Interview : CeCe Peniston

Interview : CeCe Peniston

She’s responsible for one of the most memorable songs of the 90’s, the iconic Finally. Other UK Top10 hits followed, including Keep On Walkin’ and We Got a Love Thang. We had the delight to chat to CeCe Peniston about her career and much more.

Your big worldwide hit ‘Finally’ was released in 1991. Does it seem like so long ago?

Actually it doesn’t. It seems like that time has gone by so quickly. I’m so amazed it was so long ago.

The song is still played and loved all over the world. Why do you think the song has had such longevity?

I think some of it is the beat. And some of it is the timing of when it came it. When people hear it, it brings them back to a time of happiness. Me, Crystal Waters and Robin S all came out around the same time. I think ‘Finally’ had it’s own flow and I think people felt the energy in my vocals and the way I was singing the song.

I’m still performing the song all of the time and I’m hearing it being played all of the time too. It’s currently being used on a national commercial over here in the US. It’s great for people to still be able to hear it and feel it.

I’ll be performing with an Orchestra at a show in the UK soon and I can’t wait to sing the song accompanied by all the strings and a piano. I think it would be an atrocity if I didn’t change the arrangement to get the most out of this amazing experience. It’s going to sound epic.

I’ve heard lots of people covering the track and I love seeing what other people have done with my songs. At one point Lady GaGa was opening her show with ‘Finally’ and only recently Sam Smith performed the song at some of his shows too. It was great. I actually did some vocal training to some Sam Smith tracks at my piano with my manager to say to Sam, ‘Hey, I love you too Sam.’ I’ll have to share them!

Do you think the movie and musical ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ has had a role to play in the song reaching a new audience?

Oh definitely. Every time something happens, like the movie and musical dedicating seven minutes to the song, the national commercial, hearing it on the radio…I feel like the song is getting a new life all of the time.

I saw the movie and I saw the stage show live in the West End in London too. I was so excited to see it. Mother and me went together and I was like, ‘Oh my god, who would’ve thought this little song I wrote in College would be being performed in the West End in London?’. And to actually get to see it as the artist, wow. They were a great cast.

“Never lose your inner child as I think that’s when people go wrong and they lose their ability to enjoy the little things in life and get too serious.”

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is having a big impact on the charts. Is this a genre you enjoy?

I love dance music. I have a song that I did with Junior Sanchez, ‘Without You’, and I’ve recorded other EDM songs too, it just hasn’t been on a large scale. I’m one of those artists who refuses to be put in a box and I’m like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s try it. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, let’s keep on pushing!’. Sometimes people ask me to pick a genre but I’m not going to do it.

I love doing R&B and I love doing dance and pop too. I think my voice fits with these genres well. Dance and pop music is a bit more happy go lucky and I think R&B is more about real life. I think because I’m such a realist and because I’ve been through so much in life, I think I can relate to both. There’s a part of me that’s a big kid so I think I get away with the dance and pop music as I think I sound young doing it.

I’m a little twelve year old on the inside at times. Never lose your inner child as I think that’s when people go wrong and they lose their ability to enjoy the little things in life and get too serious.

Watch the video for CeCe Peniston’s iconic hit single

Are there any recent songs that have caught your ears?

I love Adele, and the song ‘Clarity’ by Foxes is one of my favourites too. ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne is a CeCe song and I think to myself, they should have given that song to me (laughs). I love it. It’s a great song that’s really well put together. Maybe I need to contact them and say, ‘Where’s my song?’.

When are you at your happiest?

I still love to write. I love to watch movies. But I’m probably at my happiest when I’m on stage singing music. Even at home, I’m singing all the time.

So you’ve been teleported back to 1991. What would you say to the young CeCe Peniston?

I’d tell myself to keep writing more songs and get them on the radio ha. I’d say, ‘Why don’t you invent Facebook and Twitter right now!’ I’d be ready when it came up. I’m being smart ha. If I’d of known back then that the internet would be the main thing that’s going to do well, I’d be ready and be prepared for it. And be the first person to do a reality show! Start creating your brand now.

“I say that as I’m the kind of person who calls my friends, I see them. I’m like, ‘Why are you Facebooking me?’. There’s no need for me to do that.”

How important is social media to you?

If I wasn’t in the music business I probably wouldn’t use social media. I say that as I’m the kind of person who calls my friends, I see them. I’m like, ‘Why are you Facebooking me?’. There’s no need for me to do that.

People aren’t talking anymore. When you’re at dinner sat at the table, everyone has a phone and they’re sat texting, Facebooking or Instagramming and there’s lots of interruption. Before we had all of this, people actually talked to each other. I don’t think we get to know each other as human beings in the same way we used to. It’s ok for us to be disconnected. We’re so connected with the wider world but so disconnected to what’s going on around us.

With my career, social media does help you reach places and people that you wouldn’t normally be able to meet. I sometimes think what it would be like if ‘Finally’ came out in 2015 when all that stuff is available. I think it would have probably have done even greater numbers and achieved more that it already has.

Social media makes it possible for people to see all of your business and everything you do, and sometimes more of your personal life may be exposed than you’d like, but that’s how it goes. It comes with the territory though and you know what you were signing up to when you got in to the music business.

You’re a regular performer at LGBT Pride events around the world

I am and I love being a part of them. It’s really funny as performing at the Pride events kind of came to me.

If you listen to the words in ‘Finally’ they go, ‘Meeting Mr right, the man of my dreams’, and for a lot of LGBT people they may change the words around to say, ‘…the girl of my dreams.’ I think the song was real for many people.

I know that as lots of people have told me that they came out as gay, bisexual or lesbian to my song, or they met their significant other when it was playing, and sharing lots of other personal memories of the role the song has played in their life. It’s a song that created a memory forever for lots of LGBT people and I love that.

I’ll be playing at more Pride events this Summer so when I get the call, I’ll be there. I have a very busy year of performing ahead of me.

Photo credit : Adam Bouska

You’ve supported the ‘No H8’ campaign too

I think there are so many other things to be upset about then trying to hate or dislike anyone else. We all have different and unique gifts within ourselves and I thought the ‘No H8’ movement was something beautiful to get involved with. It’s great to have a campaign to take the focus away from all the hate going on in the world.

Do you have any musical role models?

I love Patti Labelle, she’s always in the moment when she’s on stage and people really love her. Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, Angela Winbush…so many people. They are my favourites. And Anthony Hamilton is a recent fave too. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with any of these people but I have met them. When I first got in to the business I met Patti and I was like, ‘I love this lady’. What I met and what I imagined her to be when I was a child was exactly what she was like. She was a beautiful warm spirit, and funny too.

“I think there are so many other things to be upset about then trying to hate or dislike anyone else. We all have different and unique gifts within ourselves.”

What about a role model closer to home?

I would have to pick my mom. My mom has been the best woman I have ever met in my life, and I’m not saying that just because she’s my mom. She has been my rock. She’s been very involved in my career and helped me make the right decisions. She gets on to me and gives me the good, the bad and the indifferent, and she pushes me and gets excited when I’m excited. That’s what I love about her. She’s my hero.

It looks like 2015 is shaping up to be a very busy year for you

I have so many things coming up. At the end of 2014 I did a bikini fitness competition, my first one at 45 years old. I lost 30 pounds and got in shape. I’m already planning my next competition and I’m going to launch my own bathing suit line and I’m working on a fashion show for that.

A few years ago I did a weight loss story and lost weight but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was fit and I liked the way that I looked but I wanted more of an athletic body so I decided to put it out there and put it on my bucket list. I put it on my social media so I couldn’t back out and when I actually did it, people were amazed I think. I’ve turned back the clock and I’m really thankful that I was able to get the body that I wanted. It was really hard but I loved the challenge of it. Also, aside from health and wellness, I think people expect 90s artists not to look too great (I’ve heard it being said), so it’s great for them to see me in shape. This is the fittest I have ever been in my life.

I’m also going to do some reality TV but I can’t say too much at the moment. We haven’t locked down contracts yet.

Music wise, I’ve been in the recording studio with Calvin Richardson who’s a fantastic R&B artist, I’ll be releasing the song soon. My album should be done by the spring. I have been very busy with lots of new music that I can’t wait to share.

I’ve also been working with my foundation for young adults called ‘LOTS’ (Lifting Others to Succeed) so when things slow down a bit I’ll be doing lots more with that too.

I have a very busy year ahead. Keep updated by visiting my website or Facebook page.

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About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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