When she was just seven years old, CeCe Winans heard the call of God. She stood in front of her church's congregation to sing "Fill My Cup, Lord" and felt that God wanted her to use her talent in his service. After winning eight Grammy Awards, she continues to follow that divine directive today.
The singer has come a long way from her childhood in urban Detroit. She and her husband, Alvin Love, live in a tall stone house in a gated community near Nashville. In a large room containing floor-to-ceiling windows and their grand piano, things feel a little empty—until the Loves walk in. Then things come to life.
CeCe's often-photographed smile isn't just for publicity shots; it's the real thing. The Loves laugh a lot. In fact, it's clear that joy still marks CeCe's relationship with Alvin, just as it has since she met him when she was still a teenager.
CeCe grew up harmonizing with her seven brothers and two sisters in the now-famous Winans family. Her hardworking parents made sure each child understood God's saving grace, which gave the siblings a compelling reason to sing gospel music. CeCe's oldest four brothers became the award-winning group The Winans. CeCe and her brother BeBe became a popular duo and, later, successful solo artists. And her two younger sisters are recording as well.
By the age of 17, CeCe had graduated from high school and had enrolled in beauty school. But recognizing her musical talent, Mom and Pop Winans allowed her to move with BeBe to North Carolina so they could sing on the "PTL Show." One weekend, when CeCe and BeBe were visiting in Detroit, the family went bowling with a few friends, including a new acquaintance named Alvin Love.
Alvin explains: "Ronald, CeCe's second-oldest brother, had befriended me at church because I was a baby in Christ. When you meet one of the Winanses, eventually you meet the rest. That's what happened with CeCe."
"I met Alvin while bowling," she laughs, "but we didn't even talk that night. He was cute, but my mind was on singing, not dating."
Even without talking, CeCe made a big impression on Alvin. "The next morning at church," he recalls, "CeCe walked toward me with that smile and I thought, 'She's really pretty.' A few months later her brothers coaxed me to go down to Charlotte with them to see 'PTL'."
When Alvin traveled to North Carolina, he fell like a ton of bricks.
"That weekend we all did things together," explains CeCe. "Alvin joked around like he was one of my brothers, not like someone I didn't know from Adam. For instance, we all split up to get ready for the evening. Then, when we met up, Alvin said, 'I thought you were going to get dressed up. If I knew you were going to wear that, I wouldn't have bothered to put this on.' He cracked me up. He was just himself—and I could be myself."
The night before he had to return to Detroit, Alvin phoned. "I've got to talk to you be fore I leave town," he told her.
"I played it cool on the telephone," says CeCe, "but inside I was jumping up and down."
Alvin and Ronald came to her apartment. Ronald fell asleep on the couch, but Alvin and CeCe talked all night. They shocked each other when they revealed their ages. Alvin looked young for his 33 years, and CeCe's high-profile career and independent lifestyle belied her young age of 17.
"That tripped me out a little," admits CeCe.
"Me too," says Alvin, "but it was too late. By then I felt so strongly that she'd be my wife. I even told her, 'We're going to get married next year.'"
"I told him I just wanted the Lord's will for my life," says CeCe. "He phoned as soon as he got back home and said, 'I called you before I called my mother.' That tickled me. He was so corny."
They wrote letters and talked frequently on the phone, and CeCe came home to Detroit regularly. She prayed like mad about the relationship and sought advice from her parents and her pastor, a strict man who said he'd pray about it. He later told her: "Brother Love's a good man."
Plus, Alvin's mom loved CeCe. "And she usually didn't like anybody I brought home," he recalls.
"Alvin was her pet," teases CeCe.
It meant a lot to Alvin that the Winans family accepted him so readily. "I asked both her parents, 'Do you have any objection to me dating CeCe?' They said 'Do you love Jesus?' That was their only requirement. They knew that if I loved the Lord I would love CeCe. Nobody in her family ever questioned me about my life before I became a Christian."
Only BeBe, CeCe's singing partner, was nervous, wondering how CeCe's marriage might affect her music ministry. A few months before the wedding, CeCe left "PTL," while BeBe stayed on. They kept singing together, meeting up for engagements. Eventually BeBe left "PTL" as well. CeCe feels that God protected them by removing them from "PTL" before the public downfall of that ministry.
Setting Up Shop
On June 23, 1984, less than a year after Alvin's weekend visit to North Carolina, he and CeCe got married. "My brothers sang a song BeBe wrote for me, 'We're Going to Miss You,'" says CeCe. "It had everybody crying."
Alvin was working for Xerox, where he had moved into sales. CeCe kept singing with BeBe but also finished beauty school. By the time she was 19, she and Alvin had opened a beauty salon. Alvin ran the business while holding down his regular job. CeCe's dad, who was a barber, worked there and looked after things when she was traveling.
"It was a God-fearing shop," laughs CeCe. "With the Christian music and great atmosphere, people liked to come there."
In October, CeCe came down with what she thought was the flu. "The nine-month flu," her grandmother told her.
Alvin Love III arrived almost a year to the day after CeCe and Alvin had married. Ashley Rose followed two years later.
CeCe traveled with baby Alvin, but once Ashley came along, traveling with two babies became too much. "There were times when I thought, 'I'm quitting! This is too hard.' But the Lord reminded me of my calling, and he took care of my kids. Alvin was supportive, and my mom and my mother-in-law were nearby to help."
Eventually Xerox transferred Alvin so the Loves could move to Nashville, where BeBe was living.
"Those newlywed days were busy—especially with having babies so quickly," says Alvin, "but CeCe and I were good friends. The friendship made our marriage easier."
A solid friendship helped, as did their ability to laugh at themselves. With Alvin and CeCe, even a big argument can produce some laughs.
"Once when I was pregnant, we were at a wedding reception and Al vin was off talking to people instead of sitting with me," CeCe says. "I thought, 'He doesn't want to sit with me.' So I went out to the car and sat a long time, getting more and more up set. Finally Alvin came out and said, 'What's wrong?' I told him I wanted to go home. He apologized for hurt ing my feelings, and I cried and cried.
"But no sooner do we get home than I realize I'm really hungry—and I start thinking about all that food back at the reception! Alvin said, 'See, that was stupid, wasn't it?'
"It happens a lot," she continues. "By the time we've cooled off, we're both thinking, 'That argument was kind of dumb.'"
A Valentine Surprise
When CeCe and Alvin had been married ten years, their pastor encouraged them to attend a Valentine's Day marriage conference, followed by a dinner and dance.
"We didn't think we needed to go," says CeCe, "but it was life-changing. I found I didn't understand what marriage really was. The pastor talked about how Hosea loved his wife so unconditionally he'd go out of his way to buy her back even when she was out walking the streets. I realized I liked my marriage as long as Alvin was nice to me. It was a bargain—he was good to me, so I was good to him. That's not what marriage is about at all."
"I learned what it meant to love CeCe the way Christ loved the church," says Alvin. "Jesus stands by us no matter how stubborn or disobedient we've been. We try to go back to that conference every year now. The second time they asked us to share about our marriage, and I cried. I looked back and realized God's grace in my life—where I've come from and what he's blessed me with in CeCe."
"Getting married taught me how selfish I was," says CeCe. "It makes you accuse your partner: 'You did this. You did that.' It's not Christlike. But Alvin and I were hearing God's Word at church and applying it to our lives. Even just 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is good marriage advice. It boils down to whether you love God more than you love yourself.
"I've learned to say to God, 'No matter how mad I am, no matter how right I feel I am, I'll do things your way.'"
The Loves at Work
When CeCe stopped traveling with her brother to launch her solo career, Alvin figured someone needed to go with her. So he left Xerox and dived headfirst into managing his wife's career. At first, the Loves traveled as a family, homeschooling Ashley and Alvin III on the road. This year, they put their children into junior high and high school and plan to work around the school schedule as much as possible.
The Loves recently launched their own record label, Wellspring Entertainment. And they agree that working together has been another blessing in their marriage. Says Alvin: "I can't believe I ever used to let her get on a plane without me."
"Alvin and I help each other a lot," says CeCe. "It's amazing how when I'm upset or mad, he can be so calm and practical. Then the next day, he'll be upset, and I'll be able to say, 'Ba'y, it's OK.' We praise God that we can help each other."
After 15 years of marriage, the things that brought Alvin and CeCe together are still the things they love most about each other.
"People see Alvin in public and think he's so serious, so businesslike," says CeCe. "Really, he's a clown. He's a horrible singer. The kids beg him, 'Daddy, please don't sing!' One time in a hotel room he lip-synced Stevie Wonder's 'I Just Called to Say I Love You,' hamming it up. He looks cool, but he's corny."
He may be corny, but he's also smitten.
"The smile, the glow that drew me to CeCe, that's her big heart showing," says Alvin. "She loves people and people love her. I have to share her with her fans and stand off in the background. But I can do it because she's mine—until death do us part."
Copyright © 2000 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.