A Time to Build" campaign has continued for years. What lesson can delays teach us?
Waiting on God's timing teaches us patience. Even though you get anxious, you just learn to wait. That's a good lesson … for all of us. We're eagerly looking forward to getting in there, hopefully by the end of this year. We're praying to that end.
You and your husband enjoyed appearances on TV shows such as "The 700 Club" and "Praise the Lord" on Trinity Broadcasting Network. After he died in 2009, his funeral was standing-room only at Marvin's 1,900-seat Perfecting Church. How have you handled grief?
I missed him so much after he died, but it was almost like he was still living. We talked about him so much and laughed. We still talk about him like he's alive. If something happens, we'll say, "What does Daddy say about this?" He had diabetes and we'd tell him, "You can't eat that." He'd say, "I can eat whatever I want to. I'm ready to go."
We miss him and we wish he could have lived longer. It was a long, happy, full life. I have no great regrets. Losing my husband was like losing part of (myself). I'd find myself crying, thinking about the things we did together, but then I'd find myself laughing about some of the things he would say.
Such as when you were honored for your 50th wedding anniversary at the 2003 Essence Awards? You and Pop were on stage, and you were talking about being blessed with your marriage and kids. Pop kept saying, "Let me talk!" and the crowd roared.
That's him! (laughing.) When I say "one of a kind," that's the kind of the thing we still laugh at. We had some wonderful times!
What are your feelings on Mother's Day?
Mothers need a time to be appreciated. Being a mother can sometimes–especially in the early years-be what looks like a thankless job. And it is a job, and not one that gets a paycheck. It is quite a responsibility if you're going to be a real mother to your children. It's a wonderful thing to honor mothers, because they're really the keeper of the home.
I'm the mother of Perfecting Church, and I still speak and sing. I've been called to be a mother to a lot of people who need advice and show them a better way. I'm just here to do whatever the Lord has for me to do, until he calls me home.