(RNS) CeCe Winans, one of the most celebrated female gospel artists, is back on tour after releasing her first solo CD in almost a decade.
Her album, “Let Them Fall in Love,” includes the sounds of big bands and Motown as well as tunes aimed at millennials — like those who attend Nashville Life Christian Church, the nondenominational congregation she and her husband co-pastor in Tennessee.
“It’s throwback but yet it’s relevant,” said Winans, 52, the eighth of 10 children born to the Winans gospel music family.
Before her multicity tour started on Wednesday (May 31), the artist-turned-pastor talked to RNS about her CD, how millennials “really do want to have faith in God,” and her hopes for a future collaboration with an artist not known for gospel music.
The interview was edited for length and clarity.
After winning 10 Grammys, you did not record a solo CD for nine years. Why did you take a break from recording and why did you return to it?
About five years ago my husband and I started a church called Nashville Life and that just took all of my time and my focus. But God’s timing is perfect. My son came up with this whole vision of this particular record. So I already knew what I wanted to do and we were ready to go in and make it happen.
Your new album includes “Let Them Fall in Love” as the title track but it’s also the sole one written by you. What prompted you to write that song?
I knew I wanted that to be the title before we were finished writing all the music. And that is because of my prayer: when people hear this music that it's more than entertainment, that it touches the heart and the mind and it encourages people and it uplifts them and it turns their heart toward God so that they can experience what real love is. Love is healing. Love brings peace. It brings harmony. It’s what our world needs. So my prayer is that when people hear this, even if they don’t believe in Christianity, they will experience the love of God and know that God is real and learn how to love themselves and then we can learn how to love one another.
Your brother BeBe recently created a musical about your early years as a duo singing on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL (Praise the Lord) Club” show. What difference did those appearances make for you?
It was Jim and Tammy Bakker that gave us the song to sing, “Love Lift Us Up’’ — they had changed the words to “Lord Lift Us Up.” And they asked us both to sing it together. And the viewing audience started asking us to come out — those two kids that sang that song. It was through that that we started singing as a duet. And then we got different offers from record labels and that was the beginning of BeBe and CeCe and the rest is history.
RELATED: BeBe Winans’ life story on stage
You co-pastor a church with your husband, Alvin Love. What has surprised you most about pastoring?
I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how much I love it, how much I enjoy it. It’s nothing my husband and I ever thought we would do. But it’s amazing how God birthed it in our home and with our kids’ friends and to see young people — that’s another surprise — how many young people, millennials, really do want to have faith in God. And they really do want to have a real relationship (with God and community). They’re not interested in religion. But they’re interested in relationship.
Many churches find it challenging to draw young adults under age 35, and one of your songs, “Never Have to Be Alone,” was aimed at that age group. Is there something that attracts or maintains that age group?
We can’t take the credit for that. It started that way (with) my son’s and my daughter’s friends. At that time, five years ago, they were probably all the ages of 25 and under. It’s just like we have an expanded family now. We give all glory to God. He’s given us the ability to relate and I think it’s because we have our children in ministry with us. My husband and I are bringing the wisdom of what we’ve been through but we’re hearing where they are. Every church, no matter who you are, you have to take out the time to listen. You can do things differently and still have the same standard and that’s what we’re doing. When you look at my church that I have now it really does not look like the church I grew up in at all, from the way they dress to some of the songs we sing, but it’s OK because the main thing has remained the main thing and that is loving God and loving people.
You’ll be singing in mid-June at the 25th anniversary Gospel Night with the Boston Pops. What does it say to you that Christian music continues to find itself in the great concert halls of America along with so many other genres?
It deserves that. Christian music is the best music you could ever listen to. I read a quote from Mahalia Jackson the other day. She said, when you sing blues, you still have the blues when you finish singing it. But she loved singing gospel music because it’s guaranteed to uplift you. So I’m excited about it being in every place where you find music.
As a member of the Winans family, do you all sing together when you are all in the same place — just for fun? And, if so, are there particular songs that you sing?
Whenever you’re around Winans, singing is going to come out, somehow some way, with all of us. We’re not together as much as we used to. But we do come together for certain holidays. And, yeah, we’re going to have some singing, we’re going to have some preaching. It’s always a lively experience. There’s a song (by The Winans): “Together we stand, divided we fall, let’s build a bridge, tear down the wall.” That’s something that our parents just continued to instill in us as family: You don’t always agree and that’s OK. You agree to disagree. But they taught us to love one another, to stand together.
Your career has taken you outside gospel music to performing songs like “Count on Me” with your friend Whitney Houston. Now that you’ve recorded a gospel music album again, do you have any collaborations planned beyond gospel?
Nothing planned. I would love to do something with Stevie (Wonder). We’ve talked about it for years but that could probably be a gospel record, I’m sure. But his stuff has always been clean, always been great messages, incredible love songs. He’s pretty amazing so I would be honored to do something with him.