What is the Winans family's secret?
In less than a decade, these Detroit natives have become the unquestioned first family of gospel music. It isn't just the way these folks have won Grammy after Grammy (the family has taken home 10 in all) that amazes, but the volume and variety of their output. After all, it isn't just the Winans (which features five of the Winans brothers) we're talking about, but also BeBe & CeCe, and Daniel -- the only solo Winans.
Add in Mom and Pop Winans and the newly-formed duo of Angie & Debbie, and the Winans clan -- whose first full-family tour plays the Baltimore Arena Sunday -- seems quite a musical dynasty.
Where did all this talent come from, though? Was it a matter of training and environment, or did it owe more to good genes?
Neither, says Daniel Winans. It was simply a matter of good parents.
"I think that you could find far better singers all over the world," he says, over the phone from his home in Columbia, Md. "Being a family whose parents were living examples of how to treat your wife, your husband, your parents, your children; I think we thrive off of that example.
"Also, there's a sincerity that goes along with what we do," he adds. "Because we're sincere, we're able to be comfortable within our own styles. That pretty much brings about the atmosphere. People enjoy sincere people -- and today more than ever -- I think we need examples of a family together, as opposed to what we're accustomed to, families not being together."
For the Winans, being together is more than a matter of Christian virtue or personal comfort; it's also a large part of how the family has been able to survive in the music business.
"I think it gets very easy because of family," Daniel says. "When you have a foundation, then when rain, snow or whatever storms come, you have a foundation. It may shake loose a roof tile or shatter a window, but the house is still standing.
"Family is the foundation, a way to start any type of day in any type of tour. Even when people have thrown all kind wrenches in the works -- they may not even mean any harm, they're just obsessed with what they do -- you have to have something to lean on. There's nothing better, there's absolutely nothing better than family."
Having that sort of focus is an advantage in gospel, where performing style is sometimes assailed more on doctrinal than musical grounds. For example, Daniel's brothers came under criticism a few years ago for having recorded with producer Teddy Riley, whose secular clients have included such less-than-spiritual singers as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat and Michael Jackson.
But as Daniel sees it, that point is who the music reaches, not how. "You're going to have those who are going to debate," he says. "But I found out when you stop to debate with them, the clock on your wrist never stops -- it keeps going. That valuable time could be spent reaching another person. We've learned to take whatever's been said and not allow it to distract us or hinder what we have to do.
"Remember when Jesus was with Mary Magdalene?" he adds. "She was a prostitute. And people wanted to know, 'Man, what is he doing around people like that?' She would never have been ministered to [if Jesus thought that way].
"It takes boldness and courage -- not only believe what you believe in -- but then to exercise the faith by example. The only way people can ever listen is when you speak to them. Your average, everyday, go-to-church-Sunday person may not ever get to talk to Teddy Riley, but if you can be involved musically and have that opportunity to speak with what he does, then Teddy Riley should not be overlooked."
Still, he understands the hesitance some gospel listeners feel about embracing the worldly sounds of R&B. "In our home, we couldn't buy R&B albums, or even listen to it," he says. "We definitely heard a whole lot of gospel.
"But at the same time, we had respect for people who sang like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John. People with gifts, you still have great respect for them, and you can actually learn from them. But I think it goes back to sincerity and believing and acting on what we believe, and giving it 100 percent. Whether it's R&B or soul or rock or hip-hop or country, if they're going to give 100 percent, we in gospel should definitely look for no less."
When: Sunday at 5 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena.
Tickets: $20, $15, $12 and $10.
Call: (410) 347-2020 for information, (410) 481-7328.