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Vickie Winans Vickie Winans

Born Vivian Bowman c. 1953; raised in Ecorse, Michigan, near Detroit; mother a gospel singer; one of 12 children; daughter of Mattie Bowman. Married Rev. Marvin Winans, a gospel singer and pastor; later divorced; two children. Religion: Pentecostal.

Gospel vocalist. Discovered by Rev. Marvin Winans; released debut album, Be Encouraged, 1985; released Total Victory, 1989; released The Lady, 1991; 1992 song "I'm Hooked" incorporated rap elements; released Vickie Winans, 1995; released Live in Detroit, 1997; released Live in Detroit, Vol. 2, 1999; released Share the Laughter gospel comedy disc, 1999; album Woman to Woman slated for release, 2000.

Although she rose to fame partly as a member by marriage of gospel music's most famous family, Vickie Winans has carved out an independent identity, musically and personally. Dubbed "the hardest working woman in gospel music," according to the Detroit News, Winans was a fixture of the gospel concert scene at the end of the 1990s, making more than 200 appearances a year. Her sense of humor and gutsy, down-to-earth stage persona, effectively displayed on a pair of top-selling live albums, were continuing to attract new fans to her recorded offerings and above all to her religious message. "My main, number one goal in life is that everybody be reached with the message of Jesus Christ," she told the Detroit Free Press.

A native of Ecorse, Michigan, just south of the gospel-drenched city of Detroit, Winans was born around 1953 (interviews from early 1999 in the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press each list her age as forty-five). Her full maiden name was Vivian Bowman, and her mother, Mattie Bowman, was a singer well known in local gospel circles. All twelve Bowman children (eight girls and four boys) were exposed to gospel music at the Pentecostal church the family attended, the International Gospel Center in Ecorse, and others besides Vickie became involved in music; her brother Tim Bowman is a noted gospel guitarist with a jazz-flavored style, and two of her sisters followed in their mother's footsteps as church musicians.

Despite all the emphasis on church music, it was in quite a different place that her vocal ability really got noticed. In a Detroit Free Press interview, Winans recalled a bathtub singing contest with her sisters that ended when one sister ran to tell their mother that "Vickie can sing for real, for real." She sang solos at church, accompanied by her brother on the guitar. One day, her singing attracted the attention of someone who was able to appreciate the depth of her abilities, and was in a position to do something about it.

The Rev. Marvin Winans, pastor of Detroit's Perfecting Church, was a member of the Grammy-winning group of gospel-singing brothers, The Winans. Several generations of Winans family members had become successful gospel performers, and the family had risen to the top levels of the gospel scene in a city with a great deal of strong competition. The Winans style was spiritual, emotional, rooted in traditional styles but also open to popular influences. And when Marvin Winans heard Vickie Bowman sing, she noted an immediate reaction: "When I saw him, I knew that I had him," she told the Free Press.

That turned out to be true in more ways than one: Vickie Bowman, in addition to becoming Marvin Winans's musical protegee, also became his wife. Her recording career, launched in 1985 with the album Be Encouraged on the Light label, by her own admission took off as a result of the influence of the Winans family, but she stood out as a performer from the start. After several releases in the late 1980s, which did well enough to merit an At Her Best collection, Winans struck off in several new directions. Her 1992 song "I'm Hooked" was an early example of the incorporation of rap into gospel music, and she appeared in several stage musicals; one of them, called The First Lady, told the story of a minister's wife who is faced with the challenge of taking over her church congregation after her husband's death.

In a way, the musical's plot was a harbinger of the challenges Winans herself would face in the next stage of her career, for as a result of her divorce in the mid-1990s from Marvin Winans, she was forced to take charge of her own career and define herself apart from the Winans musical style and promotional empire. "It was a very hurting experience," she told the Free Press. "Both of us took it for granted that everything was OK. But, you know, after a while, it don't even matter whose fault it was." On top of the emotional stress, she suffered health problems: diabetes, and ulcerated vocal cords that required surgery.

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