As we begin to emerge from a year of social isolation, and music and entertainment events begin to become a reality, the hardships of 2020 have many musicians questioning whether they will still be able to continue to chase their dreams. This is where well-established artists will help play a critical role for some lucky up-and-comers: CeCe Winans, Jennifer Nettles, and Shane McAnally are taking on an initiative called Care It Forward, as a way to pay it forward and help coach, mentor and support aspirational artists on the next steps in their career. In partnership with Cracker Barrel, these artists are launching Care It Forward, an initiative designed to help us all take a deep breath, reconnect, and inspire us all to pay it forward and care for each other just as these artists are doing. Rooted in the company’s history of caring for employees and guests like family, Care It Forward encourages consumers to share their own acts of care with #CareItForward on social to keep the effort going.
Through this Care it Forward program, CeCe Winans and Tauren Wells had an opportunity to work together for the first time. Winans has released a myriad of solo and collaborative albums that have crossed genres and influenced generations of gospel and secular vocalists. Her mantel today holds a staggering 12 Grammy Awards, 23 Dove Awards and 15 Stellar Awards. She has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and received stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Nashville Music City Walk of Fame. Wells is an eight-time GRAMMY nominee, former CCM Artist of the Year, and platinum-selling, multi-genre recording artist who undeniably is on the rise. In this TCB Exclusive, Winans talks about the importance of the Care It Forward program, her passion for mentoring and the power of collaboration.
Can you share a little background about the Care It Forward program for those who may not be familiar with it?
It is an awesome program that Cracker Barrel approached us to be a part of about doing acts of kindness as well as the importance of mentorship – taking out time to pour into other people, like wisdom, and to be there for people. I just applaud Cracker Barrel for even coming up with a program that is all about generosity. People can find out more about how they can Care It Forward – when people give out to you, be willing to give out again, so that the spirit of kindness will transcend generations and cultures. I was honored to be a part of it and hang out with Tauren Wells, the young man that we’re mentoring, and it’s just a really feel-good program.
Why was it important to you to participate in the program and partner with Tauren?
It was important for me to participate because this is what I’m all about. This is the key of living and of life. When we look at what we’ve been through, even as a country, there are so many hurting people. I’m in the business of healing and caring for people. We all should be, but it’s something that through my music and my lifestyle it’s something that I spend my life doing. I love partnering with corporations. You don’t see it a lot, but when corporations are lined up in a way with my faith, and understanding the needs of people. The needs of people are met by other people. We are here for each other. A lot of times we sit back and think it is someone else’s job to do, but everybody has some type of influence – your classroom, neighbors, there is someone you can reach out to and touch. Giving life is what life is all about.
This is a program that has allowed you to mentor and pass on wisdom. Have you learned anything through the process that you maybe weren’t expecting to come across?
I’m always learning. But getting to know Tauren more, and that I was really mentoring him from afar for years now, because I’ve been doing this for a long time, was pretty awesome to learn. When your music and your life has impacted someone else’s that you didn’t even know, and now I get to see his career blossoming. I get to see him as an awesome man who cares about his wife and his family. And also learning, something I’ve known but has become more and more clear, we are all more alike than we are different. We can look at the color of our skin, our experiences, so many things that are different. We forget the things that we are more alike on really outnumber our differences by far.
You performed “Believe For It” as your solo performance piece as part of the program. This track is the title track from your latest album, released earlier this year. Why was it important to you to share that song with those lyrics?
Because I believe when you care it forward and you really want to see change, you have to have faith. When you look at the news and all of the negativity that is being exposed, it can seem like an impossible task. But again, I just thank Cracker Barrel for refocusing and encouraging others to refocus on the little things we do that really do matter. You are not just caring it forward, but moving it forward as a nation, as a people. And so “Believe For It” that is full of faith – encouraging people to believe for the impossible, encouraging people whose families look totally different now since the pandemic. We want to encourage people to look up and to believe again. Restoration will happen. There is still hope – a lot of people feel hopeless, and so this song brings hope. It also challenges you to let go of the past and really embrace the future – even if it looks different. There is still something greater ahead of you. It is a powerful song; I was so honored to be able to sing and record it. I think it is a song that will be around for a long time because it is a song that encourages you to have faith – in yourself, your fellow brother, in things getting better.
So we’ve talked about your recent partnerships with Cracker Barrel and Tauren Wells. You also had some collaborations earlier this year with Carrie Underwood. How do you go about choosing these partnerships and putting together these collaborations? How do you see these opportunities come together to create something good?
Well, that’s a good question. I’ve been doing what I do for a long time. When I started out singing professionally I was probably about 17-years-old, and I’m 56 (almost 57)-years-old now. When you put time in, people begin to know who you are, and they begin to trust who you are. And it’s very clear that you’re able to connect on certain levels that are totally the same. You brought up Carrie Underwood – I met her years ago singing at The White House; I think she had just won American Idol. I heard her then and recognized her talent. Years went by and I was able to see her career blossom, and I heard her sing a hymn like I had never heard it sang before. I’m a church girl and grew up in the black church and I’ve heard some sangin’ in my day. And I heard her sing “How Great Thou Art” on one of the award shows. It was just so powerful. So last year, I was putting together a program for Compassion International, and I wanted to invite guests from different genres. And that came back to my heart and mind. So I had my management team reach out to see if she would sing “How Great Thou Art”. They thought it was a big ask, but she’s a person like I’m a person. Either she can or she can’t, she will or she won’t. I found out that when we reached out to her, they were trying to reach me. That’s how you know there’s a God. I can’t know all these things, but God knows – His timing. There was an exchange there, right before Christmas, and we had a blast. And I heard her story – she grew up in church and on all these hymns. It was like meeting an old friend or daughter of mine. She was gracious enough to my Compassion program and that’s what happened. And they kept calling to have me join her on performances. It lines up with my faith for unity and for diversity. So we had a great time building that relationship. All I can say is when you ask ‘how’, I can’t take the credit for it. As you move along in life, different things will line up that you just know will work. You know it’s a good chemistry and partnership. It’s too good to just be coincidences.
What are you most expectant for in the rest of 2021?
I am just expecting for things to get better. That’s a simple thing, but I just want things to get better. I’m expecting things to get better. I’m believing for things to get better. I’m believing for people to be restored, to get back on their feet, for healing, and that we would see unity in our country. I’m believing for it to get better, not just in the United States, but the human race is a precious thing. We need to value one another more. This year we have seen goodness come from our darkest hours, and I’m believing for more corporations to get on this journey of healing. I want to again thank Cracker Barrel for this program of caring it forward. If more organizations would get on board with ideas like this, we could really see a change in the atmosphere of our country. So that’s what I’m believing for – things to get better.