July 03, 1989 12:00 PM

You can take the singer out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the singer. When CeCe Winans first heard Whitney Houston, “I didn’t know who she was,” she recalls, “but I said, ‘She’s a gospel singer.’ She was singing a commercial for Steak & Ale like she’d been saved!” The first time Whitney heard CeCe sing—with her brother BeBe on the Winanses’ self-titled 1987 album—she became an instant fan. “We come from the same place—which is church,” says Houston, who introduced herself to the Winanses at an L.A. awards ceremony two years ago and told them, “I listen to your tape every morning. It really inspires me.” Later Houston took the stage with the siblings, with no rehearsal, and hit every note of her favorite Winans song, “Love Said Not So.” Since then, she has been dropping in on Winans dates all over the country for the pure joy of joining in. “She’s been a true friend,” says BeBe. “Often we have to sit her down, because she’ll want to do the whole show.”

Benjamin Winans, 26, and his sister Priscilla, 24, are part of a musical dynasty rooted in Detroit’s Mount Zion Church of God in Christ Founded by their great-great-grandfather and presided over by their preacher father, the church gave all 10 Winans children the gospel grounding that has collectively won them seven Grammy awards since 1985. (Four brothers perform as the Winans; two younger sisters sing backup for BeBe and CeCe.) BeBe, who lives in Nashville with his wife, Debbie, and CeCe, who has two children with husband Alvin Love and owns a beauty parlor in Detroit, sang on Jim and Tammy Bakker’s PTL Club for three years and broke onto the gospel charts with “Up Where We Belong” in 1984. Their new album, Heaven, is a slick blend of gospel, pop and soul, but they have no desire to cross all the way over into the pop mainstream. “There’s no temptation to do secular music,” says CeCe. “There’s more money in it but for us this is not a hobby. It’s a ministry that we have been called to do.”

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