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Friday, September 14, 2012

Lift Us Up And Let Us Stand Grand

Regina Belle, home for a performance
with Morris Day and The Time
at Bergen Performing Arts Center
I made a special effort to get out of the house today. A priority packet was mailed off to the state department. Afterwards, I sat down in Wendy's to chat with 2 high school classmates. One of these classmates is a Hall of Fame basketball coach that was let go by the new school district administration and board of education. The end of last school year they fired him from his coaching duties. A couple of weeks ago he was fired from his job. Why? Who knows? He had seniority over persons kept on salary, but our school board and city leaders seem to have lost all compassion along with their minds. We chatted and I watched my male childhood friends check out the various ladies as they walked pass the window. I had often wondered what the draw was to sit in Wendy's. I had doubts about whether it was the fast food. Now I know. While chatting in this neighborhood restaurant, I saw a lot of people that I have not seen in years. I felt really dim in the mind when I did not recognize someone from my 1969 DMHS graduation class. I am not so hard on myself in retrospect. It was the first time that I had seen Fred Belton in 42 years. 

After about an hour, we noticed a good deal of activity on Palisade Avenue in front of the restaurant.
Gerald was the first to notice that there was a television crew outside. He also recognized the woman with the poof, as he called the singer's hairstyle. It was Regina Belle.  and her brother Bernard. Talk about a photo opportunity. She is appearing at Bergen Performing Arts Center today as the special guest of Morris Day and the Time.

Regina Belle is a singer-songwriter who first surfaced in the late 1980s. She was born and raised in Englewood's 4th Ward. She graduated from Dwight Morrow High School.  The R&B turned Gospel singer was very comfortable with her former neighbor and friend Gerald Akridge as they embraced and chatted outside Wendy's. She was even more comfortable as she held onto someone she credited with inspiring her to sing in the first place. She took time to visit with the people on the street and announced that she would visit her Alma Mater before leaving town.  
One of my close neighbors on Palisade Avenue spoke of how she and her band members practiced for hours in the garage of the house next door to her when she was in high school. 
Regina Belle & Gerald Akridge
She remenised about singing in Mount Calvary Baptist Church with a an older woman that she called aunt. She praised her for inspiring her to "sang" not sing. She said "they sang the good old stuff" and that she helped her develop into the singer she is today.
 "It was at Englewood's Mount Calvary Baptist Church, and then Paterson's Friendship Baptist Church (presided over by Belle's uncle, the Reverend Fred Belle), that Regina Belle began attracting attention with her vocal abilities. She sang her first solo in church at age 8; and by age 17, she was the church's star singer. Belle attended Dwight Morrow High School where she studied trombone, tuba and steel drums. After graduation, she studied opera at the Manhattan School of Music. At Rutgers University, she became the first female vocalist with the school's jazz ensemble. Belle's musical influences include Phyllis HymanBillie HolidayDonny Hathaway, and Nancy Wilson.
She was introduced to the Manhattans by New York radio DJ Vaughn Harper and began working as their opening act. She recorded the duet "Where Did We Go Wrong" with the group which helped to attract the attention of Columbia Records. They event ually signed her to a record deal." Wikipedia
Regina Belle & Gerald Akridge
Although Regina now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and 5 children, it was clear that the singer has not forgotten her roots. Now, I am not saying that she was not also doing the smart thing that public figures must do in order to procure the green. I am saying that it was absolutely clear that Regina Belle still thinks of Englewood as home. She was comfortable on the street and among the people without security guards..  She did not shy away from any of the bystanders on the street and took a photo with whomever wished. I guess I missed my chance. Dang!
Where do you think Regina grew up? Not on the East hill, that is for sure. Regina Belle grew up in the 4th Ward. She and her band practiced at a house in the 4th Ward. The next door neighbor still lives in  the same house and remembers how she used to think about moving over to the suburbs only to find herself next door to a bunch of kids who wanted to be musicians. The great thing about that story is that it is a success story about one of Englewood's own. I posted a photo on Englewood's facebook group page and someone commented, "welcome home." 

She was accompanied by her 'little brother' Bernard Belle, who is also a musician, composer and producer.   His guitar is probably what the neighbor heard during  the practices from next door. He started his career as an R&B guitarist. Bernard Belle became known as a songwriter for Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and a gospel music producer. He is also credited with writing Remember the Time, along with Michael Jackson and Teddy Riley. I am listening to Judy Had a Boyfriend and other work by this brother and sister as I write this article. 

Going back and Googling them both has made my day. This was a very uplifting project. It is great to write a happy story. I went home in a better mood, because of this chance encounter. Thanks guys, I needed that. Mental note to listen to music more often.

It is obvious that she enjoyed being home. It made me feel better to see the love. There were others out on this beautiful day who observed the same. When most Englewood residents think of the City they love they think of people like Regina Belle, Clarke Peters, The Isleys, John Travolta, Richard Lewis and scores of other artists and notable Americans that once called Englewood home. They not only call it home. They have fond memories of life here. 
Bernard Belle looks on as his sister converses with
someone she credits with inspiring her to sing.
The folks of Englewood still have fond memories of the singer. The tickets are all sold out as Englewood welcomes home Regina Belle.  I count myself lucky to have met her on the street. watched her rekindle old acquaintances and acknowledge her roots.

Link to photo album on facebook for fb members.  You must be signed in to facebook in order to view album.

 Pride of Place. Good luck!

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