Regina Belle brings ‘A Whole New World’ to City Winery for a magic carpet ride of music

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Regina Belle at City Winery (Part 1)

Her duet with Peabo Bryson on “A Whole New World” won an Oscar and a Grammy.

Now, Regina Belle performs live at City Winery on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

“I’ve actually never been to the D.C. City Winery, this is going to be a first for me, so I’m really looking forward to exploring new territory,” Belle told WTOP. “D.C. is like home to me. … I’ve performed there so many times from Constitution Hall to all around Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. I’ve been to those three areas so often that I really look at it as home.”

It’s her home away from home, having been born in Englewood, New Jersey in 1963.

“Most of my memories are around the late ’60s but really ’70s,” Belle said. “My greatest memories and the artists I attached myself to in my early years would be Pastor Shirley Caesar, she stands beyond everybody, then Donny Hathaway, Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, The Manhattans, Blue Lovett specifically, teaching me how to talk to an audience.”

Indeed, her big career break came from touring with The Manhattans.

“I sang background for The Manhattans for two years right out of college, I had 12 credits to go, so my family was not happy,” Belle said. “I got this call from Vaughn Harper to audition for The Manhattans. … For two years, I was only slated to sing the one song, but I took the opportunity to learn their entire show … so I was on stage the entire time.”

Her work with The Manhattans caught the eye of Columbia Records, which signed her for her debut album “All By Myself” (1987) with “So Many Tears” and “Show Me the Way.”

That same year, she recorded her first duet with Bryson called “Without You,” which appeared on the movie soundtrack of the comedy flop “Leonard Part 6” (1987).

“That was the most popular thing about that whole movie!” Belle said. “The movie totally bombed, but I was so glad to be a part of it because I got a chance to work with someone I totally admired. … Peabo was somebody who I absolutely loved. I met him at Rutgers going to school in New Jersey. … I got him and Phyllis Hyman for our Kwanzaa festival.”

Their next movie duet was a smash with Disney’s “Aladdin” (1992) as their song “A Whole New World” was the first Disney animated tune to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

“He had already proved himself with ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ so my position was if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Belle said. “I had no cognizance of how big the record was going to be. I actually had bronchitis the day I recorded it, so it was about trying to get through the recording. … Hats off to great writers, Alan Menken and Tim Rice, for just amazing gifts.”

The song won the Oscar for Best Original Song and the Grammy for Song of the Year.

“Face hurting, smiling so hard,” Belle said. “There’s just nothing like it. The only thing that compares and maybe supersedes it is to hear people say, ‘I played your song when I was dealing with depression and the song helped me to rise out of where I was.’ To me, that is the essence and the job of music. …  A song that ranges from 8 to 80 is unbelievable.”

After that magic carpet ride, her career would never be the same.

“That song has opened so many doors for me for so many dreams to come true,” Belle said. “It’s just remarkable. … One of my highlight moments was being in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade … then coming back years later and getting an opportunity to sing on Broadway with the cast. … I’m really, really honored to be part of such a legacy.”

Beyond “A Whole New World,” Belle also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Make It Like It Was” (1991), as well as Grammy nods for Best Traditional R&B Album twice for “Believe in Me” (1999) and “This is Regina!” (2002).

Through it all, what is her personal favorite work of her career?

“My very first gospel record is some of my best work … ‘Love Forever Shines,’ my brother wrote the last song, which ended up being the first single, ‘God is Good,’ a hymn-type song,” Belle said. “Also, my ‘Lazy Afternoons’ CD, the jazz CD I did with George Duke. … Being a part of a project with him … that’s always going to be near and dear to my heart.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Regina Belle at City Winery (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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