Powerhouse vocalist Regina Belle is excited to be returning to the Steel City May 3 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theaterto reconnect with fans and reignite some of the electric she created when she swept onto the musical landscape in 1987.
“We’re going to have fun. We’re going to do some old stuff and some new stuff,” said Belle who resides in Atlanta when she isn’t touring the country. “I treat my fans like we’re in the living room. I haven’t been to Pittsburgh in a very long time. I’m looking to motivate you to live better. Music is supposed to stimulate you to do better in your life. I was asked to do the New Horizon event and I am looking forward to helping people familiarize themselves with my older stuff and I get to introduce them to some new stuff.”
New Horizon Theater Chairperson Joyce Meggerson-Moore said bringing Belle to Pittsburgh fits right into the theater company’s mission to provide high-quality entertainment to various communities in Pittsburgh.
“Each year once we finish the season of plays, we talk to our patrons and auxiliary board to see who they’d like to see perform and Regina Belle’s name came up,” Meggerson-Moore said.
“Everyone thought she’d be a good choice. We like her smooth sound and her ballads and we thought people would remember her.
“Our performances have been R&B and we’ve decided to stick with what’s worked for us since 1998. New Horizon Theater is an all-volunteer core and we do all that we can to make sure that our audience is getting an authentic performance.”
Belle’s soaring voice, and positive and passionate songs has always been a spot of light for music fans.
The Englewood, N.J., native got her start singing in church at Mount Calvary Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church, which was presided over by her uncle Rev. Fred Belle. She sang her first solo in church at age eight. She studied trombone, tuba and steel drums in high school before studying opera at the Manhattan School of Music at Rutgers University.
She was introduced to smooth crooners the Manhattans by New York DJ Vaughn Harper and quickly began working as a backup singer and eventually opening act for the group.
“I learned character, how to have a relationship with the audience and how to pour out emotionally what I was feeling,” Belle said.
She recorded “Where Did We Go Wrong” with the group, which helped her gain the attention of Columbia Records. The company eventually signed her to a record deal. She had a contract with the company from 1986-1996. Her debut album, “All By Myself” included her first hits, “So Many Tears,” and “Show Me the Way.” She released her second Columbia Records effort, “Stay With Me” in 1989.
Two years later she recorded a duet with the incomparable Johnny Mathis entitled “Better Together.” The song appeared on Mathis’ “Better Together: The Duets Album.” Continuing with her love for duets, Belle teamed up with Peabo Bryson for several songs including “I Can’t Imagine,” “Without You,” from the “Leonard Part Six” movie and the Disney Juggernaut “A Whole New World.” That was featured in Disney’s 1992 “Aladdin” movie.
The song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with vocal as well as a Best Song Oscar that same year.
“I didn’t have a clue that that Disney song would be such a hit,” said Belle a mother of five and wife of ex-NBA basketball player John Battle. Battle played with the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The couple pastored two churches including Shield of Faith Ministries.
“‘A Whole New World’ won so many awards. This was all generated from a song that I sang with bronchitis. In the studio me and Peabo had a spat because he came in smoking. I ended up at the doctor after the session. I couldn’t talk very well and I didn’t think that I gave the best vocal performance I could but my voice came across fine.”
Riding on her success, Belle released her platinum-selling third album, “Passion” later that year. The album featured “A Whole New World” and “If I Could,” which reached number nine on the R & B charts. She released “Reachin’ Back” in 1995 and “Believe in Me” in 1998.
In 2001, the multi-faceted singer made the foray into the Jazz arena by recording a cover of “Just the Two of Us” for the tribute album “To Grover, With Love.” The song surprisingly placed Belle back on the Billboard Charts and within months Belle signed a record contract with the independent Jazz-oriented record label, Peak-Concord Jazz. This led to the release of album “This is Regina!” which featured the R&B hit “Ooh Boy,” “Don’t Wanna Go Home” and the single “From Now On” with Glenn Jones.
“Performing on stage with someone you get the chance to feed off someone else,” she said when asked what she enjoys about singing duets. “I don’t have a problem sharing the stage. Singing comes naturally to me. It’s just what I do. I have sang my entire life. It’s a wonderment that people scream for me to sing.”
Belle also performed for President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush during the Black History Month celebration in 2001.
Three years later she released the George Duke-produced album “Lazy Afternoon.” The album included covers of the Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You” and Tony Bennett’s “If I Ruled the World.” In 2007, Belle collaborated with smooth Jazz saxophonist Paul Taylor, co-writing and singing on his album, “Ladies Choice.”
Belle returned to her gospel roots in 2008 when she released her gospel debut “Love Forever Shines” on Pendulum Records. The 14-track offering featured singer Shirley Murdock and spawned the hit single “God is Good.” “Love Forever Shines” reached number two on the U.S. Gospel charts and number 83 on the U.S. R&B charts in 2008.
In 2012, Belle’s second gospel record, “Higher” reached number 15 on the U.S. gospel charts and 44 on the U.S. R&B charts. The record featured duets with pastor Shirley Caesar, Kathy Taylor and Men of Standard’s Lowell Pye. The record featured the song, “Make An Example Out of Me,” which reached number 19 on the gospel charts.
“God is my source and I work hard. When people come to see me in concert they are not just being entertained, hopefully I make an impact with the lyrics as well. I hope that I am able to make the lyrics jump off the page,” Belle explained. “I don’t go anywhere without giving God his due. The ideal is to represent being a lady and a woman of God.”
Although she records strictly gospel music now, Belle assures Pittsburgh fans that they will get to hear the music she is known for.
“The show in Pittsburgh will be an R&B show. The fans can expect to hear all of their favorites, ‘Baby Come to Me,’ ‘If I Could,’ and other songs. I also do a portion of the show where I pay homage to those artists who inspired me like Nancy Wilson, the Manhattans and Phyllis Hyman. I want to thank my fans for supporting me,” she said.
Belle cites Pittsburgh-born Hyman as one of her musical influences. The two divas met when Belle was a student at Rutgers and a member of the school’s African Student Congress and she brought Hyman and Bryson to the university to perform.
“Phyllis was a great artist and she was outstanding. She did a scat by whistling and she did that like she was singing,” Belle recalled. “She could sing her face off. I am an alto and Phyllis taught me how to appreciate the lower register of my voice and she taught me how to hit the soprano register for color. I was 18 years old and I was just bringing someone to the campus that I loved and she and Peabo didn’t disappoint. She was wonderful.”
When Belle isn’t performing, she enjoys spending time with her family and cooking Sunday dinners alongside her mother. She is in the process of finishing her Africana Studies degree that she put on hold when she began singing with the Manhattans. She expects to graduate in 2015.
(Tickets for the May 3 performance at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater are available at Dorsey’s, and Stedeford’s on the North Side. They can also be purchased by visiting New Horizon Theater’s web site at www.newhorizontheater.org, or calling 412-431-0773. Tickets will also be sold at the door.)
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