Finally, it’s happened…to the music industry that is. CeCe Peniston is back! Twenty years ago, the dance club diva released her debut album Finally, selling millions of copies worldwide. Her signature single “Finally” became one of the biggest dance singles in the 90s. The singer/songwriter also had several other chart topping hits over the years including “Keep on Walking,” “We Got a Love Thang,” and “I’m Not Over You.”
Peniston has also been a favorite among celebrities, with requests to perform for Aretha Franklin at her private birthday celebration, Pope John Paul II in Rome, and for former President Bill Clinton at both of his inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. Following the abolition of apartheid, Peniston was the first female entertainer to visit and perform in South Africa.
Peniston isn’t just a singer/songwriter; she’s also flexed her acting chops by taking to the theater stage with an all-star cast for the musical The Wiz. She portrayed Glinda the Good Witch then hit the road touring with plays such as Treat Her Like a Lady and When a Woman is Fed Up. She then made the leap over to the silver screen, acting in several independent films such as Don’t Touch If You Ain’t Prayed and Pastor Jones.
Soultrain.com caught up with CeCe Peniston to discuss what she’s been up to over the years and the 20th anniversary of Finally.
Soultrain.com: Miss CeCe! What have you been up to?
CeCe Peniston: Doing the same damn thing at the same damn time! [laughs] I’m just kidding. I’m still performing. I’ve been doing a lot of performances and most recently I did the EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival), which was 100,000 people at each show in Las Vegas and New York. I also opened up for Chris Brown and I sang the national anthem for Bill Clinton when he came to Arizona State University in October for a voters rally. I’m also working on my foundation for children called LOTS (Lifting Others to Succeed). I’m also working on an anti-bullying campaign. I’ve also done some plays and independent movies.
Soultrain.com: Did you have an experience with bullying when you were growing up?
CeCe Peniston: Actually, there was one girl in junior high and she was just coming for me, and I was like okay, you know what, I’m just going have to fight her so she would leave me alone. She was constantly coming at me in front of groups of people saying, “You ain’t this, you ain’t that, you ain’t blah blah,” so I said okay, I’m over it, let’s fight then. I was tired of her saying that to me everyday. Now that’s what you don’t want to happen with children, them feeling like they have to fight. Of course, fighting isn’t going to solve anything but at the time, I thought that’s what would be best. So when they asked me to participate with the anti-bullying campaign, I could totally identify with it. I could understand how irritating it can be to have someone keep messing with you all the time like that. So I am excited to be a part of something that can help kids and the community. It’s one of these things where you have to wonder, why are people mad at you for being yourself?
Soultrain.com: It’s been twenty years since your debut album Finally was released. How do you feel about that? Did you ever think that, twenty years later, that it would still be on people’s play lists?
CeCe Peniston: I thank God so much for blessing me so that I am still able to do what I love to do. We just did a different version of the “Finally” video. It was at the Playboy Mansion–they had a party there so we shot a brand new video. The video is on YouTube, so people can go online and see what I look like now if they aren’t my friend on Facebook. It felt really good because I still love the song “Finally” now just as much as I did 20 years ago. I feel like I’m greater now. I think now I’m better, I have more wisdom, and as an artist I know what my likes and dislikes are. I even know how I want to dress, pretty much just everything. What’s really funny is I’m healthier now and in better shape than when I was younger.
Soultrain.com: Thinking back 20 years ago, did the song “Finally” take off like you thought it would?
CeCe Peniston: I was totally oblivious to how it would do. It was actually a poem that I had turned into a song, and it was the very first song that I had written. I was doing backup for someone else, and they asked if I had something else and I was like yeah, something I’ve written, and I didn’t know if they’d like it. You know, you don’t really understand your gifts at that point, so when he said I have a hit, I was just like okay. At the time I didn’t understand what it means to have a number one song, I really had no idea. They said you have a hit on your hands and you’re going to have to go to Europe. All of a sudden I was traveling the world, one show turned into two, that little girl from Arizona was going everywhere! You know, I had been here and there, a couple of trips, but nothing at all like this. It was overwhelming. I was 21 years old still trying to figure out who I am and I was thrust into the limelight. It was just a great journey, an awesome experience. One of the things that I learned, and I believe it was Jocelyn Brown that told me this, but when you go through things you sing better. I get that now–it makes so much sense. Lots of times you hear these songs from people, and they haven’t even been through the experience of it. But if you have experienced it and can relate to it, then there’s a big difference. I’m the type of artist that if I can’t relate to it then I won’t do it or sing it, and that used to get me in so much trouble! I have to be true to my artistry.
Soultrain.com: You had so many hits off your debut album, did you ever fall prey to the idea that you could end up a one album wonder? Did you expect your career to really take off?
CeCe Peniston: That really wasn’t my thought process. I don’t live my life from a place of fear. I don’t want to be wondering if I walk across the street, is this or that going to happen? So I just took on the attitude this is what I want to do, and if it doesn’t work, then plan B, next thing, just move on. I try not to be closed-minded or worry about something not working out. I just keep trying and trying.
Soultrain.com: How do you feel about the title that you’ve been given of “Dance Club Diva?”
CeCe Peniston: Anytime they call me any kind of diva, I’ll take it! I love it! [laughs] For some, it could be a bad connotation, but I don’t take it like that. I feel like they are just giving me praise. I like how people may think I’m one way but then they are pleasantly surprised to see I’m totally different from what they expected. I’m full of surprises, I really am, so it’s a compliment to me. I do feel like I am a diva. I feel like I have been a dance diva, but I also feel like other songs like “Keep on Walking” show that I do have an R&B side. I still take it as a compliment as well.
Soultrain.com: What’s the biggest lesson that you have learned over the past 20 years in your career?
CeCe Peniston: Wow, one of the lessons would have to be that things aren’t always as they seem. It’s hard to narrow it down to one lesson. Also, being an artist what I’ve learned is, no matter how hard you keep trying to make something perfect, there’s going to be some imperfection so you have to learn to just trust your judgment. Everybody isn’t going to be on the same wavelength with you and it makes you stronger and more creative.
Soultrain.com: Artists have an image to uphold. How does that affect you being judged by millions of people whether it’s in a video or onstage?
CeCe Peniston: It’s nerve wracking, absolutely nerve wracking. I’m big-busted and can find something that looks nice to wear and it will look good in person, and in a photograph it’ll look totally different. So I have to make choices that will photograph correctly, and that‘s not always easy. I did have liposuction and at the time I felt I was already fat so the judgment had already been there, so for people to judge me for that I just didn’t care because for me it was a jump start. Yeah you can have liposuction, but it doesn’t keep you from gaining weight, it just gives you a starting point. People don’t understand that if you gain weight after having lipo, you just gain it back, all in the same areas. Liposuction helps you contour a little bit and give you a jump start. I also lost 30 pounds on top of the lipo and I haven’t done any other work since then. I do cross fit 3-4 times a week and yoga twice a week. I find I have to stay on top of what I put out there. I keep a check on myself and I have people around me that hold me accountable. I didn’t mind sharing that with people, because they assume that doing lipo is the easy way to lose weight, it’s not the easy way, it just helps you get started and a little quicker. For me, I enjoy the results. I don’t like working out so much but I do like the results, so that’s why I stay on top of it. I do enjoy yoga because it calms my spirit.
Soultrain.com: What do you think when you hear people say certain genres of music are dying out, like R&B?
CeCe Peniston: If they think R&B is dying out then why don’t they support artists? That’s the thing: You have to support the artists, you have to buy their music, go to their shows. I mean, they can’t revive the genre on their own, they need the support. I love R&B.
Soultrain.com: What is your favorite CeCe Peniston song?
CeCe Peniston: “Finally,” since it gives me royalty checks! But I would have to say “Keep on Walking.” I do love both of those songs.
Soultrain.com: If you didn’t get into the music industry, what career path would you have followed?
CeCe Peniston: Forensics. I like to figure stuff out and I’m an analyst. I love to analyze things. People may think I’m not paying attention, but I don’t miss a thing; I just observe and analyze.
Soultrain.com: What’s something that people don’t know about you?
CeCe Peniston: I do voiceovers. I did a cartoon, I can do different voices. I can do like 15 different character voices. I’m also a be-dazzler. I love acting.
Soultrain.com: What are your favorite memories of Soul Train?
CeCe Peniston: Just being on the show, and I had dancers at the time. They would go down the Soul Train line. I would peek from backstage and watch them. The Soul Train line was always one of my favorite parts of the show. I loved seeing what every one was wearing and what the current dances were at the time. A lot of artists would get their dancers from that show. It was such a big vessel for so many things, fashion, dance and music. Don Cornelius helped the careers of so many people. He let artists perform songs that show different sides, like maybe a slow song then a dance song all in one show. I loved it.
Soultrain.com: What’s next for you, CeCe? Is there a new album in the works?
CeCe Peniston: I am currently working on the electro music that I have, but I do have some R&B stuff, so I’m always working on something. I have about 20 songs that I’ve finished recently with 16 Bars, which is my record label that I’m on. It’s about timing and releasing things in the right way, so I’m looking to release something sometime next year.
Follow CeCe Peniston on Twitter @CeCe_Peniston, check out her website at www.cecepeniston.com, and friend her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/therealccp.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.