Lessons from Regina Belle

Regina Belle is a huge advocate for lifelong learning. After leaving college during her senior year to tour with The Manhattans (who will also be on the Soul Train Cruise in January), Regina returned to Rutgers University thirty years later and completed her degree in 2015. But she’s quick to point out that a great education isn’t limited to the inside of a classroom, that every day is a learning experience and that artists across the generations have much to share with each other. We spoke with her recently about her vision of school, both new and old, as well as her newest single, “Freedom.”

“I think Berry Gordy was really revolutionary in how he approached the industry and artists,” Regina opens with. “He made it more like family, but he also made it a training camp. No artist left the camp not knowing how to speak publicly, not knowing how to conduct themselves, not knowing how to dress. I mean, it was an entire package. Making it a school of training was a really great idea.”

And although Regina wasn’t part of the generation that graduated from “Motown University,” she is grateful for the education that her own record company gave her in the early days of her career. “At Columbia Records, there were a lot of things that I got,” she continues, “and I think that has contributed to my longevity in the industry. Having the opportunity to take some classes … all of that makes a difference.” And she’s passionate about wanting to pass those priceless lessons to the new artists who are just getting started.

We can already picture Ms. Regina Belle standing at the head of a classroom full of brilliant, talented singers and songwriters. Her first lesson? “You gotta love this,” she says she’d tell her pupils. “You want to do what your passion is. But it’s about study as well. You cannot just say ‘I want to be an R&B artist’ and just study that aspect. No, you have to study many genres and that’s what sets you apart from everybody else. I got asked to do ‘A Whole New World’ because the person that asked me knew that I could do pop, I could do R&B and Jazz, that I had some classical training…all of that weighed in heavily on me being the choice for that song.” “Listen to different genres of music,” she says she’d tell the next generation. “Go back to old school and listen to Coltrane. Listen to Lester Young. Listen to Art Tatum. Billie Holliday. The blues: Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson. It makes you so much more well-rounded and gives you a musical vocabulary to pull from that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Remember that steadfast belief in lifelong learning that Regina has? She draws knowledge on a daily basis from everyone in her life, even those who might be her students. “I think it should be mandatory that we share that (classroom) space - and not just for them to hear me talk but also I want to hear what their concerns, dreams and aspirations are.”

Regina is grateful to everyone who has had a hand in the education that shapes her life and career, even those she has never met. In fact, she pays homage to the ancestors whose impact she feels every day in her latest single, “Freedom.”

“The whole inspiration behind it deals with my thank you to the ancestors, to all of those who paid dues and paid with their lives and had their names compromised just so I could walk through the doors of the establishments where I work. The song also hits on the fact that we have an obligation, responsibility and an accountability to make sure that the generations to come have it better than what we had.”

Originally recorded eight years ago, Regina felt compelled to create a new version “Freedom.” “My mindset eight years ago was totally different than when I recorded it last year,” she explains. “Since the song came out, I’ve been invited to be a part of so many different things and to use that song as the anthem for so many different movements. I’m really honored.”

“Freedom” reflects the range of talent that has defined Regina’s career and showcases her ability to move seamlessly from one genre to the next, something that she has never taken for granted. “I’ve been really blessed because I’ve been able to put out a jazz record, a gospel record, an R&B record and I even had a country single. I’ve been able to kind of weave in and out of genres and not have to be married to any area of music.” Always learning and growing, she gives us a sneak peek into what her hopes for the future are. “I want to be like Aretha Franklin,” she says. “Aretha Franklin did it all.” But what could possibly be left for Regina to conquer? “I have done classical on stage, because I am classically trained, but I haven’t got a chance to do that on an international scale.”

We may be biased, but we think the Soul Train Cruise would be the perfect place for her international classical debut. “I love the Soul Train Cruise,” she says with delight. “I’m excited to be back there. It’s the hippest trip, right? Whenever I can get to the Soul Train Cruise, I want to be there.”

Regina looks forward to spending the 2020 voyage with longtime friend and collaborator Peabo Bryson as well as The Manhattans. When reminded they’ll be on the ship with her, she points out, “If it wasn’t for The Manhattans, you wouldn’t be on the phone talking with me right now.” That’s right, Regina’s career will come full circle on the cruise, and we are humbled that we’ll get to be a witness to that. 

That is one master class we’re not going to want to miss.