17 July 1963, Englewood, New Jersey, USA. Belle first considered a career in the music business in her teenage years, after being inspired to sing by the gospel music greats Shirley Caesar and Inez Andrews. Both her mother and father were gospel singers and encouraged her to follow the same path - they were initially resistant to the idea that she should become involved in secular music. Further exposure to shows such as American Bandstand and Soul Train encouraged her to take up an instrument, and while at high school she learned trombone, tuba and steel drums, playing along to R&B and jazz standards as part of the school band. Her performance of the Emotions Dont Ask My Neighbours at a high-school concert won her $25, encouraging her to take up semi-professional employment singing at fashion shows and weddings (often with the band Private Property). She secured a scholarship to the prestigious Manhattan School Of Music to study voice and opera, and then Rutgers University. There she became the first vocalist to sing with the music departments jazz ensemble - a jazz influence has remained detectable in much of her subsequent output. At the same time she began to perform on the Greenwich Village folk circuit, attracting the attention of New York disc jockey Vaughn Harper. Through his recommendation and a subsequent viewing of Belle singing the black national anthem, Lift Every Voice And Sing, she joined the Manhattans, an opening act to Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. Spending two years touring with the Manhattans, she appeared on the Bobby Womack -produced single, Where Did We Go Wrong (a duet with Gerald Alston of the band). She also contributed to their 1986 Columbia Records album, Back To Basics. A year later she was signed to the label as a solo artist. All By Myself received immediate acclaim, particularly for the minor hit singles Show Me The Way and So Many Tears. It was promoted by tours with Guy, the OJays and the Whispers. Stay With Me included the number 1 R&B hits Baby Come To Me and Make It Like It Was (written by a member of the Winans). It earned Belle her first RIAA gold award, and also included a duet with James J.T. Taylor of Kool And The Gang, All I Want Is Forever.
The early 90s were spent on more domestic concerns. Belle married sportsman John Battle III of the Cleveland Cavaliers and started a family. It was 1993 before she returned to the mainstream music scene. Passion included the major international hit A Whole New World (Aladdins Theme), from the movie Aladdin, a duet with Peabo Bryson that won four Grammy Awards including Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group and Best Song Written Specifically For A Motion Picture Or For Television. It was also a US number 1 hit. Reachin Back, released in 1995, featured assistance from Gerald LeVert, Keith Thomas, and En Vogue producers Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster. On this record, Belle attempted to recreate the atmosphere of vintage Philly soul. Material chosen included the Delfonics Didnt I (Blow Your Mind This Time), Teddy Pendergrass Love TKO and the Spinners Could It Be Im Falling In Love. As she told the press, I wanted to make an album that would remind folks of the blue light that hung in their basements or slow dancing with ones first love. Believe In Me moved in a different direction, introducing contemporary hip-hop rhythms into her sound. The album proved to be her only release on the MCA Records label. She returned three years later with a new album for the Concord Records-distributed Peak Records.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.