CeCe Winans on Almost Missing ‘Goodness of God’ and Why Her Latest Live Album is ‘Heaven on Earth’

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2024 by Lindsay Williams

K-LOVE Cover Story: An Interview with CeCe Winans

When it seemed everyone was singing “Goodness of God,” somehow, the queen of Gospel Music missed the memo. Ironically, one of the world’s greatest voices — CeCe Winans — wasn’t singing the global anthem. She was eventually introduced to the powerful declaration one Sunday by way of her worship team at the church she and her husband lead in Nashville. Her response upon finally hearing it? “This is my testimony. Where did this song come from?”

At the time, Winans was soliciting contenders for her first-ever live record, “Believe For It.” She immediately added “Goodness of God” to her list, but her team initially discouraged her from recording it, insisting too many artists had already covered Jenn Johnson’s original version. Her iteration would simply get lost in the mix, they contended. The buzzworthy offering, however, made the final tracklisting because it ultimately met Winans’ simple criteria for covering other people’s songs: “If it ministers to me, it will minister to others.”

“There’s a lot of people who haven’t heard it, who look like me,” Winans offers of her reasons for releasing her own rendering of the already familiar single. “That song showed me how sometimes our cultures are so far apart. A song can really be big in the CCM world, and in the Black church, or in a different denomination, they haven’t heard it.”

It’s a divide Winans is attempting to close by lending her voice to modern worship songs — a tradition that started on 2021’s “Believe For It,” and one that she continues on her sophomore live set, “More Than This,” due Apr. 26, 2024. Covering more mainstream CCM faire has allowed the Detroit native to bridge the gap between traditional Gospel music and modern Christian pop — a hurdle few artists have ever been able to cross. “The separation has been too divided, in my opinion. When you’re not together, you miss out on the good stuff,” asserts Winans. “It’s when we’re coming together, unifying that sound, and embracing one another that we’re going to experience the greatest power.”

While her new record — recorded at Rocketown in downtown Nashville — boasts pristine covers of Stephen McWhirter’s “Come Jesus Come,” Chris Tomlin’s “Holy Forever” and Maverick City Music’s “Refiner,” among others, the album, like its predecessor, marks new territory for the legendary vocalist. For the first time, her songs are joining the ranks of CCM hitmakers like TobyMac, Anne Wilson and MercyMe — an unprecedented feat for an artist who’s been celebrated in the Black Gospel arena for more than four decades.

Her first live effort wasn’t meant to be a crossover hit; it was simply meant to preserve Winans’ incredible live presence. Captured during the pandemic, “Believe For It” was recorded with a cap of 50 people in the audience. The title-cut went on to receive surprising airplay on Christian Adult Contemporary radio stations across the country — a first for the iconic songstress since she began her solo career. Named Song of the Year at the 2022 GMA Dove Awards, “Believe For It” also earned Winans a pair of GRAMMYs®. Moreover, she garnered a standing ovation when she performed the hit live at the 2022 K-LOVE Fan Awards with Lauren Daigle. Incidentally, although never officially released as a radio single, stations across the country continue to play Winans’ rendition of “Goodness of God” three years after it officially released as a track on “Believe For It.”

Winans admits she was hesitant to even craft a live project in the first place. “I love live performances — that’s my favorite — but when it comes to a record, I like being able to be in the studio and just do it over and over again until I get it right. So to do a live record with cover songs was not the easiest thing for me to embrace,” she confesses. “A lot of these songs, not only are they incredible, but they were done well to begin with. So I never go in to cover a song to do it better. I just go in to put on record how it ministers to me.”

Her initial foray into recording live albums isn’t the first time Winans has felt the weight of stewarding something new and sacred. She says she also felt a scary sense of responsibility when her first solo project, “Alone in His Presence,” bowed in 1995. One of 10 children, Winans had always sung as part of a collective — first with her family and then with her brother as acclaimed duo “BeBe & CeCe Winans” — thus, it felt like a significant transition to launch a career without the safety net of her siblings.

Given that Winans is revered by her peers across genres, it’s hard to imagine she would be afraid of pioneering any professional endeavor. After all, she remains the most awarded female artist in Gospel music history with 15 GRAMMY® Awards, 28 GMA Dove Awards, 15 Stellar Awards and one Billboard Music Award to her credit. She even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that bears her name. Moreover, she’s reached across musical lines to collaborate with for KING & COUNTRY, Carrie Underwood, GRITS, Mary Mary and Whitney Houston, who was, in fact, a dear friend. Winans was even asked to sing at Houston’s funeral.

So why is a vocalist of her caliber uncertain about any musical pursuit? The short answer is Winans is a perfectionist. The long answer is she’s wholly committed to staying true to her calling.

“I want to do it right,” she affirms of any endeavor she puts her hands to, “and I’ve been very, very consistent and focused on doing what God wants me to do. In this industry, a lot of times people try to copycat others, because they want to copycat the success, but that’s when they end up stepping out of their realm.”

The songstress also insists timing is everything. That’s why she held onto her signature song,“Alabaster Box,” for several years before she released it. She was waiting for the right moment. “I focus on whether or not I can deliver it in a way that allows God to flow through it and touch people,” she shares. “I always ask, ‘Lord, how do You want me to present this? Is this the right song? Is this the right song for right now?’”

She believes the offerings on her impending collection are undeniably songs for right now. The timely selections on “More Than This” were recorded with upwards of 600 people in the room after Winans invited worship teams from area churches to join the live recording, creating a choir filled with Music City’s best voices. “Oh my, it is beautiful,” Winans enthuses of the finished product. “This record really is Heaven on Earth to me.”

Thematically, “More Than This” is a sister project to “Believe For It” in many ways. “My last record was about faith, encouraging people not to give up,” Winans explains. “This record is about authority and recognizing who you are in Christ.”

It’s a message the “That’s My King” singer is sharing on “The Goodness Tour” this spring, following her long-awaited return to the road in 2022 after a 10-year hiatus from headlining. As evidenced by her commanding stage presence, magnetic personality and extraordinary voice, no one lives out her identity in Christ better than Winans herself.

The Gospel music trailblazer will turn 60 later this year. She’s a proud grandmother, and she’s quick to tell you her current focus is on the next generation — both on and off stage.

“I tell everybody, ‘I’m the mother of the church now.’ Where I am in my life and in my career, it’s really not about me, it’s about who’s coming after me,” she says. “I’m here today because of people who went before me — Andraé Crouch… I could just go down the line of people who inspired me — people who taught me well, people who lived the life in front of me, where it took the scariness out of it.”

She embodies this vision through her “GENERATIONS LIVE” conference, an offshoot of the “GENERATIONS” YouTube series she hosts alongside her daughter and her mother. As evidenced by the show’s wide range of topics discussed from a biblical point of view, Winans believes in uniting multiple generations, asserting there’s so much to learn from those behind you and ahead of you on life’s journey.

“The Bible says, ‘Unity demands a blessing.’ That’s why the enemy fights family so hard,” she observes. “You have kids fighting parents and parents fighting grandparents, because the enemy understands that God is a God of generations; and He can express Himself best when we come together.”

That’s why she makes a habit of spending time with young people — something she says continues to be the secret to her longevity, both in music and in life. “Because I started out so young, I’ve kept that mindset of hanging out with young people just to teach them that living for God really is the best life you can live,” says Winans, who began singing with her family in her teens. “When you’re young, somehow, the enemy makes you think it’s better on the other side. But it’s not. And I can tell younger artists that because I’ve walked in their shoes.”

The most important piece of advice she has for the next generation of artists, however, is a reflection of the mission she continues to live out in her own ministry: “Just be who you are, and allow God to do what He wants to do through you.”

Winans has certainly walked out this motto through every season of her life. Maybe that’s why “Goodness of God” found her when it did. The song didn’t arrive late; it showed up right on time. With a lifetime of history in the rearview and a road of unexpected possibilities ahead, the chorus feels like it was written for Winans all along:

All my life You have been faithful

And all my life You have been so, so good

With every breath that I am able

Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God

Anne WilsonBeBe WinansCarrie UnderwoodCeCe WinansChris TomlinDove AwardsFor KING & COUNTRYGRAMMYJenn JohnsonK-LOVE Cover StoryK-LOVE Fan AwardsLauren DaigleMaverick City MusicMercyMeMusicStephen McWhirterTobyMacBehind the Music

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