Inspirational Family Duos Honored as BMI Gospel Trailblazers by Christopher A. Daniel

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By Christopher A. Daniel

Sibling recording artists BeBe and CeCe Winans  and Mary Mary were both recognized by performance rights organization BMI at this year’s Trailblazer of Gospel Music Honors. The ceremony held at Atlanta’s Rialto Center for the Arts brought together nonsecular talent, along with soul and R&B artists, to pay tribute to both faith-based, inspirational family duos.

“Gospel music is the ladder to the soul,” says Mike O’ Neill, BMI’s President and CEO, prior to the show. “Every year, we like to start off being refreshed and renewed with gospel music. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Originally hailing from Detroit, the Winans pair released nine studio albums together, yielding memorable singles like “I.O.U. Me,” “Heaven,” “Addictive Love,” “Lost Without You,” “If Anything Ever Happened to You” and “It’s OK.” Born the seventh (BeBe) and eighth (CeCe) of 10 children and raised Pentecostal, the multiple Grammy winners and Gospel Music Hall of Famers made their debut in 1982 via televangelist Jim Bakker’s program, The PTL Club, where they stayed on until the release of their self-titled 1987 major label debut effort.

BMI Honorees BeBe & CeCe Winans perform at the 2016 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Honors on Saturday, January 16th, 2016 at the Rialto Center in Atlanta (Photo: A Turner Archives/BMI)

Holding hands as they walk the red carpet, the brother-and-sister act express their gratitude for receiving the accolade. “This is fun,” says BeBe, whose life story has been adapted into a stage musical, Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, debuting in Atlanta this coming April. “I can sit back in the chair and enjoy, but it’s an honor to know our music has touched lives. It’s worth it.”

CeCe chimes in, overlapping BeBe’s responses. “It feels amazing,” continues CeCe. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 16: 2016 BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Music Honorees, BeBe and CeCe Winans attend 2016 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Honors at the Rialto on January 16, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for BMI) *** Local Caption *** BeBe Winans; CeCe Winans

Singer Tamia performed “It’s OK” and “Heaven” along with gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds. The vocalist made it known that she didn’t hesitate accepting the offer to perform as part of the Winans’ tribute. “There’s no bad BeBe and CeCe song,” says the “Stranger in My House” and “So Into You” songstress. “Music connects with the heart, so to be able to connect on such an emotional level is a powerful, wonderful thing.”

Jonathan McReynolds and Tamia perform at the 2016 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Honors Photo by: A Turner Archives/BMIMary Mary, composed of sisters Erica and Tina Atkins-Campbell, meshed together relatable messages with uptempo beats and melodic grooves. Coming from a family of nine children, the chart-topping pair out of Inglewood, CA credited for songs like “Shackles (Praise You),” “Go Get It,” “Get Up,” “God in Me,” “Walking” and “Yesterday” were equally as appreciative for receiving the award as their Winans cohorts.

2016 BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Music Honorees, Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell of Mary Mary attend 2016 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Honors at the Rialto on January 16, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for BMI)

“I’m thankful, emotional and overwhelmed,” confirms Erica, who enjoyed solo success with her 2014 solo debut LP, Help, “and all I could think about was that God is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Erica, who co-stars with her sister on the pair’s hit WEtv reality show, “Mary Mary”, continues, “You’re trying to please God. No matter what that is, my aim is to glorify God, to please him and tell the world about him. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

Grammy-winning producer Warryn Campbell (Yolanda Adams, Alicia Keys, Dru Hill, Brandy, Jamie Foxx, Kanye West and Jennifer Hudson) frequently collaborates with Mary Mary. Also Erica’s husband, he shares how his wife and sister-in-law allowed him to develop his sound outside of producing for hip-hop and R&B performers. “For the first time in my career, I had to think about what I was saying as far as the lyrical content,” says Warryn as Mary Mary poses for photo opps.

“To curtail that to be faith-based wasn’t a far stretch. I don’t think I had to change much. They were very gracious, and they didn’t try to make me do something that I didn’t want to do.”

Mary Mary accepts their award at the 2016 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Honors (Photo by: A Turner Archives/BMI)

Vocalists KeKe Wyatt, Tasha Cobbs, Y’Anna Crawley, Tamela Mann, Kierra “KiKi” Sheard, Tasha Page-Lockhart and Lisa Page Brooks paid homage to Mary Mary before the sisters performed their breakthrough single, “Shackles (Praise You).” For BeBe and CeCe’s tribute, singers Yolanda Adams, Brian Courtney Wilson, Kelly Price, Deborah Cox, Fred Hammond and Winans siblings Marvin and Debbie Winans performed a medley of Winans staples before the honorees performed “Hold Up the Light.”

Erica defines what makes both her group and the Winans trailblazers for gospel and inspirational music. “We’re somebody that done something new that hasn’t been done before in a way that is challenging and isn’t easy,” she says on the red carpet.

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Christopher A. Daniel is an award-winning freelance journalist, cultural critic and ethnomusicologist currently based in Atlanta. He is also pop cultural critic and deputy editor at the award-winning news site, The Burton Wire. Follow Christopher on Twitter @Journalistorian.

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