BeBe Winans tells his story in ‘Born For This’
“It’s a coming-of-age story,” says six-time Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter BeBe Winans about “Born For This: A New Musical.” He continues, “Me and my sister left Detroit, Michigan. She was 15 and I was 17 and we went to South Carolina, to Pineville. My world changed. Even being in the midst of it, I knew that this would be a steppingstone for something that I could apply to the rest of my life. It turns out that was the truth.”
Ten years in the making, the musical is a celebration of the true story of Winans — the youngest brother and seventh sibling of 10 — who left the familiarity and comfort of his gospel-infused home to audition for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord (PTL) network in Pineville, North Carolina. The show includes the story of his musical siblings and gospel group The Winans, as well as his and his sister CeCe’s rapid rise to stardom in the world of televangelism, how they found mainstream success, and the pitfalls of fame, money and success.
Co-written and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright (“Motown the Musical”), with original music and lyrics by Winans, “Born For This” opens Friday, June 15 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, and runs through July 15.
Creating a musical based on his life was “not on my bucket list,” says Winans during our one-on-one sit-down. The idea came from a phone call with good friend Roberta Flack, in which she detoured from the conversation and said, “BeBe sweetie, when are you going to get to it? When are you going to write that musical about you and your sister, your family? It’s an American musical, baby. They need to hear, they need to see. So, get to it.”
Winans remembers hanging up the phone and wondering, “What brought that on?” He brushed it off, but four days later in a hotel room in Montreal, a first draft of “Born For This” was written. “It was like a faucet was turned on,” says Winans of that experience a decade ago.
The musical doesn’t just tell BeBe’s and CeCe’s story about growing up with the Bakkers. It also underscores the conflict of faith and fame. “Artists want to display their talent like anyone else, but it’s the trap of fame that you have to navigate through that makes it challenging,” Winans explains.
“Born For This” also touches upon emotions like insecurity and rejection that everyone can relate to. The singer/songwriter knows these firsthand, because CeCe was the one that was initially accepted into the PTL Club — he was not. He had to learn how to deal with being told, “No, you’re not good enough,” and how to get back up and keep going. A funny yet deeply emotional journey toward self-discovery, the musical is family-friendly and universal, a story for anyone who has ever yearned for something or is looking to find their purpose in life.
Over the trajectory of his career, Winans has learned that he has an inner determination that’s stronger than he knew. “I really questioned so many times, ‘Where did that come from and why?’ But it’s there, and I recognize it. Instead of fighting it, I fuel it now.”
Winans continues to define and find success on his own terms. This past April, he scored his first No. 1 song as a soloist on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart, and his first overall in nearly nine years, with “He Promised Me,” featuring sister act Tobbi & Tommi and soloist Kiandra. Co-written by Winans, the R&B-flavored song is the first single of his upcoming solo studio album. In addition, he’s the executive music producer for OWN-TV’s scripted series “Greenleaf.”
With the success of “Born For This,” Winans hopes that audiences will be able to see themselves in him. “Some people know our music and some people don’t. Some people who know our music don’t have a clue about our story. I want people to come and first of all know that I, just like them, have my fears. I, just like them, have my triumphs and my trials. Everything about me, they can find in their lives. It’s really an introduction [for] people who’ve heard of me and people who haven’t. It allows me to introduce who I really am.”