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The Winans were pioneers in the field of contemporary gospel, updating the sound and style of traditional black gospel vocal groups for the urban contemporary age. While they weren't the first group to do so, they were probably the most important factor in popularizing the style, paving the way for countless urban-style gospel groups to follow — including numerous other members of their own, confusingly large family tree. The Winans were composed of brothers Marvin, Carvin, Ronald, and Michael, all of whom were born in Detroit and raised in a strict, loving Christian environment. Their parents later recorded together as Mom & Pop Winans, and their other family spinoff acts included Daniel, Vickie, brother and sister BeBe & CeCe, and Angie & Debbie; plus, their own sons went on to form the third-generation group Winans Phase 2. All of that came later, though. The four brothers, like the rest of their siblings, grew up singing in gospel choirs, and decided to form a professional quartet in their twenties. A mutual friend introduced them to Andraé Crouch, a major force in the contemporization of gospel music, and Crouch signed the Winans to his Light label.
The Winans released their debut album, Introducing the Winans, in 1981, which was produced by Crouch and featured the now-classic cuts "The Question Is" and "Restoration." The 1983 follow-up, Long Time Comin', started to break the group to a wider audience, reaching the Top Ten on the gospel album charts; it also produced another staple of their repertoire in the ballad "Long Time Comin' (Holdin' On)." The title track of their third album, Tomorrow (which also made the gospel Top Ten), won the group its first Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group in 1985. In the wake of that success, the Winans moved over to famed producer Quincy Jones' Qwest label. Their label debut, Let My People Go, topped the gospel albums chart in 1986, and featured their first high-profile duet — with Vanessa Bell Armstrong on "Choose Ye." Meanwhile, the title track won another Grammy, and the group received the first of three consecutive Dove Awards as Best Contemporary Gospel Group. Released in 1987, Decision was another number one hit on the gospel charts, and produced the Winans' first big crossover hit in the Anita Baker duet "Ain't No Need to Worry." The single made the Top 20 on the R&B charts and won a third straight Grammy.
Following this run as one of the most popular gospel groups in America, the Winans slowed their pace a little. Aside from the 1988 concert album Live at Carnegie Hall, the group didn't release any new music until 1990's Return. Return was another big crossover success, going gold and just missing the Top Ten on the R&B album charts. It featured a duet with Stevie Wonder on "Everyday the Same," and the Teddy Riley-produced "It's Time" was a major hit with secular audiences, reaching the R&B Top Five. Riley also worked on "A Friend," which became a fan favorite, and saxman Kenny G appeared on another single, "When You Cry." Released in 1993, All Out upped the ante for high-profile guest appearances, featuring Wayman Tisdale (on the single "Payday"), R. Kelly, Lalah Hathaway, Ricky Van Shelton, and Kenny Loggins. Despite winning a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Album, All Out didn't sell as well with secular audiences as its immediate predecessors. Perhaps as a result, the Winans didn't court crossover success as ardently on its follow-up, 1995's Heart & Soul, which returned them to the Top Five on the gospel album charts. After Heart & Soul, the Winans took a break from performing to concentrate on individual interests and ministries. They did return in 2000 with the holiday album Christmas: Our Gifts to You. In 2002, Rhino Records released the 16-track retrospective The Very Best of the Winans, and the entire Winans family — not just the group itself — hit the road in support, marking the first time in a decade that all the family members had performed together.