Born on July 17, 1964, in Englewood, NJ; daughter of Eugene and Lois Belle; married and divorced Horace A. Young III; married John Battle (an NBA basketball player); children: Tiy Chreigna; Jayln Nuri; Syndi Milan. Education: Attended Rutgers State University. Addresses: Record company--Peak Records, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Ste. 275, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, phone: (310) 385-4040, fax: (310) 385-4050, website: http://www.peak-records.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Booking--De La Font Agency, website: http://www.delafont.com.
Singer Regina Belle has dazzled critics and fans alike since her debut album, All by Myself, was released in 1987 and has continued to release a steady stream of popular albums for nearly two decades. Acclaimed as one of the most exciting new singers to emerge on the rhythm and blues scene in the early 1990s, the New Jersey songstress boasts a style that recalls some of the most successful black pop female singers in the industry, yet is nonetheless distinctive. Jim Miller in Newsweek heralded Belle's entry onto the music scene in 1987: "Move over, Anita Baker--and make way for Regina Belle, who may be the most electrifying new soul singer since Baker herself.... Imagine a singer who simultaneously recalls Aretha Franklin, Sade, and Anita Baker, and you'll get a fair idea of Belle's singular style."
Belle's wide vocal range has particularly impressed reviewers. "She has a strong, expressive voice and she's versatile, dealing well with sultry ballads ('Baby Come to Me') or sassy jump-ups ('When Will You Be Mine')," wrote David Hiltbrand in People of Stay With Me, Belle's follow-up to All by Myself. Steve Bloom commented in Rolling Stone that Belle's "full-throated, pop-gospel vocal style brings to mind Anita Baker, Patti LaBelle, and Stephanie Mills." A number of critics have similarly compared Belle's vocals to those of soul-jazz phenomenon Baker. Hiltbrand noted that, like Baker, Belle "displays a voice of tantalizing quality.... She can sound both promisingly intimate and world-weary without sacrificing vibrancy."
Belle has remarked, however, that comparisons to Baker are off-target. She told Bloom: "Because Anita Baker is prominent right now, Regina Belle sounds like Anita Baker.... I've been singing since I was three years old. By the time [Baker's 1986 album] Rapture came out, my style was already developed. People say I got certain inflections from Anita, but I got them from Phyllis Hyman. That was my girl." In addition to Hyman, Belle lists other musical influences as Billie Holiday, Donny Hathaway, and Nancy Wilson; she refers to the latter as her "show business mother." Belle met famous song stylist Wilson at a music convention in Los Angeles. "When I met her she told me that Billie Holiday did it for Dinah [Washington], Dinah did it for her and she has to do it for me," Belle was quoted as saying in Jet.
Belle's musical roots are in gospel, which she grew up singing in church with her family. She told an Ebony contributor that she was raised in a house where music was "something ... involuntary." Her mother's specialty was gospel, and she learned rhythm and blues from her father. "The music was the same, just the message was different," she told Bloom. Belle sang during high school and on weekends attended classes at New York City's Manhattan School of Music, where she studied opera and classical music. Belle did not study jazz until college, when she enrolled in the Jazz Ensemble at Rutgers University. Belle told Bloom that with jazz she learned "to listen for colors, as opposed to trying to sing just notes. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what that meant."
Not sure that music would be her career, Belle majored in accounting and history at Rutgers. Her big break as a singer came when disc jockey Vaughn Harper heard her open a concert on the Rutgers campus. Impressed, Harper introduced Belle to the manager of the singing group The Manhattans, who were looking for a female backup singer. Shortly thereafter Belle was touring with the group; a solo recording contract from the group's label, Columbia, soon followed.
Belle's 1987 debut, All by Myself, was an instant success; Stay With Me, her 1989 effort, established Belle as a major singer on the rhythm and blues scene. Both albums generated a string of solo hits, including "Show Me the Way," "Make It Like It Was," and "When Will You Be Mine." Belle has been primarily popular on the black charts, something she would like to see eventually change. "It's insulting to me when somebody says, 'You're Number One on the black charts.' It suggests that nobody appreciates my music but black people," she told Bloom. "I'd love to have a Number One pop single, but I'm not at the point where I have to. It doesn't plague me."
In addition to receiving acclaim as a recording artist, Belle is also considered an outstanding live performer who is not afraid to take chances musically. "Her gifted voice and stage presence make her a tough 'opening' act," noted Ebony. "She is said to hold her own on any given night, and on others make the 'headliner' acts sweat for their star-status." Peter Watrous of the New York Times reviewed a show-stealing opener by Belle in 1989, noting that "Ms. Belle, who has an extraordinary voice, dug deep into gospel and blues melodies, letting the grit of her voice show, often tearing apart the original impulse of a song." The following year Watrous reviewed Belle as a headliner at New York's Avery Fisher Hall, commenting that "though she's not working as a jazz singer, she is an exceptional improviser." Belle's shows, Watrous continued, are "expansive and improvisatory, old-fashioned qualities that make her one of the most exciting pop singers working."
Belle returned in 1993 with her third album, Passion, which contained more of Belle's trademark smooth, sultry love ballads. "The word passion describes my existence," Belle proclaimed to Billboard writer Michael Gonzales. "The concept of passion also expresses the driving force that has been inside of me for so long. One must be passionate to be a good singer, to interpret the musical material to the best of one's ability." Passion contained a track that would become Belle's biggest hit to date--"A Whole New World." A duet sung with Peabo Bryson, "A Whole New World" was the theme song to the popular Disney film Aladdin. Belle and Bryson won a Grammy Award for the song, and the tune and it's songwriters, Alan Menken and Tim Rice, won three additional Grammy Awards and an Academy (Oscar) Award.
Reachin' Back was released in 1995. The album consisted of a set of cover songs, including tunes by Teddy Pendergrass, the Spinner, and the O'Jays, a tribute to the music that inspired Belle in her younger years. I wanted to make sure this album is a tribute--more than just singing these songs, more than just an album of remakes.... These songs are part of the reason I am where I am today...," Belle told Jet magazine writer Clarence Waldron.
Belle signed to MCA Records to release her next album, 1998's Believe in Me. Belle stepped outside of her smooth jazz box on this release, including some mid-tempo and club-friendly tracks alongside her signature ballads. "[MCA] let Regina be Regina," Belle explained to Billboard writer Michael Paoletta. "I exercised everything about myself. I was able to create things that I hadn't been able to create in such a long time."
Belle left MCA after Believe in Me, and signed to up-and-coming label Peak Records for her first release of the new millenium, This is Regina! Critics praised her mature, substative lyrics that stood out from the pack of younger, beat-heavy and substance-light artists dominating the radio in the early 2000s. Pop Matters music critic Mark Anthony Neal praised the album as "classic form" for Belle, singling out the tracks "Johnny's Back" (written for her husband of nearly a decade) and "Gotta Go Back" for special praise.
Family remains the focus of Belle's daily life. She and her husband, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player John Battle, had a daughter in late 1994. Baby Syndi Milan joined the couple's two other children, daughter Tiy and son Jayln. Tiy and Jayln, biological brother and sister, were adopted after Belle suffered numerous miscarriages in her attempts to have children. She learned to balance her career and her growing family. "I think the one blessing that I've had is that my life is not dependent on fame and fortune," she revealed to Essence magazine. "My life revolves around family. That's the most important thing to me."
by Michael E. Mueller
Regina Belle's Career
Signed to Columbia Records, 1987; released solo debut All by Myself, 1987; released Stay with Me, 1989; recorded Grammy-winning theme song for Disney's film Aladdin, 1993; released Passion, 1993; released Reachin' Back, 1995; released Believe in Me, 1998; released This is Regina! on Peak Records, 2001.
Regina Belle's Awards
Grammy Award, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group (with Peabo Bryson) for "A Whole New World," 1993.
- Selected discography
- All by Myself Columbia, 1987.
- Stay with Me Columbia, 1989.
- Passion Sony, 1993.
- Reachin' Back Sony, 1995.
- Believe in Me MCA, 1998.
- This is Regina! Peak, 2001.
- Billboard, March 13, 1993; September 2, 1995; May 16, 1998.
- Ebony, June 1990; November 1993.
- Essence, May 1990; August 1993.
- Jet, May 14, 1990; December 12, 1994; September 5, 1995; July 23, 2001.
- Newsweek, June 22, 1987.
- New York Times, September 16, 1989; June 30, 1990.
- People, June 22, 1987; October 2, 1989; August 28, 1995.
- Rolling Stone, April 5, 1990.
- "Regina Belle," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 29, 2003).
- "Regina Belle," De La Font Agency, http://www.delafont.com/music_acts/E/Regina-Belle.html (December 1, 2003).
- "Regina Belle: This is Regina!," Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/b/belleregina-this.html (December 12, 2003).