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Regina Belle finds inspiration in gospel

When an R&B artist decides to put out a gospel album, some will sit in judgment and question the project’s sincerity.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When an R&B artist decides to put out a gospel album, some will sit in judgment and question the project’s sincerity.

And even though four-time Grammy winner Regina Belle was raised in the church and is now a pastor’s wife, the 45-year-old singer, whose career blossomed on the strength of ballads like “A Whole New World” and “Baby Come to Me,” has had to endure similar doubts. She has felt the tension, and has been occasionally, in her words, “snubbed.” But she’s also decided to “let the music speak for itself.”

People are listening. Belle’s first gospel album, “Love Forever Shines,” released in the spring, is No. 7 on Billboard’s top gospel albums chart. The CD contains traditional, contemporary and jazz-tinged ballads. Belle says there’s not only a difference in the content of her music, but also in herself.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Belle talked about what it takes to sing gospel, and why she’s doing it.

AP: What’s the difference in preparation when you get on stage to sing secular music versus religious music?

Belle: Huge, it’s a huge difference. You’ve got to take into account too that this past Mother’s Day I celebrated 21 years in the industry. Even with R&B I get nervous, but there is a comfortability in that when I sing that first note, I sit in my comfortability. So it’s gliding for the rest of the show, because I know how to operate the controls.

AP: And gospel is different?

Belle: Oh you better believe it, because God may switch your program up right in the middle of you singing. Because it’s not a performance anymore — now it’s a ministry. There’s a thing of wanting to be right before you go before his people. You aren’t trying to just go out here and just get people hyped. I’ve got a bigger responsibility than that.

AP: Are you doing strictly gospel now or both?

Belle: Well, right now that’s what I’m recording. In fact I’m working on the second record even as we speak. Because I’m just so excited and he’s just putting so much in me to do. But I can’t say that I won’t go to some of the same places that I’ve been, because the deal is that we’re supposed to take the word — proclaim the word throughout the world.

AP: Do you think your gospel will be appreciated by a larger audience now than it would have when you first started singing?

Belle: Now when I look at where God has me, and he has me doing this gospel album which is totally dedicated to his glory, right, but now, he takes me back to some of the same clubs that I sang in, so I might have to sing a “Baby Come to Me” ... because that gets their attention. That’s what they know me for, but by the same token, before you leave, we’re going to talk about a risen savior. God is using the same person. He’s changing some things inside the person, but I’m the same person.

AP: The album has a variety of gospel styles — who are you trying to appeal to?

Belle: That really had less to do with the people than it did my history and how I record. If you look at some of my past albums, on the very first album there has always been variety. I didn’t want to do just traditional, I didn’t want to do just contemporary, I didn’t want to do just jazzy, I wanted to have a little bit of flavor of it all.

AP: Would you say you have a gospel voice?

Belle: I don’t know that I can categorize myself. If I tried to be like the Clark sisters ... then I missed the people that I’ve got a chance to minister to. There’s only one Regina Belle, so Regina Belle needs to be Regina because somebody needs to hear from Regina.

AP: Where do you want your career to go?

Belle: I don’t know because I would have never saw myself at this place now. I was all right with God and our relationship that we were having at the time, but he decided to take it up a notch. So if I try to put him in a box and say what he’s going to do I’d probably mess that up.

AP: When you pray before you get on stage, what do you ask God for?

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AP: No matter what you’re singing?

Belle: No matter what I’m singing.