Thought ya knew about CeCe Peniston?

On having swag, social media and impeccable standards

House music royalty, the one and only CeCe Peniston.

My phone rang and an English accent greeted me at the other end of the call. Wait, CeCe Peniston‘s a Brit? “Oh, hello,” I fumbled, hastily striking a line through my question about her influence on this side of the Pond. Thankfully she put me out of my misery and with a chuckle segued easily back into her native American tones, but seriously, her accent was good. Well, she had me going anyway.

Having set up the interview with her team, I’d spent some time doing research into her life and career and there’s a lot of it. In recent times she’s also embraced social media as openly as anyone, so there was no shortage of things for us to get stuck into…

So whenever I mention your name, British people sing at me – how does it feel to be adopted by us?

[Laughs] You know what I feel so blessed, I can’t even tell you. When I first started out with Finally and I was like, twenty years old, and it was one of those things where Finally was a poem that I wrote when I was in college but I always knew I was going to sing. I ended up doing backing vocals and they were like “do you have anything else?” And I was like “yeah, I have this one song,” which was Finally and I had no idea that since the nineties it would still be as popular and people would love it to this day.

When did you realise you’d made it beyond the US?

When I was walking down a street and someone was like, “CECE!” and I was like, “Great!” [Laughs] You know what I’m saying? I didn’t know them but they were like, “we love your music!” Or I would go to crowds and perform and all of a sudden everyone’s mouthing the words and would just pause for a minute with this smile on my face thinking, “wow, they know my lyrics!”

You were a celebrated beauty queen before becoming a house music legend – what happened there then?

What happened was I was singing around Arizona in different shows, karaoke and different stuff and there was a producer, Felipe [Delgado] who was working with A&M [Records] at the time who said, “hey Ce, I want to bring you on to do some things, but I’m not ready yet, I’ll keep you posted.” Fast forward, and all of a sudden it was [Tonya Davis AKA Overweight Pooch tracks] Kickin’ Da Blues and it was Female Preacher and then when I did [sings] “I like it, mmmm hmmm,” I did that right? They said give it all you got, and that’s where the signature when you hear [sings CeCe trademark ad lib] “nana mmm, yeah yeahh” was born. That was born even way before Finally was brought into the picture. And then they said, “who was that fierce singer in the back?” And I said, “it’s me! It’s me!” And so they said we would like to sign you up with your own deal, we recorded Finally and then magic happened.

That garage house sound of the early nineties was kind of yours, what was the special ingredient?

I know you’re going to laugh at this but I think part of it was the [sings CeCe ad lib once more] “mm na um, um na ooah”, it was called “I forgot the words!” [Laughs] The other part is I think what we call, you know, my swag and my energy. It was probably a mix between house and dance and jazz. Because I used to listen to Billie Holliday when I was younger, and so that little thing, and I also used to listen to Chaka Khan, and so it was that mixture of dance, house and having your own signature and my cadence.

Say I’m a young producer trying to get CeCe Peniston’s attention, what is it that makes you say yes to a collaboration?

You know what right now with the [COVID] pandemic it’s making things really hard. I had things that happened before that I need to get into the studio with and the studio is booked so I’ve kind of stopped saying yes at this moment because people expect me to get stuff done and I’m like hey, it’s not me. I can only do what the world provides right now so in order for there not to be a pressure or a problem I’ve kind of cut back on that and then I notice that sometimes I would get in with producers and they would be greedy and selfish and they wouldn’t pay me! And I’m like I’m not doing stuff y’all, I’m doing stuff for me. You know what the funny thing is, and people don’t understand, it wasn’t like I didn’t have paperwork but sometimes people have signed things up when I’ve given them proper paperwork, they’ve signed things up under what they wanted it to be, or they’re like, “hey, it’s not recouped,” and I’m like, “well that was ten years ago that we recorded it, and there’s ten more compilations so let’s think of another lie!” [Laughs]

Assuming then we’re still friends and in the studio, how would I get the best out of you?

Oh I always give my best, no matter what I’m doing in the studio. I’m harder on myself than other people who might be, “that’s great!” and I’m like “no, it’s not – it’s not what my great is. It’s what you think my great is but it’s not what I think my great is.” I’m harder than other people probably sometimes about how my vocal should sound in fact, and this may crack you up, but me and a producer got into a verbal fight! He’s like, “it sounds great!” and I said, “no it doesn’t and I want to do it over!” And he was like, “well you’re the only one who wants to do it over!” and I’m like, “And? So what does that mean? You have one chance to make a first impression with everybody that’s listening to you and you as a producer should be happy that if I want to do it over that means I want it to be the greatest and the best, and what’s wrong with being the best?” And then they couldn’t argue and they gave me another version.

You’ve really embraced social media openly, how do you think that’s changed how an artist is these days?

I feel like you have to figure out what is private for you and what is public for you. Before I felt like there was a different respect for artists, people weren’t trying to get into your private business, they wanted to know what it was like, they would get the blogs put out it would be straight from the horse’s mouth, they would probably get a story sold to them. Now everything is in real time and if someone wants to say something foul about you on Instagram or in the comments now you’ve got to defend yourself, like “hey, jackass!” I’m one of those people. I’m like get off my feed with the dumbness, okay? And people laugh at me, they’re like, “are you really gonna say that to them?” and I’m like, “they said it to me!” [Laughs] It’s my feed, I’m like you have to control the narrative of what happens on your page so I’m sat there not caring what you think but also you’re not going to be disrespectful so that’s how I am.

Finally then, no pun intended, you’ve sung for Bill Clinton, the Pope and Aretha Franklin, what can we expect to see from you next?

[Laughs] Well I have a song ready to come out with Jackie’s Boy, he’s a Grammy award-winning producer who just did a record with Shawn Stockman so that’s coming out. I’m actually working on a virtual show called Remake vs Original, plus still doing my fitness and making sure I’m not being a little fatty during quarantine [laughs]!

Well having listened to you since the beginning it’s great to meet you – thanks for stopping by!

Thank you, have a beautiful day!

Published by Martin

Geek, DJ, runner, family man.