Let My People Go Said Both Moses and The Winans; by Philip Mayaab

Truth be told, there may not be a more talented family in the history of Christian music than the Winans. Based in Detroit, this family has produced success in the music industry like no other, with nearly every member (including Mom and Pop Winans) releasing successful, and often award winning albums. Now the two members of the family that most CCM fans think of first are Benjamin and Priscilla (BeBe and CeCe to most), however,  the groundwork for the amazing success of this musical family was laid by eldest brother Ronald, twins Marvin and Carvin, and younger brother Michael.

Growing up in Motown, all of the Winans children were exposed to music at a very early age, but probably not the music and artists you are thinking of.  Mom and dad laid down the law when it came to the family's secular music in the house.  You read it right, no Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, etc., not even on the radio.  Nothing but gospel music would fill the air in the Winans' home. Nevertheless, the musical bug bit Ronald, Marvin, and Carvin at a young age, and they began singing in church. Eventually they would start singing together as a trio, and later on they added their next youngest brother Michael to complete the Winans original lineup, which would stay together until the group retired from performing in the late 90s.

Just a few years after Michael joined the group,  the brothers caught a huge break, when they were introduced to one of the biggest performers in professional Christian music,  Andrae Crouch.  Andrae helped the Winans secure a contract with the same label that he had worked for since the late 60s, Light Records.  The quartet went in to the studio with veteran drummer Bill Maxwell (Andrae & The Disciples, Koinonia) to record their debut album, Introducing The Winans which was released in 1981.  They would also provide background vocals for Andrae's classic Don't Give Up LP, which was released the same year.  The success of Introducing would lead to two more albums for Light, 1983's Long Time Coming and the hugely successful and Grammy award winning Tomorrow in 1984.  The group's popularity steadily increased with each album they released for Light, and they had developed their own brand of R&B infused urban gospel music, that resonated loudly with the fans. Their success led to them being signed to a new recording contract by legendary mainstream producer Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson, George Benson, Patti Austin) to his Qwest Records label, and in 1985 The Winans released our Vinyl Revival feature album this week Let My People Go.

All three of the group's Light recordings had been produced by Bill Maxwell, who brought in some great studio musicians to lay down the tracks to which the brothers would sing, but as a lot of different artists found out, Christian record labels do not have an infinite amount of money to sink into an album's production.  Maxwell is to be commended for turning out such phenomenal results, because by the time that Tomorrow was released, Light Records was on life support financially.  With Qwest however, money was not an issue, and since Marvin himself was the producer of the project, he was able to bring in some of L.A.'s best studio men to provide the music.  Marvin had been honing his craft of writing and arranging during the three sessions with Maxwell, so he went in fully prepared to do the job right.  The record company wanted to create a sound that would play well on mainstream R&B radio, and that is exactly what Marvin and his three brothers did on this album.  Blessed with a tremendous talent for songwriting, Marvin's name appears as a writer on seven of the album's eight tracks, the lone exception being Perfect Love which was written by Carvin and Debra Winans.  

This album picks up where Tomorrow left has the same type of quality material and production that helped them win their first Grammy award (the title song of Tomorrow won the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance By A Duo Or Group).  To up the ante a little, Vanessa Bell Armstrong was brought in to join the brothers on the album's leadoff track Choose Ye, marking their first high profile vocal collaboration, a tradition that would continue for several years to come.  An interesting side note, listed in the vocal credits on Choose Ye are the names of sisters Vickie and Deborah Winans, jazz guitar great Tim Bowman (who served as the Winans touring guitarist for several years), and baby brother BeBe Winans, so you can see that this album does not play around, it has some serious cred.  While Christian radio stations were playing Choose in heavy rotation, the A&R department at Qwest wanted the Winans to be heard on mainstream R&B radio, and so they released the album's title track as a single. Although not the overwhelming chart success the label hoped for, it was huge in that it landed at #42 on Billboard's Hot R&B / Hip Hop chart just before Christmas 1985.  At over seven and a half minutes long, the label issued a single version (a 45 RPM, you still remember those, don't you), as well as a twelve inch remix of the track, and there are in fact, several interesting remixes available online as well.  One of the endearing qualities of the song was the fact that it dealt with a subject that was rather prevalent in the news at the time, and that was the oppression of the Apartheid government in South Africa.  An extremist form of segregation, this hideous form of governing mandated that certain ethnic races would be treated differently, and left with terrible conditions in which to live.  Marvin Winans very cleverly fused the notion that God hated Apartheid as much as He hated the way the Egyptians treated the children of Israel in biblical times, and the lyrics struck a chord, helping the song to find its way onto R&B radio. 

Of course, the fact that the Winans possessed some of the tightest harmonies a vocal group could have did not hurt this album at all.  Each of the right tracks showcases the brothers ability to lock on to each individual part, and join them together to form something very special.  As for the songs themselves, this is a collection of numbers that do not compromise the Christian message, despite the fact that this album is on a mainstream label.  Much to their credit, Qwest Records gave the Winans the freedom to sing Godly lyrics without watering them down to the extent that some artists on Christian labels were doing.  An even mix of upbeat numbers and ballads keep the album flowing along, from start to finish, with songs like the previously mentioned title track, Perfect Love, Choose Ye, and Very Real Way keep the beat bouncing, while the ballads such as Redeemed, Straighten My Life Out, I'll Follow Where You Lead, and Special Lady (which is a tribute to the brothers Grandma Laura) slow the tempo down, but keep the message strong.  

A final note...this was not the first time that a Christian artist had released an album for a mainstream record label.  Don't Give Up, the Andrae Crouch we mentioned earlier, was released on Warner Bros. Records in 1981, however I have read that Andrae had recorded the project for Light Records, and they sold the rights to Warner.  This album however, was a Christian album recorded for and released by a mainstream label, but make no mistake, this album is 100% Christian. The message in each song is a purely Christian point of view, and the name of both Jesus and God are mentioned several times on the album, meaning the listener does not have to decide if the lyrics are referring to the Lord or not.  Let My People Go is not only a classic CCM album, it remains decidedly old school in a year that most Christian artists began limiting the mention of Jesus' name, so kudos to Ronald, Marvin, Carvin, and Michael Winans...they did it right, in every way possible.  


Side One - 

1. Choose Ye (duet with Vanessa Bell Armstrong)  (Marvin Winans)

2. Redeemed (Marvin Winans)

3. Perfect Love (Debra and Carvin Winans)

4, Straighten My Life Out (Marvin Winans)

Side Two - 

1. Let My People Go (Marvin Winans, Barry Hankerson, and Carvin Winans)

2. I'll Follow Where You Lead (Marvin Winans)

3. Special Lady (In Memory Of Grandma Laura 1916-1984)  (Carvin and Marvin Winans)

5. Very Real Way (Marvin Winans)

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