In the late nineties, the soulful timbre of Regina Belle slowly etched itself into the conscience of many R&B lovers. Who can deny the impact of the endearing, poetic classics such as "Baby, Come To Me," which embraced the power of her feminity with prose such as "'Cause the moon above/is a friend of mine/and she'll make you burn"?
No one can because that's what you call good music. This month, the vocal powerhouse returns to deliver what she does best. One listen to her gospel debut Love Forever Shines and this is hardly a comeback. Instead it's a celebration of Bell's rebirth of the mind, body, soul and spirit.
She might have changed her tune, but she continues to spread inspirational messages of hope, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. Essence.com spoke candidly with Ms. Belle about making the transition from secular to gospel music, self- preservation and her alleged rivalry with singer Vesta.
Essence.com: Congrats on your debut gospel album, Love Forever Shines. It's a beautiful album. What is the song that is your personal testimonial?
Regina Belle: It would have to be the last song, "I'll Never Leave you Alone." I remember I was in a Detroit hotel and I felt like He had forgotten me. And I'm like, Dumb-dumb he hasn't forgotten you. I was crying out, praying and just going through it when a small voice said, "I'll never leave you alone" and I started writing the song. It was like my head and thoughts were moving quicker than what I could write. And that was eight years ago so to be able to come back to a place and see people's reaction to this song, and it still be relevant, well, that’s monumental.
Essence.com: What were you going through?
R.B.: (Laughs) None of your business. I have to leave something for Jesus now, I can't tell it all. But I will say it was pretty intense and that I was in a place where I was like just feeling alone. Now, check this out, to give you an idea of how dumb my thinking was at that time, I was carrying on saying, "God you're not with me!" but I was in Detroit shooting my first movie, Brewster Place. Then I thought, Dumb-dumb! He ain't leaving you, He is blessing you!
Essence.com: Wow that's truly a blessing to have such a profound self-discovery. There have been many artists who have made the transition from secular to gospel. What inspired you to make that transition?
R.B.: For me, the transition was a spiritual one and not so much about going from secular to gospel. The simple fact that some of the theaters and arenas I performed in then and now, I have returned to some of those same places to spread The Word. And that word is that there is a savior out there and I believe in Christ. My fans know what's up because at any given moment I could be shouting praises. The only newness to it all is that I have an entire album dedicated to spreading The Word.
Essence.com: Were you concerned whether your peers and loyalists would accept your musical offering this time?
R.B.: You have to put The Word out there—that's your stamp of approval. Remember you are your personal experiences and that's what makes it hallmark. The Bible says we overcome to talk and share our stories and minister to strangers to help free them from some burden. We need to live in freedom, sing about it and learn to get over some stuff. Often it's too painful for us to deal with ourselves and if we can learn to turn a finger toward ourselves you would become bulletproof against some things. Once you're strong and firm enough to make the necessary corrections in your life to deal with the foolishness without getting yourself twisted then you'll be okay and be able to move forward in your life.
Essence.com: This is so true. What has been the most challenging in your walk as a Christian?
R.B.: Acting as a mouthpiece for the Lord. You constantly have to check yourself. For me, it's nerves. I get nervous because I don't ever want to be before God's people and be jacked up in my life and stop the mission because I have some issues. You have to first say, "This too shall pass." At the same token, you have to learn to trust God yourself before you can advise anyone else to trust him completely. If you're fussing about how you're going to pay your next bill and then turn around and minister to the next person that he needs to learn to trust God then chances are you need a bigger dose of your own advice. So I am talking about knowing that you're victorious and remembering to always minister to yourself first before I do it for someone else.
Essence.com: And what has been the easiest code of conduct to adopt as a Christian?
R.B.: Well, I never had an issue with drugs and have always been able to resist temptations so I thank God for that. I also never had a problem with gossip because I was too focused on other things in my life. In high school I played softball, basketball and ran track. Then I had my music and had to end up getting rid of some of my activities once I began playing the tuba and joined the jazz, marching and concert bands. When someone would say, 'Ooh you heard about so-and-so.' It went in one ear and out the other. Not because I was beyond that but my focus was on so many other things.
Essence.com: It's great to hear that you don't get caught up in the Matrix of drama. I remember when the singer Vesta (who sang 'Congratulations') made a comment on BET back in the early 90s and said you sound like a drunken Billie Holiday.
R.B.: No, she said that I sounded like Billie Holiday on crack. I remember because I went on Donnie Simpson’s show after that and he kept asking me not to bring it up. But just as we were about to go to a commercial break I addressed the comment Vesta made about me. What I said in response to her comment was that I didn’t care what anyone thought about my talent, but to speak of an icon such as Billie Holiday who paved the way for all of us singers to be doing what we do and to allow us to walk through many front doors when Lady Day couldn't do that herself back in the day was disrespectful.
Essence.com: Wow have you ever had an opportunity to speak with Vesta?
R.B.: Yes, years later. She was on tour with Will Downing and he invited me on stage and I sang. She was performing with him and I was getting ready to leave the stage and she said, 'Hey Regina.' And I spoke to her very coldly. Now, I know that wasn’t right of me because I was still holding a grudge nearly eight years later, but what she said stung because it's bad enough to endure criticism as an artist in general but to catch it from another Black women is even harder. So I started walking away and she came and apologized to me and explained that she was at a bad time in her life when she made those comments. She said (something like), 'The person that made those comments back then, that's not who I am anymore. I'm okay now, I sat on somebody's couch because I was crazy back then but now I'm saved.' The Bible says to forgive and I did. But I tell you it's hard being a Christian. You really want to tell some people some stuff and I wasn't the person then that I am now. Had I met up with her sooner than then I probably would have said a few things because back then the deal was: if you hurt me, I hurt you back. Vesta is crazy and I love her. It takes a big woman to admit her wrongs years later.
Essence.com: What was your most memorable experience on the road when you were singing Rhythm and Blues?
R.B.: I was on tour with Frankie Beverly, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Patti LaBelle and somebody else who I can't remember right now in Denver, Colorado back in the 90s and my bra top fell down but I caught it before I mooned the audience with my chest.
Essence.com: Ohmigoodness thankfully you're a multi-tasker. Speaking of which, as a mother of five how do you balance your personal and family life?
R.B.: Really I just take it one day at a time. I have four girls and a boy. There's my eldest daughter Winter, 29, who is married with 2 children; Tiy, 18, who’s headed to college this fall; my son Jayln, 16, who is every bit his age and finally there is Sydni, 13, who sings and Nyla, 11, who plays basketball and sings.
Essence.com: Wow, who knew you were a grandmother of two?
R.B.: A nana! Watch yourself (laughs).
Essence.com: Yes, ma'am. What do you hope people will learn from this album?
R.B.: That Jesus covered everything when he was on the cross and he didn’t forget to die for anything. There are some people who think I’m the worst person and I can only come to Christ when I get my act together and that’s just not true. My thing is that there is nothing new under the sun. If we look at it from that standpoint then all we owe him is to know and practice His word.