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Arizona singer has unique South African connection

PHOENIX — During the 1990s Valley resident CeCe Peniston dominated the charts with a string of dance and R&B hits. Her first song, “Finally” has sold 3 million copies worldwide, but it’s another “first” she’s focused on this week.

“I was the first one after all the, you know, dissension, the tension and the drama,” Peniston said. “Not everyone can say, ‘I was in the moment.'”

Peniston’s moment came in 1994, five months after Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa. She’s believed to be the first American woman to perform in South Africa after the United Nations lifted its cultural boycott. Whitney Houston followed two months later.

Peniston performed before a mixed crowd of 3,000 people in Johannesburg. “To be able to experience that is huge. It’s a feeling that you can’t really describe, but you take that with you.”

She didn’t have the opportunity to meet Mandela, but like many others, Peniston says she has learned from him.

“Like he says, don’t shrink down to somebody else’s level to make them comfortable,” said Peniston. “He’s like, take ownership of who you are as a person and as an individual and it’s okay to be big. God put us on this earth to be lights to the world.”