The 84 year old gospel music matriarch talks about her faith, raising her musical children, her famous family’s holiday pandemic plans, and the pending arrival of her 13th great-grandchild!
Fans of the Winans family can only imagine how they typically spend the holidays. Can you imagine the music in that house?
With such a strong faith base, one can envision the 10 siblings gathered around a piano, singing contemporary gospel classics like “The Question Is” or “Lost Without You,” or traditional hymns like they learned growing up in Detroit. In my mind’s eye, their mother, Delores “Mom” Winans, is at the fore, keeping it all on pitch and in key!
As this writer has wondered for years about the “behind the scenes” of a Winans family holiday gathering, I decided to call the matriarch herself and ask her about how her family is spending the holidays this year.
“They want to come get me and bring me down to Nashville for Christmas,” Mom Winans, 84 EXCLUSIVELY told me of her children’s holiday hopes, by phone from her home in Detroit. “But with COVID numbers being what they are, I may just stick around here. We certainly don’t want to do anything to bring it on.”
“Even though we’re trusting in the Lord and He said that He would watch over us, we still have to do our part and not act like [the virus] is not out there, [and] not tempt the Lord. We probably better stick close to home and do something virtually.”
With such a large family, that type of gathering will be an adjustment for the musical clan.
“They usually all get together and see who can out cook each other,” Winans laughed. “I’m out of it now. I told them they can cook everything, but they still like me to make the potato pies, the lemon pies…so I’ll do that. But I’ll let them make the rest of the food! Maybe we’ll have a contest and see who has the best looking food!”
Winans’ description of her family’s holiday cooking matches those of many families during the holidays. But with her brood, there’s a distinct difference. While they’re all cooking, they’re probably employing some of the greatest voices the world has ever known.
That’s right: all 10 of Mom Winans’ children are musical, having made their mark in gospel, R & B, pop, and jazz. 1981 brought us the landmark album Introducing The Winans, and we’ve been blessed by the clan ever since. Subsequent generations are following in their footsteps, with Winans’ granddaughter Deborah Joy Winans having just wrapped up a successful stint as Charity Greenleaf on OWN.
At one point, even Mom Winans and her husband, David “Pop” Winans, enjoyed successful recording careers!
“My husband and I got married at a very young age,” Winans remembered. “I was 17 and still in high school, and he was 19. For awhile, I thought I was going to be a nurse, but after finding out what that was all about, I decided that that wasn’t for me!”
“I did get into the business world a little, but I never really had dreams of a career. I really thought that I wanted to be a housewife and a mother — but I thought that maybe I would have two children — not 10!”
Winans laughed heartily with that revelation, much as she probably laughed upon hearing of the pending arrival of each of her 10 children, including The Winans (twins Marvin and Carvin, Michael, and Ronald), BeBe & CeCe, Angie & Debbie, and Daniel Winans. They were all fairly young when she and her husband realized that their kids had special gifts.
“We had a piano in our home,” Winans recalled, “and the Lord just gifted them to play the piano and different instruments, and also to write songs — something that I’ve never done! We’ve always loved music, and especially gospel music. We raised our kids in church, and we encouraged them to participate in the music programs that the church would put on — the Christmas programs, the Easter programs.”
“They never had any lessons, but very early on, I’d say when they were four or five, they’d sit down at the piano, like kids will do, and they started making up their own songs. A lot of them came from the songs they loved in church, or the sermons they heard in church. Especially Marvin.”
“A couple of the kids played guitar because my husband played guitar,” Winans continued. “I never gave them lessons, although I used to play piano quite a bit. They just picked up music. It was amazing to me!”
Music fans were equally amazed, as the various subsets of the Winans family went on to sell millions of records and perform before standing-room-only audiences all over the world. With so much musical output from the family, I had to ask Winans a variant of the question that every parent dreads:
“Does Mom Winans have a favorite?”
“They all want to say that they’re my favorite,” Winans laughed, “but I don’t know that I have a favorite project of theirs. I love to just sit here and go over some of the things that they’ve done, all down through the years.”
“I know when BeBe & CeCe started singing, their songs were a little more contemporary and different, but they still had an anointing on them, because they always had Jesus in their songs. They might not have been expressing His name, but we knew who they were talking about. I can just sit here all day long and just enjoy every one of their projects.”
I wondered whether being able to listen to her children’s music made being physically separated from them during the pandemic just a little easier.
“Absolutely,” Winans said. “Even the one who died, Ronald. I can just put on his music and remember everything, and just have a ball and enjoy it all.”
Ronald died in 1995 at the age of 48.
“I used to call Ronald ‘my GOSPEL singer’ Winans said. “They all covered so many genres of music, but Ronald could just belt it out!”
With over 300,000 families have lost loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic, I asked Winans whether she had any words of encouragement for those weathering a loss this holiday season.
“When I hear about families losing loved ones to COVID, I pray that they know the Lord,” Winans said. “I don’t know how we would have made it though losing Ronald if we hadn’t known the Lord, and knew that Ronald knew Him and that he was ready to go meet the Lord. That’s what got me through.”
“When you lose a child — when you lose anybody — it takes a lot. As many years as I had known the Lord, I was shocked at how much He can intervene and mend your broken heart. He can take away the sorrow. He can make you remember the good things. I know that it was His peace that He gave me — it wasn’t anything I could have done. So I pray for families that they come to know the Lord and the peace that I knew, so that they can get through, too.”
Winans’ own family has been touched by COVID, with Marvin having spent two weeks in a Detroit hospital last spring. While Winans confirmed that, she said that reports of her having contracted the virus were false.
“I never had any symptoms or anything, praise God,” Winans said. “BeBe had a light case of it, because he was able to stay home. Marvin got really sick and was in the hospital for awhile, and they kept telling him that it was getting worse. I was so happy to see him get better and get out, and we haven’t had any other family members who were seriously ill with it, and I’m grateful for that.”
I couldn’t let Winans get away without mentioning my favorite of her own recordings, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” her 1995 Grammy and Dove Award-winning duet with her daughter CeCe from her Alone In His Presence album. The song minsters to me even today, as we weather the pandemic.
“That is one of my FAVORITE songs,” Winans said. “When CeCe told that she was going to do it, and that she wanted me to sing it with her, that was just great to me! I was just elated to sing that with her. We’re still singing it today!”
That led me to ask whether we could look forward to new music from the Winans family matriarch.
“I don’t like to do albums any more,” Winans said. “To get them done, you have to stay in the studio so long, and you’ve got to get everything right. My son-in-law, Angie’s husband Cedric Caldwell, was the one who did one of my albums. He jokingly asked me once ‘Do you want me to bring the mic to your bed?’ So no, I have no plans to do any albums!”
“I’m going to try to do a song, a hymn, for a friend of mine, Bishop Barr,” Winans continued. “At 84 years old, my voice doesn’t always do what I want it to do! Hopefully it will come out alright.”
I’ve pretty certain that it will come out alright, Mom Winans. Everything you’ve ever recorded did…as did everything that your children recorded.
And that reminds me: in addition to Winans’ 10 kids, she is the grandmother of 24 and great-grandmother of 12! Her 13th great-grandchild is due any day now.
“We’re just waiting,” Winans enthused. “The baby’s supposed to be due December 23rd, I think it is.”
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the baby came out singing!