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CeCe and BeBe Winans Rock the Chicago Theatre - Concert Review

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There was no waiting for the hits or stars to appear at BeBe and CeCe Winans' Still Something Big concert at the Chicago Theatre in Chicago's Loop yesterday.

The "warm up" act was no warm up at all but VaShawn Mitchell whose hit "Nobody Greater" current tops the Billboard Gospel chart at number one. A native Chicagoan like fellow chart toppers Darius Brooks, Tony Tidwell and The Warriors, Mitchell was mentored in his music ministry by church leaders Lonnie Hunter and Bishop Larry Trotter.

Nor did the audience have to wait for the two main acts. When the musicians struck up the Winans' "Heaven," the spotlight first found BeBe and CeCe and then Tina and Erica Campbell of Mary Mary. Soon, all four singers were deep into the Winans' hit, "I'll Take You There," which segued into Mary Mary's hit, "In the Morning," followed by another hit: Mitchell's "Nobody Greater." Pity latecomers!

Grammy Award-winning BeBe (Benjamin) and CeCe (Priscilla) Winans are the seventh and eighth of icon "Mom" and "Pop" Winans' ten children who have three Gold and one Platinum album since they began recording in the 1980's. While joking about his early bedtime and how young Mary Mary are, the trim and lithe BeBe danced like a 28-year-old to the kinetic, two-keyboard band.

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After an early intermission, Mary Mary delivered a generous set including "Walking," "Seattle" and the 2000 hit that put them on the Gospel and urban contemporary map, "Shackles." Their 2005 "Yesterday," also a crossover hit, allowed the sisters to display their prodigious vocal, and emotional, range while seated on stools. And "Something Big" from the 2011 album recording of the same name, rocked and riveted the ornate hall with its anthem like call-and-response: "Tell me what you know about Jesus/He's alright."

Returning for a second set BeBe, in a sparkling black shirt and CeCe, in a yellow gown adorned with a star necklace, performed their popular "Celebrate New Life," "Addictive Love," and "Lost Without You." The seven-minute "Grace," beginning softly but soaring into an urgent entwined duet, and the even longer "Never Thought" with its crescendo-ing "Never thought I'd be so happy" - were audience favorites. And when the three solid but easy-to-miss backup singers were given solos, chanting "that's-what-He-said" as each stormed the middle of the stage and walked the Winans off, it brought the house down.

No wonder some stayed seated when Mary Mary rejoined the Winans for a last number, the hit "Get Up." "We're sweatin and our feet are hurtin. You need to get up!" taunted Tina.

Chicago is considered the birthplace of Gospel music, home to Thomas Dorsey, James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson (after she left New Orleans) and the Caravans. (Original Caravans Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews and the late Albertina Walker, considered the Queen of Gospel music, performed at last year's Chicago Gospel Music Festival.)

The two-and-a-half hour BeBe and CeCe Winans, Mary Mary and VaShawn Mitchell concert reaffirmed Chicago's claim.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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