Regina Belle Sings the Gospel

Regina Belle

Love Forever Shines is Regina Belle's 10th studio album. Courtesy Regina Belle hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Regina Belle

Grammy Award-winning artist Regina Belle discusses her debut gospel album, Love Forever Shines.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Regina Belle is a singer and songwriter whose music is known for taking us to another place. (Soundbite of song "A Whole New World")

Ms. Regina Bell: (singing) Unbelievable sights Indescribable feeling Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling Through an endless diamond sky A whole new world Don't you dare close your eyes A hundred thousand things to see

MARTIN: Of course, that was "A Whole New World," her Grammy-winning song from the 1992 movie, "Aladdin," with balladeer Peabo Bryson. Regina Belle's soulful sound has won her many such accolades for hits like "Make it Like it Was," and "Baby Come to Me." A versatile artist, she's recorded many genres but never gospel until now. Her first gospel album, titled "Love Forever Shines," hit stores this week and Regina Belle joins us now. Welcome. Congratulations on the new project.

Ms. REGINA BELLE (Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter): Thank you.

MARTIN: Why was it time to do a gospel album?

Ms. BELLE: Well, it's something I've always wanted to do. It's always been something dear to my heart. The timing just wasn't right, be it that, you know, the record company didn't think it was appropriate or didn't want to put the money out, or you know, I was on tour, or whatever. And then this opportunity came and I knew it was, you know, God answering a call, because of the fact that two record companies came together to put this record out. Sunday it will be 21 years that I have - that I will be celebrating in the industry, and in my 21 years of performance, I have never, ever heard of two record companies coming together to do one project. Usually, record companies are kind of competing against each one another. So I kind of knew that it was time because to me, things were falling in place too easily.

MARTIN: Well, let's us play a little bit and then we'll talk about it. Let's play "Can't Nobody."

(Soundbite of song "Can't Nobody")

Ms. Belle: (singing) When I need a savior. I call on Jesus. When I need a savior. I call on Jesus. Can't nobody do me like Jesus. Can't nobody do me like Jesus. Can't nobody do me like Jesus. Yeah. Do me like that.

MARTIN: Oh, so now you're going to make us have church up in here, OK? See, why are you going to get that going? Oh, my goodness. So this music is speaking to you in a way that - is it speaking to you in a way that it did not before? Or is it something that you are returning to?

Ms. BELLE: It's never left me, I mean, gospel music and just the word of God has always been something that's been with me. Church is not something that you can contain in four walls. The church has to be in you. You are the church. So, that message has kind of gone with me everywhere I've gone, but I think...

MARTIN: You grew up singing in church, right?

Ms. BELLE: That's right, absolutely, but the thing is that as you get older, you develop, I think, a more mature relationship, and that's what this record is about. That you know, I was able to not only sing some gospel but I was able to share some of my personal experiences through the music and possibly help somebody in their journey trying to make it, just trying to get through life.

MARTIN: Did you ever feel torn between singing secular and singing sacred music? Like, certain artists who...

Ms. BELLE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Who grow up in the church?

Ms. BELLE: Absolutely. It is something that as you go through your life being in church - I'm a church baby. I grew up in a church. So there were things that while I was on tour and I was coming back home to, you know, be in church and visit with my family and stuff like that, there were individuals, even part of my family, you know, that would say, you know, when you going to, you know, come back to the roots? When you going to come back to what you're supposed to be singing?

And that's a difficult pressure to live with, especially when you come back to church and they asking you to sing and then, you know, the church lights up after you sing. And you know, it's a difficult - and it's more difficult, not necessarily just what people say, but I think the difficulty comes in more so within that war that you're fighting inside yourself.

But I believe, as I began to study the word a little bit more and I came across a passage in the Scriptures that said "All things work together for the good of them that love the Lord." So, all of us can't take the same journey. There are some places that I have to go that maybe some church folk aren't willing to go. When I go back in the club, I'm going to talk about it.

MARTIN: Oh, OK.

Ms. BELLE: You know what I'm saying? So I'm going in and I'm coming out the same way I went in. So wherever I'm led to just talk about him and declare him, that's what I'm going to do.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is Tell Me More from NPR News and we're speaking with Grammy Award-winning soul singer Regina Belle about her first gospel album, "Love Forever Shines." One of the things about this album is it's all gospel, but it really travels the genres of music. I want to play - I think it's the first single that's been released from the album, "God is Good." I think your brother wrote it. Is that right?

Ms. Belle: Yeah. My brother Bernard Belle.

(Soundbite of "God is Good")

Ms. BELLE: (Singing) God. My God. God is good. Know that he brought me out of darkness, God is good. Know that he saved my soul. God is good. Said he saved my soul, God is good. I said that he saved my...

MARTIN: We're going back to the roots right here, going back to the roots right here. But then we're going to go the other direction, and you tie into another genre with "God Said."

(Soundbite of "God Said")

Ms. BELLE: (Singing) Tell me who can compare and can stand aside? That true love can bring great sacrifice. It's a love that lives on through eternity. Tell me isn't our love a beautiful sing? God said. When we ask for help - God said. All the things are good.

MARTIN: Almost like you're having a family argument in this album here, that you're like your dad arguing and like your brother arguing with you about what's the true gospel. It's interesting because some artists like Kurt Franklin give us, maybe, what we could call "edgy" gospel. Some critics are quick to say they aren't really true to the genre. In fact, the introduction to "God is Good" alludes to that, saying, you know, some may feel that the music has strayed. So what's your take on that? Are you kind of staking a place in this argument with these two songs?

Ms. BELLE: No. My thing is the message. I want to make sure the message is clear. I want it to be clear what exactly what it is I'm saying and exactly who it is I'm talking about. I think it takes all of us to, you know, win souls over. I don't think that we have the opportunity to say who's valid and who's not. I see Kurt Franklin's music as being very valid, very much needed, but then again, I also see Helen Baylor being very needed, you know. So there are places that all of us are able to minister that some of the other artists aren't able to, so I think it takes all of us.

MARTIN: Some of the songs feel very personal to me. Are they?

Ms. BELLE: Absolutely. I can't do music without it being personal. You know, even if I didn't write it, I have to have some sort of experience in knowing what it's about. I don't necessarily have to have gone through everything that I sing about. God, please don't let me go through everything that I sing about.

MARTIN: But you mention in some of the materials that come with the album that you had gone through some things prior to producing this work, that you were very candid about the fact that you have had, in the past, a struggle with alcohol.

Ms. BELLE: Well, it wasn't necessarily the struggle with alcohol as much as it was the struggle with my own self. I wasn't an alcoholic. You know, I drink only socially. I only drink with my friends. I never drink at home and I never drink when I have problems. It was - this one particular night, I had an issue and it was a situation where I was dating a young man and, you know, we were having this argument. And so my thing was is that he needed to come and apologize, OK, which is really stupid, so let me preface by saying this first. I gave it "x" number of time for him to come and apologize and if he wasn't coming, I was going to drink this whole fifth of Hennessey.

MARTIN: I'm so hoping you didn't drink it.

Ms. BELLE: Oh. But I so did it.

MARTIN: Oh, dear.

Ms. BELLE: After I drank it, I was sitting there and I didn't even feel buzzed, high, nothing, and I was like, OK, maybe I just - let me stand up, you know. OK, so I stand up and I absolutely have no - it has no effect on me, and right then and there I got scared to death and I said, you have my attention, Lord. What are you trying to tell me?

And it was very clear to me that if I didn't stop being so arrogant and so thinking that I got all of this under control and that, you know, I don't really need anybody, that I can do everything by myself, and I can control other people, if I didn't get away from that sort of attitude, that I was going to pay dearly, and so I stayed up most of the night just having a talk with the Lord. That was back in 1989.

MARTIN: Wow.

Ms. BELLE: And that was the last drink I had.

MARTIN: So, do you feel that...

Ms. BELLE: You feel like you're talking to a crazy person.

MARTIN: No. Not a bit. Not a bit.

Ms. BELLE: Tell the truth.

MARTIN: That's what I'm saying, because you say in the liner notes, I'm so excited about this. I tried to be as transparent as I could so that this project might help somebody.

Ms. BELLE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because I, you know, people look at me and think that I have it all together, and you know, a lot of times we put athletes and entertainers and actors on a pedestal and, you know, if you see anything good in me, I want you to know it's not by my own doing. That, you know, it's been God's covering, his keeping and his provision, and through it all, you know, I've had some times where I thought I was going to crazy. I've had some times when I felt like I was really, really all alone and, you know, the Grammy couldn't wipe the tears from my eyes at night. The Grammy couldn't put its arms around me and tell me, you know, you're going to get through this.

When you come to those kinds of crossroads in your life, stuff and things and fans, it doesn't help you. When you feel that kind of a void in your life, that's more spiritual and a physical thing can't do nothing for you. So at that point, if you're not made of something other than, you know, your lifestyle or your celebrity, you're headed for a really bad way.

MARTIN: You're the proud mom of five, and so I'm guessing you probably are very much in touch with the music that they're listening to.

Ms. BELLE: Well, the great thing about my kids is that they don't listen to just anything because, you know, they're coming out of my household. So, you know, my son, 16, his favorite artist of all time is Sha Day, you know, he listens to Lou Rawls, and he's 16 years old. You know, my 18-year-old listens to Melba Moore, Faith Evans, they like it. They like the Chris Brown and, you know, Neo, and all of the Kanye West. They like Beyonce, all of the ones that are pretty much at the top of their game now, but they also have a very interesting love and devotion I would even call it, to the classics.

MARTIN: I do wonder if sometimes you listen to some of the younger artists and you think to yourself, they don't even know. Do you ever listen to some of these younger artists and think, gosh, I wish I could let you know what was ahead. I wish I could save you some time on that trip?

Ms. BELLE: Well, it takes some of those trips that you're talking about to make the person what they need to be because the deal is that you can't know about life unless you live life, and some of us have to take harder falls than others. I think what you're talking about, though, it is tragic in that we don't have a better touch with the new jacks and the veterans.

We've been here a while, you know. I've been able to see some things. I've been able to do some things. So there's some pitfalls that, you know, I'm not necessarily - I know how to shy - stay away from, but because we don't have a closer contact - you know, when I was coming into this industry I had Nancy Wolfson and Chaka Khan. I had a number of people. I had Patti Labelle even! You know, pull me to the side and kind of just hint me to some things. They opened up about some things and kept me straight whereas now, I don't see that kind of relationship with veterans and the new jacks that are coming into the industry.

So yeah, I do kind of feel like, well, as the song as saying, if I could, you know, there are so many things that I would shelter them from that they wouldn't have to go through but, you know, it is what it is.

MARTIN: I'm dying to know how you balance it all. Who you are, mom of five, pastor's wife, minister of music, at your church in Atlanta where your husband is the senior pastor, and you still maintain a very vibrant career. I think a lot of the moms are wanting to know how do you keep it all going?

Ms. BELLE: It's difficult, but you know, my life has to be very structured. The thing is when you get to this part of the game you got to be - you got to make your priorities known. You know, everybody has to work and do what they're supposed to do on their end. It means that everybody has to play their role and do their part and make sure that, you know, by the time I come to you now, you know, it's not a big waste of time. We got to know what we're supposed to be doing because I am on a schedule.

MARTIN: Save those boundaries. Well, speaking of working out, congratulations on the new album. Do you have a favorite cut?

Ms. BELLE: Probably the last song on the record is my favorite of all favorites because it was a song that I wrote while I was coming out of something and I was able to kind of put it to paper, and my prayer is that it will bless somebody else.

MARTIN: All right. Can I tell you what my favorite is?

Ms. BELLE: What's your favorite?

MARTIN: "Almost Slipped."

Ms. BELLE: Really?

MARTIN: Yes. "Almost Slipped."

(Soundbite of "Almost Slipped")

Ms. BELLE: (Singing) Almost slipped my eyes off of God. Yes I did. I almost lost my way. At the end I be had my Lord. And I decided that I'd draw nearer - nearer to the Lord.

Ms. BELLE: You know, that's funny because if you get a chance, go home and read Psalms 73, because that's where that psalm comes out of. And what it was, there was a praise and worship leader by the name of Asaf(ph), so he was looking around and saw people who never even cared anything about God. Didn't desire to worship, didn't desire to praise nothing, and it seemed like they were prospering before his eyes and he knew that he was having struggles, you know, just how we struggle with our flesh from day-to-day and we want to tell some folks some things and we ain't supposed to do that, you know...

MARTIN: Oh, now you tell me.

Ms. BELLE: And so you know, he was looking at that struggle, and when he came into the sanctuary, God made him understand that all those things that they worshipped, you know, the stuff and the things and the lifestyle and the this and the that, you know, when they leave here, that's their legacy. Nothing. They absolutely lived for nothing. They didn't help nobody. They didn't try to live a better life for anybody - any of those things that are important to not just your own life, but to other people's lives. So it was - and he explains that for him, he has to draw nearer to the Lord. He has to stay close to the Lord so he won't stray off and do some stupid stuff, so that's basically what the song is about.

MARTIN: OK.

Ms. BELLE: But that's great. Wow.

MARTIN: OK.

MS. BELLE: That's my first testimony and it's helping somebody, so thank you.

MARTIN: All right.

(Soundbite of "Almost Slipped")

Ms. BELLE: (Singing) Steal your jewelry. Maybe through money, relationships, and so much more..

MARTIN: Well, we're going to go out on your favorite which is "I'll Never Leave you Alone." Grammy Award-winning artist Regina Belle. Her debut gospel release, "Love Forever Shines," is due in stores this week. You can find out more information about Regina Belle at our Web site npr.org/tellmemore. She joined us from our studios at NPR West. Regina Belle, thank you so much.

Ms. BELLE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of "I'll Never Leave You Alone")

Ms. BELLE: (Singing) All you got to do is hold onto me.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of "I'll Never Leave You Alone")

Ms. BELLE: (Singing) Hold on hold, hold on yes. Even when it feels like you're going to lose your mind and you don't know what do and you don't want to make a move and all you got to do is hold on. I'll never leave you. My word said I'll never leave you nor forsake you, just hold onto my unchanging hair. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Because I'll never leave you.

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