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Winans Sing Out the Good News : Quartet to Cap Successful Year in Anaheim Tonight

November 27, 1987|CHRIS WILLMAN

Original Jackson 5 fans have counted with amusement the number of Jacksons who have popped out of the woodwork well after the original quintet made it big: Randy. Maureen. LaToya. Janet. Could there be more they're waiting to spring on us still?

Fans of black gospel music know the same feeling.

The Winans--a group made up of brothers Marvin, Carvin, Michael and Ronald Winans--have been gospel's premier family group this decade.

The quartet's appearance tonight at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, its biggest in Orange County to date, caps off a successful year that has included a hit duet with Anita Baker ("Ain't No Need to Worry" made it to No. 15 on Billboard's black music charts), a soon-to-be hit duet with Michael McDonald, and a guest appearance on Michael Jackson's latest album.

But it's easy to get confused when there are elsewhere seemingly miles of Winans.

Brother-sister duo Bebe and Cece Winans had an adult-contemporary hit recently with their first single, "I.O.U. Me"; Vickie Winans, Marvin's wife, is a star on Billboard's spiritual chart (currently at No. 3); and Daniel Winans, another brother, has just released his first effort.

And yes, there are more of them.

"We're very similar" to the Jacksons, agreed a good-humored Marvin Winans in a phone interview this week. "We have seven boys and three girls, including twin boys--and they had seven boys and three girls, including twin boys, although one of them, Marlon's twin, passed when he was a child."

The number of musical Winans doesn't count crooning in-laws--or the next generation, which may start singing soon enough. "We'll be like the King Family," Marvin happily predicts.

The pun is not unintentional--Marvin's entire clan sings in service of the king, and the "crossover" success that the siblings have experienced on spiritual and secular charts this year hasn't altered anyone's ambition to sing strictly Christian music for the masses.

"Oh, you do get pressure, but who cares?" said Marvin. "There are always those that say, 'Boy, if you were an R&B group, you'd sell a million records.' But that doesn't sway us and it doesn't change us, because while we were teen-agers in Detroit, we made up our minds that it would be about the Lord, and we've kept that vow."

The group's unusual recording contract with a secular label, Quincy Jones' Qwest Records, and subsequent mainstream success haven't tempted the group to water down the explicit message, Marvin claims.

"I don't find it difficult," he maintained, "because gospel is what we are about, and if we tried to diminish that, then we'd lose ourselves . We cannot erase or eradicate Jesus, because he's the reason we sing. Actually, the more popularity we gain, I find it easier to talk about the Lord.

"We try our best to be as proficient, as professional and as profound as possible so that we can be accepted for the music itself. We try to do an album and say, 'Now if I didn't believe in God or go to church, if I weren't saved, I would still enjoy that song simply because it's a beautiful song.' Then deal with whether you believe it or not."

The Winans' brand of gospel is strictly contemporary. With sophisticated, modern soul arrangements, the group is usually closer to the slinky ballad tradition of, say, James Ingram than to the feverish jubilation of a James Cleveland. Nor do they sing much fast-paced "dance music" a la the Clark Sisters or Tramaine.

"We've always been laid-back like that," admitted Marvin. "We don't have those Clark Sister-type voices, so we just write for ourselves, and mellow seems to be the way for us. We get excited quite a bit, but we're not into disco."

The year has been an especially bright one for Marvin, who co-wrote a musical play, "Don't Get God Started," that has moved onto Broadway after starting out at the Beverly Theatre.

The Winans have seen only one minor setback: The group's recent "Decision" album had to be temporarily withdrawn from the market.

A flap over the use of Elton John's 1974 hit "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"--recorded with lyrics rewritten to make the song about anticipation of the Rapture instead of the sad loss of romantic rapture--arose when it turned out the song's publisher never allowed the rewrite. New pressings feature a different tune, "The Real Meaning of Christmas," in its place.

Others have had fewer qualms about associating with the Winans' gospel message, though. Anita Baker, who Marvin says "screamed" with glee when he introduced himself to her at a Detroit airport, seemed to fear that it would be the Winans who would be hesitant.

"I've wanted you guys to sing for me," he recalls Baker saying upon their first meeting, "but I said, 'Oh no, they're probably so squeaky clean they wouldn't even dream of singing with me!' "

The Winans sing at the Celebrity Theatre, 201 E. Broadway, Anaheim, tonight at 8. Tickets: $18. Information: (714) 999-9536.

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