CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” Started Out as a Poem
A self-described “military brat”, CeCe Peniston’s music career started with musicals, piano lessons, and plays when her family relocated from Dayton, Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona. From there, she won the Miss Black Arizona pageant in 1989 and 1990 and took the Miss Galaxy pageant a short time later. After several years on the pageant circuit, Peniston couldn’t resist the call of the music industry and decided to test her limits as a singer.
Peniston saw herself as more of an R & B vocalist than a house musician in the beginning. So when she penned one of the biggest house music hits of the 90s, it came as a bit of a surprise. “What’s so funny is I was always the one that came in and slowed it down,” she said in an interview with 5 Magazine. “That’s what’s so ironic about me putting out ‘Finally’, because I was always the R&B person, the balladeer.”
Before “Finally”, Peniston’s initial discovery happened when producer Felipe Waxx Delgado asked her to perform some background vocals on a rap album he was recording. “Back then, there was a female rapper (Overweight Pooch) who was on A&M, and I was asked to do some background vocals,” she said. “I came over, did the background vocals for her and the label heard it. They were like ‘We really like your flow, why don’t you get your own single together?’”
Manny Lehman, the director of A & R at A & M records at the time of Peniston’s discovery, recalled his excitement when he first heard her singing. “I heard her voice and had to meet her immediately,” he told Billboard.
“It got to a point when the single had taken on a life of it’s own.”- Rick Stone
Realizing that Lehman’s interest could lead to her lucky break, Peniston and Delgado knew they had to record a demo for A & M. As Peniston searched for the right lyrics to use for her debut recording, she revisited a collection of her poetry. A poem about searching for love caught her eye. “At the time, I was writing poetry,” she told 5 Magazine. “So I took one of the poems, ‘Finally’. I was thinking about dating in college, and how I hadn’t found that Mr. Right.”
Once she found the right lyrics, Delgado and Peniston hit the studio. “We went to the studio, finished it up, sent it off to the label and they loved it,” she said. “And that’s how everything got started. I came up with the melody and the lyrics to “Finally” and then RK and Felipe (the guys I was working with at the time) put the music to it.”
Once the single was released, it was time to promote it. Working all the way from Labor Day to Christmas, the A & M promotional team helped “Finally” achieve two waves of success. The first happened when the single took off at clubs all over the country. Happy with the record’s initial performance, the label was’t expecting much beyond club popularity. “We thought it had reached it’s peak in December, and then out of nowhere it resurged,” said A & M vice president of promotion Rick Stone. “It got to a point when the single had taken on a life of it’s own.”
“At the time, I was writing poetry…I was thinking about dating in college, and how I hadn’t found that Mr. Right.”- CeCe Peniston
For Peniston, the demands and expectations of having a number one record hadn’t fully sunk in when the song became an international hit. “You don’t really understand your gifts at that point, so when he said I have a hit, I was just like okay,” Peniston told Soul Train. “At the time I didn’t understand what it means to have a number one song, I really had no idea.”
Looking back on the exhausting demands of traveling all over to promote her work and her immediate newfound fame, Peniston admits that it was almost too much at first. “You know, I had been here and there, a couple of trips, but nothing at all like this,” she said. “It was overwhelming. I was 21 years old still trying to figure out who I am and I was thrust into the limelight.”
But in the end, more good than bad came from the experience. Peniston is still grateful for her early success many years later. “It was just a great journey,” she said in 2012. “An awesome experience.”