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As the New Jersey native rode high in the urban charts throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s with such urban classics as “Baby Come to Me,” “Make It Like It Was” and “What Goes Around,” faith, churchgoing, and gospel music remained at the very core of her life in the spotlight. Today, Belle is a pastor’s wife and minister of music at New Shield of Faith Ministries in Atlanta, where her husband, John S. Battle III, is senior pastor.
A precocious singer since a young age, Belle launched her music career with a bang when, as an 8-year-old, she performed her first church solo—a take-no-prisoners rendition of the gospel standard “Don’t Drive Your Mama Away,” originally by none other than Shirley Caesar, one of Belle’s early influences. Such was Belle’s talent that, by age 12, the budding songbird had her first professional gig, and, come high school, she received a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Manhattan School of Music.
That desire to expand her horizons drove Belle to Rutgers University, where she majored in history and accounting, two careers she complemented with music courses at what is now the state college’s famed Mason Gross School of the Arts. Once there, she was mentored by professors William Fielder and Kenny Barron, two greats who built on Belle’s raw talent and previous schooling and provided the tools that prepared her for the national stage.
Only 12 credits shy of graduation, Belle got the break of her lifetime when she received a call to audition for the Manhattans, an R&B group that soon asked her to record a duet with them and be their opening act. “At that moment, it was like, goodbye school,” says Belle with a laugh. “What I wanted to do was handed to me on a platter. All I had to do was walk through that door. I had to grow up real quick. That was my real training. The life work started to happen.”
It wasn’t long until Belle scored for herself a solo deal with Columbia Records, a successful partnership that yielded the albums ALL BY MYSELF, STAY WITH ME, PASSION and REACHING BACK. STAY WITH ME, in particular, catapulted Belle to the No. 1 slot of Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally, a feat driven in part by two chart-topping singles, “Baby Come to Me” and “Make It Like It Was”—the latter a soulful ballad originally passed on by the Winans.