The New Jersey native was a student at Rutgers University when she burst on the music scene as a vocalist with the Manhattans with the hit “Where Did We Go Wrong.” She was eventually signed by Columbia Records and skyrocketed to fame with hit singles such as “Make It Like It Was” and “Baby Come to Me,” and her collaborations with Peabo Bryson became the stuff of legend. One song, “A Whole New World” was the lead single for Disney’s animated film, “Aladdin,” and has become a classic.
Regina spent ten years at the top of the charts until she was abruptly dropped by her label, and after 25 years in the business, she almost lost it all after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught up with Ms. Belle ahead of her “Unsung” episode to dish about her bounceback, renewed faith and what’s on her bucket list.
Get into our conversation below.
OTHER NEWS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Issa Rae: ‘I Don’t Consider Myself Famous By Any Means’
How does it feel to have your story and music told on an episode of “Unsung?”
Regina: It was bittersweet. There were some areas of my life that I had forgotten that the interviewer reminded me of, which brought joy to my heart; just being able to talk about it again and some of the other things I had to endure; the health issues, even my brother having had a stroke in the last three years and still dealing with his recovery and being his caregiver. It’s quite the spectrum from one facet to the next. But I’m really grateful and I wouldn’t trade my life with anybody because my life, overall, I’ve had great days, I’ve had some bad days but my great days totally outweigh my bad days. So I really have nothing to complain about.
I’m thankful to God that he chose me for this particular journey and TV One illustrates all of that. So I’m indebted to them for giving me a chance to open up about many things concerning my life that maybe some folks didn’t know about because I’m the person that really doesn’t deal with drama. You don’t read about me and I like it that way. It’s a lot of stuff that folks really didn’t know about me. So getting the chance now to maybe help somebody through their bad days is a huge opportunity.
Speaking of bad days, there’s a moment in “Unsung” where you recall the conversation you had with God over a 5th of Hennessy.
Regina: I was dealing with one specific issue and it was taking me out and in the midst of that I decide I’m going to drink a 5th of Hennessy. I’ve never been a drinker but it was that particular incident that I turned to that and said, “Maybe this will be an answer.” And guess what? It wasn’t. And God let me know right away that “This is not the path you’re about to go down, and if you want to take this path, you’re going to have to go to something stronger because I’m not going to allow this.”
God kept me from myself of what could have been because we all have potentialities We all have that ex-something that we could be, but God gave me enough fire underneath my butt to say, Hey, I got some other plans for you, and you messing me up. I need you to get some get right and straighten up and fly right. And so I said, “You don’t have to tell me that ever again,” and I promised him that day and I was faithful to that, not to take a drink ever again. And I didn’t.
What’s your secret to having this long-lasting career of resonating songs, beautiful hit records and maintaining that love from your audience who have followed you over the years?
Regina: Wow…. What can I say; that’s God’s grace and I’m so thankful. Many years ago when I was about to leave and go on the road with the Manhattans, I went to see all my people before I left and one of the things my grandmother said was “Don’t get out there embarrassing us.” And what she was basically telling me was that, don’t get it twisted and don’t even think for one minute that you got here by your own sweat. You got here because we have been praying for you — that generations behind us would end up being better and have a better situation. We paid dues, we suffered, some of us have died so that you may be able to just walk in the front door of the establishments of which you frequent. So don’t believe your own press. Understand that you got the opportunities that you have because many of us sacrificed something for you to get here and I want you to be cognizant of that. Where ever it is you go, understand that you represent somebody or somebodies bigger than you.
And I never forgot that. Even to the point of singing certain things. There were certain songs that came across my table first and went to other artists and became big hits but I couldn’t sing it because I had I something on me that was greater than just having a hit record. It meant more to me to please those who I know paid dues for me to be who I am. I needed to make sure that I represented them well. So it wasn’t about me being selfish and saying, “Yeah, but I can make a lot of money on this song.” It was about me saying, “Okay, where is this going to be ten years from now? What’s going to happen when I want to have children? Are my children going to be able to listen to this song or are my children going to be embarrassed that I did this song? So all of those things played a role in me doing certain things and me being certain places and that’s why you don’t really hear about me in drama situations because like my Big Mama said, “Don’t go out here embarrassing us.”
So, at this point in your career, whether it’s professional or personal, what’s on your bucket list?
Regina: Egypt. I want to see the pyramids and the Sphinx of Benin. I found out through doing my DNA background that I am a part of the tribe of Benin in Togo, that’s where my people originate from. So I would love to have a picture of that specific sphinx and go to Benin, go to Togo and see where it is that my people were taken from. I want to kinda sit in that for a moment. I don’t know what kind of emotions may come on me but having that opportunity would be really great.
Reader question: Are you still doing ministry with your husband?
Regina: Absolutely. We’re pastoring three churches. One here in Atlanta, that’s New Shield of Faith. We’ve been there about 11 years. One in College Park and that is Spread the Word Church Ministries and we’ve been there for four years and we just took on another church in Newnan, Georgia, called Bread of Life. When I tell you that you’re thankful to God that he doesn’t give you a peek into your future because you would say, “I’m not ready for that.” But I’m so thankful because I see that I actually have more strength than I could have ever imagined. And it ties in with my love growing up with gospel music and now bringing that to the forefront of being able to actually do ministry in the midst of singing gospel music. It’s just no better joy in that.
I thought the Grammy was the greatest accolade but for people to say “Because of that song you sang, or because of that prayer you prayed, I’m better.” So now you’re telling me that just based on what God told me to do, it’s making somebody’s life better? That’s the accolade right there. That tells me that I’m here with a purpose on purpose and I’m fulfilling my purpose.
Regina Belle’s “UNSUNG” airs Sunday (June 10) at 9/8C on TV One.