CeCe Peniston has six simple words of advice for artists at any stage of their career in the oft-treacherous music industry: “Get involved in your business. Really.”
Peniston, the gospel and theater-trained voice behind classic club hits “Finally” and “We Got a Love Thang” — among her five Billboard Dance Chart No. 1s — might have learned the hard way to take her own advice. “I see a lot of artists — and I was guilty of this for a long time — [who] don’t get involved in their business. They’re like, ‘Speak to my manager.’ And it’s like, ‘No, you have to learn the business.’ And that’s why people get taken advantage of — they don’t learn the business, and you have to.”
Without sharing details, Peniston explains, “I’ve gone through my very down moments where my money was funny. And I’ve gone through my moments where just life is happening.” Peniston’s beloved mother, Barbara Anne, passed away last year, “so I was going through that and then being on the road and being an artist at the same time, being just a regular person and feeling some type of way. And I’m like, ‘God, I got to give a show right now and I’m really hurting. But I have to still do my job.’ It’s funny because I heard Aretha Franklin say one time, ‘Artists sing happy. We sing sad. We sing brokenhearted.’ And people just don’t know, because it’s not our job to get up on stage and give you our stuff.”
So Peniston channeled the grief of her loss, and the anger she was feeling about other troubles, into her music and her long-standing passion, poetry. After all, the famous lyrics of her international hit “Finally” began as a poem she wrote as a college student. Raised in Phoenix, where she still resides, the singer marvels at how “Finally” has become not just her signature tune but also part of the soundtrack of people’s love stories and coming out stories, and countless drag performances, thanks in part to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
“To see a little poem that you were writing when you were 21-years old turn into this big song that people still love to this day, and has become a classic, is always love for me,” says Peniston of the track, which she’ll certainly perform at her April 21 show at D.C.’s City Winery, along with some of her new music, released through her self-owned label CeCe Pen, Inc.
The artist has taken control of her business. “I feel like I’m living my best life right now,” she says. “I’m aware of who I am. I’ve become more of a businesswoman. I feel like the Cece that people have known is still there, but she’s being made new.”
CeCe Peniston performs Sunday, April 21, at City Winery. Tickets are $35-45. Call (202) 250-2531 or visit www.citywinery.com/washingtondc.