BY Kelley L. Carter
FREE PRESS MUSIC WRITER
The only physical evidence that this was a memorial service was the casket holding Ron Winans' body.
By every other account, this was a celebration.
Winans, 48, died last week of heart complications at Harper Hospital in Detroit. The second oldest of the Winans children, he was part of Detroit's revolutionary gospel dynasty.
Thursday night at Perfecting Church on Detroit's east side, anyone who wasn't convinced of Winans' legacy left the musical service a believer. Thousands turned out to celebrate and remember the man who was a part of music history.
Photos by WILLIAM ARCHIE/DFP
Ron Winans' younger sister CeCe Winans, an internationally known star in her own right, was coerced to the stage by the Perfecting choir's director to perform with a cousin and the choir. At first, she held a sheet of paper in her hands, looking down and singing the words. Eventually, she stopped looking and just sang riffs off the top of her head, delighting everyone. Even though she was grieving and this was clearly an impromptu performance, she sounded as if she'd rehearsed for weeks.
She ended her performance singing "God's been good to me," over and over again, dancing and twirling and shouting and stomping all across the stage.
"If the family can dance, we all are worth something tonight," Bishop Michael Rodgers told the crowd, encouraging people to get up and move.
Everyone -- people crowded inside the church and those who were in the chapel watching the service on a large projection screen -- tossed their hands in the air, waving them with the jubilance of a summer church revival.
Between the music, friends and those touched by Winans took the stage, recounting stories of midnight Burger King runs, of him driving back and forth to Eastern Michigan University to cart college kids to church and about his widespread generosity.
"He really had a heart for the young people," said Gwen Brown, a director at the church who first worked with Ron Winans 16 years ago when he started the church's youth choir. "He has taught me some things that I will always remember."
The entire Winans family makes up some of gospel music's biggest stars: BeBe Winans and CeCe Winans and brother-in-law producer Cedric Caldwell are among some of the most highly sought-after talents in the business. They, along with the rest of the family, sat in center pews, jumping for joy and at times wiping tears at the loss of a brother who is known for being the most put-together performer of them all.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a family friend, preached to the family and the crowd about the misfortune of having to bury a son. He recounted a touching story involving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s father, telling his sad tale of having to bury two sons and a wife.
"How do you hold onto your faith when faith deals you such a tough blow," he asked rhetorically.
Jackson went on to talk about how to deal in tough times and the tests that life gives people daily.
"So tonight, the question is, can you serve God with a heavy heart?" he asked, pointedly making reference to one of the Winans biggest hits "The Question Is." "Can you serve God when your back is against the wall? This is a long night for the nonbelievers. But for the believers, it'll be all right in the morning. The Lord is our light and our salvation. And our God is a wonder."