New Jersey native Regina Belle has established an enviable two decade career on the strength of her beautifully sensuous, deep voice and a collection of hit songs in the Soul, Jazz and, more recently, Gospel genres.
Belle grew up singing Gospel and Soul while also playing multiple instruments. She then attended Rutgers University, where she studied both Jazz and Opera. Her big break came when she was introduced to the Manhattans and wound up touring with them and dueting with Gerald Alston on the group's "Where Did We Go Wrong" from their 1986 Back to Basics album. Both the song (which was produced by Bobby Womack) and her performance were great, and the music industry took notice, even if the public wasn't yet aware of this rising Soul star.
She recorded her first solo LP, All By Myself, the next year, and her deep sultry voice wrapped itself around the opening single, "Show Me the Way," and took it near the top of the Soul charts. She did even better two years later with the album Stay With Me and the single "Baby Come to Me," both of which hit #1. Sounding a bit like Anita Baker, but with trendier (and a bit less distinctive) production and lyrics, Belle continued to chart high over the next several years. She certainly boasted a beautiful voice, which was at its best when she was in all-out-belt mode, such as on her 1990 cover of Carvin Winans' "Make It Like It Was." It was a a gorgeous ballad and she absolutely nailed it vocally. She had more difficulty with some of her softer material, but she continued to develop into a solid song stylist over the 90s, even as the quality of her material wavered.
Belle also became a sought-after duet partner, working with Peabo Bryson on "Without You" (from the Bill Cosby movie, Leonard Part 6) and the #1 across the board hit "A Whole New World" (from Disney's Aladdin), and with Kool & the Gang's J.T. Taylor on the smash Soul cut "All I Want Is Forever."
Belle's album output slowed in the mid-90s and the hits stopped coming. Her 1998 album Believe In Me on MCA Records was critically acclaimed and showed her voice maturing nicely, but didn't sell as well as its predecessors.It was four more years before she again recorded, signing with Russ Freeman's Peak Records and releasing This is Regina, a solid disc that unfortunately came and went quickly but received some notice for her beautiful duet with Glenn Jones, "From Now On."
In July 2004, Belle released her second Peak CD, Lazy Afternoon, an album of Jazz and Soul standards produced by George Duke. The disc was the most difficult vocal challenge of Belle's career and served as a real test of her interpretive skills. She mostly passed the test on the album, especially on her gorgeous cover of the Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You." She followed four years later with her first Gospel album, Love Forever Shines. It was a solid release that showed her versatility to move effectively into yet another genre. It also won for her a finalist position for the 2008 SoulTracks Readers' Choice Awards.
by Chris Rizik