IT BEGAN AS a young girl's poem on finding Mr. Right and turned into a song that catapulted her into instant fame. "Finally" was a Billboard #1 hit, went multi-platinum worldwide, and made CeCe Peniston a household name. Her other hit songs such as "We Got a Love Thang," "Keep on Walkin'," "I'm Not Over You," "Searchin'" and "He Loves Me Too" remind us of a time in the early '90s when House music was actually played on commercial radio.
Following the success of her first album, CeCe followed with two more: Thought Ya Knew and Movin' On. Along with nonstop touring, CeCe has acted in theatrical productions such as The Wiz, Treat Her Like A Lady, and When A Woman's Fed Up and has just wrapped up shooting her first independent film. She also began the CeCe Peniston Foundation eight years ago to help raise money for causes such as women and children in need, education and HIV.
What most people don't know is that CeCe has not stopped touring in these past ten years, and fans all over the world still crave to hear her belt out her signature heartfelt songs of love and hope. Recently CeCe performed at the Boom Boom Room to celebrate DJ and producer Ron Carroll's birthday. Despite a hectic schedule of studio recordings and meetings, CeCe graciously took the time to sit with me and tell us about what's going on with one of the dance music world's most popular divas...
Tell us about your beginnings. Were you a singer first? I heard you were a beauty queen.
I was born in Dayton, Ohio and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. I was a military brat. I actually started out doing plays and musicales in the 6th grade. I was taking piano lessons and would kinda sing around the house. Then I started doing contests around Arizona... like you know, little karaoke contests. And then I would do singing talent shows and it kinda progressed on from there to me doing pageants. Because I felt that when you're in front of people doing interviews and being poised and on TV, it becomes a great vessel to help you... practice makes perfect. It's something I wanted to do myself. At a young age (17), I already had that drive.
I kept doing them and ended up being Miss Black Arizona 1989 and 1990. And because I had done the pageants for a while I was like okay, I wanna just sing now. But I ended up doing the Miss Galaxy pageant and I think because I was so relaxed I ended up winning that one. From there I just started doing the singing.
Were you always a househead? How did you begin singing House music?
You know what's so funny is I was always the one that came in and slowed it down. That's what's so ironic about me putting out "Finally," because I was always the R&B person, the balladeer when I came in and did everything. Back then, there was a female rapper (Overweight Pooch) who was on A&M, and I was asked to do some background vocals. I came over, did the background vocals for her and the label heard it. They were like "We really like your flow, why don't you get your own single together?" Well at the time, I was writing poetry. So I took one of the poems, "Finally". I was thinking about dating in college, and how I hadn't found that Mr. Right. We went to the studio, finished it up, sent it off to the label and they loved it. And that's how everything got started. I came up with the melody and the lyrics to "Finally" and then RK and Felipe (the guys I was working with at the time) put the music to it. And then they did another remix which is the one that's famous now which is the Eric Kupper/David Morales mix that I do in my shows.
So it was that song that brought you to House music?
I think it was more that other people thought it was my strength. I feel like I have a lot in me still that people haven't heard... there's a whole other side. There's an R&B side, a jazz side that people haven't heard and think that they'd be really surprised. But I haven't had a chance to showcase that because people want to hear the House songs.
How did you meet Steve "Silk" Hurley?
It was actually a label thing. Steve had sent some songs to the label and I heard them and I had picked out "We Got a Love Thang" because I just loved it. And then later on I was listening to the CD again and I was like, "What's this song right here?" It was "Keep On Walkin'". It was me and Manny Lehman (my A&R at the time of Delicious Vinyl), we all kinda chose together. From that point forward, it was this great working relationship. And I feel like Steve is really great at bringing out that attitude in me. He gave me a lot in terms of pronouncing words to make them sound like they need to sound, but that's not actually what you're saying. So it puts that vibe on it. So I learned a lot from him vocally as far as in the studio.