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Big, bright, sparkly teeth,

and a grin that stretches way across town. She is a lovely woman, efficiently coiffed and tucked, and she is, in my eyes, the poster child for what’s wrong with the “gospel” music business. I recently edited a church dance video where some kids were dancing to Winans’ arrangement of the children’s song If You’re Happy And You Know It. Listening to the track, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the best idea Winans could come up with. Does she have so little to say that she’d waste an entire track on her CD with a lightweight and amateurish faux-hip-hop take on a song that was already doctrinally bankrupt to begin with? Did the Holy Spirit lead her to do this? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the song or with Sister Winans’ voice—both are fine. It’s that the song, ultimately, teaches us nothing. Empowers us with nothing, Grows nothing. Plants nothing. Harvests nothing. It’s a pleasant five minutes of swaying church folk, but that’s all there is. The entire point of Gospel music is to pierce hearts. To convict, to challenge, to redeem, to reveal the magnificence and wonder of God. For the songwriter and the singer and producer to pour themselves into our very lives.

Winans’ song epitomizes the problem with the music here in Ourtown: it merely entertains Church Folk. It is all designed to evoke emotion and applause, but it teaches us absolutely nothing. The lyrics have no bite, no lasting effect. As with the preaching, there is no musical voice here that leads. That challenges, that inspires. It is, instead, all minstrel show. All Sherman Hemsley’s Amen sitcom. Many if not most choirs here are simply not focused and not organized, not dedicated, not electrified, not plugged in. With precious few exceptions (True Spirit Baptist Church’s magnificent Voices Of Truth being the shining example), they seem completely blasé about even being a choir. The music here, even the best of it, is simply lame. It just lays there. Not only is the playing bad—the musicians never seeming to practice together, so there’s just clutter and chaos Sunday morning—but the overall presentation is a joyless, dutiful going through the motions. It is a ministry of obligation because We Need Music At This Section Of The Program. Nobody sacrifices for music, here. Nobody invests in music, here. It’s all Vickie and her wonderful teeth.

All About Her: Winans' artistic choices tend to emphasize the worst stereotypes of
African American believers. Where is Christ in this?

All of which misses the point

that Vickie Winans is only a Winans by marriage. She’s been relying on her ex-husband’s name to make a living for more than a decade. Just as producer and would-be urban star Mario has likewise prostituted his father’s name even while rejecting his dad’s values. Like the Jackson family, who’ve made and lost billions by exploiting their third youngest boy, the Winans clan has made a career out of riding the coattails of the magnificent Marvin L. Winans. Eminently gifted with a voice that became the standard bearer of 1980’s contemporary Gospel music, Winans’s golden fog became The Thing Everybody Wanted To Sound Like. While modifying that sound in their own way, most popular late 80’s and 90’s Gospel singers fashioned themselves, to one degree or another, after The Winans Sound, beginning, first and foremost, with Winans’ own group with his brothers.

BeBe Winans became enormously popular by taking the Winans Sound and watering it down a bit to become more palatable to secular audiences where he and sister CeCe eventually overshadowed Marvin and his other brothers, becoming one of the most popular duos in Gospel history. The group Commissioned might as well have been called The Winans With A Harder Edge, as Keith Staten, Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond and others took the Winans sound to an even more urban and relevant level. With all the money made during that era, it seems to me these artists should be writing Marvin royalty checks for exploiting the sound he pioneered.

Vickie, however, was not a Winans. She was the wife of a Winans. But, attach the word “Winans” to anybody’s name, and it seems a record deal is possible. Osama bin Winans. Divorced now for some time, Marvin and Vickie appear to still be good friends, as both Marvin and son Mario frequently produce her typically lightweight songs, and Church Folk continue to flock to her silly, unchallenging and uninspiring performances. She is, for me, the very personification of what's wrong with the black church here and other places. The emphasis on materialism. The gaudy, over-accessorized, fried-hair Church Lady diva. The insignificant preaching to the choir. I've never met this sister, and pray she is actually more substantial than she appears, but just looking at her poodle photo above, my eyes begin watering from her perfume. Her image resonates with many Church Ladies (and, most especially, "first" ladies) in that she seems woefully disconnected from reality. Out of touch with the world she purports to minister to.

This overall level of her craft, this business of seeming to be something substantial while actually not being anything substantial, is the bellwether of ministerial effort here. It reminds me of the Little Rascals/Our Gang classic TV shows from the 1950’s, where Spanky and Alfalpha would hammer together a boxcar racer out of old plywood. But, being children whose fathers were likely overseas fighting a world war, they had no real guidance. So, while the boxcar racer looked like it could compete and certainly resembled the real thing, it inevitably fell apart before crossing the finish line.

This is what Paul is referring to when he speaks about some people having “a form of godliness” while denying the very power of that which we claim to believe [2 Timothy 3:5]. God is not moving because we do not allow Him to move. We do not allow Him to breathe. We do not allow Him dominion over our lives. We see through carnal eyes and listen with carnal ears. We elevate those who seem logically qualified for elevation while overlooking those with true anointing and vision and voice. We continue pandering after Saul, who has lost all genuine connection to God, while keeping David in the field. We’re all Vickie Winans, using a last name that doesn’t actually belong to us to make a buck. Cashing checks against a great legacy, against a great church we neither know nor understand and, worse, lack the courage to actually be.

Christopher J. Priest
17 June 2007

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