Belinda Davids is one of the best female vocalists in South Africa. I have been told that by other people I have interviewed, so you don’t have to only take my word for it. Not only that, Belinda Davids, a girl from PE in South Africa is THE Whitney Houston impersonator all over the world. The show has travelled to Australia, America, Canada and Dubai to name just a few. Whitney Houston is such a big singer and she is one of the most difficult people I could think of to imitate. Belinda Davids beat out a lot of people to get this part. Her art is that of impersonation and she has perfected her art to such a degree that to look at and to listen to her you think you are looking and listening to Whitney Houston. I felt like I was interviewing Whitney. And when you get to the show, get ready to be awed by the legend that Whitney is, but also by the class that Belinda is. I’m honoured to bring you this interview with my countryman who is also a star throughout the world. This interview and show was kind of a crossover of two loves that doesn’t often happen – the 80s and live theatre!!
I did a bit of reading, you strike me as a very interesting person. I’ve also got this fascination with popular people and pop culture. It’s clear what fascinates you about Whitney, but what is it that fascinates you the most?
The first time I heard her she had come out with doing Hold Me with Teddy Pendergrass and my brother had an LP. He played that over and over again. When I heard that I was instantly attracted to it. And she had this amazing range at such a young age and I found myself also having that range at the age of 8. She was 17 and I think I was 8 or 9 years old and I found myself doing exactly what she was doing and I loved the sound. The clearness in her voice. Never mind the technique. I didn’t understand anything about technique at that point. All I knew was I could sing like her.
No, as much as I sang so many Whitney songs in clubs and bars and parties and this and that – my neighbours, my friends, everyone called me Whitney. But it wasn’t going to be a career for me at that point. You know. It was made clear to me when I met my manager at the time, when I was 14 years old. I performed at the opera house in Port Elizabeth with my first jazz band called Maiden Voyage and the leader of the jazz band became my mentor/ She said we need to get you in studio and record some demos and we need to find you a record deal and that’s what we did. We got a record deal. We started with BMG who said you sound too much like Whitney, and – at that age you’re just excited to be signed to a major record label but they put me on the shelf in the back and said we don’t know what to do with you as we already have a Whitney and she’s still as big as ever. We went to Tusk Records and they decided to take a chance on me. We recorded an album. And that happened when I was 16 years old.
You did the show already in Joburg two years ago.
Yes. We were here for three weeks, and it went very well. I have worked in Joburg before, but not at theatres, it was mostly clubs and that was when I released my album.
How do you like the Joburg audience?
I feel like when I come here the whole of South Africa is here. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it felt like two years ago when I was here and it was completely sold out. It felt like it wasn’t just Joburg. As a matter of fact downstairs when I had a sandwich one of the girls told me people are coming from Cape Town and they want to see you.
That’s the price of fame.
And I feel bad because I can’t see them, but before the show I need to be focused on the opening night.
It’s opening night tomorrow. How are you feeling?
I am very nervous and excited. I just saw the stage for the first time and it makes me even more excited. Now I want to see the lighting and as soon as we do the rehearsals it’s going to make me even more excited.
You’ve obviously got dress rehearsals today.
As soon as we’re done.
Whitney might have had some personal problems but I found for example The Greatest Love of All, the first time I remember that song I went to some make up and beauty expo thing that they had for girls, I was about 13. At the end of it they played that song and I didn’t know who was singing it and I went home and I had to know who sang that song, and it gave me chills. Have you heard stories about how it and she has inspired people?
It’s her favourite song, and I have some personal footage of stars like Kay Price, Faith Evans, producers that have worked with her that have said when they heard her version (George Benson wrote and did it first), it was unbelievable. It was pretty much the same experience to when she covered I Will Always Love You. It was bigger. When she did Greatest Love of All it was bigger than George Benson’s version. When she did I Will Always Love You it was bigger than when Dolly Parton did it. I think the covering of songs must have started around that time. Being inspired by one person. Being away from my kids and husband, doing this specific song just makes me miss them a little more and makes me perform the song a little better.
I want people to come along and remember Whitney as she was, when she was fabulous. [personal note: Belinda achieves that – and more!]
She had such a long career from like 1984 until 2012. How do you choose which songs to put in the show?
It took a minute to get the right songs. It took a while. So we try to bring as much over the period of her career as possible. So we’re bringing stuff from when she started all the way up to the last minute.
What do you think was one of her driving forces?
Her mother Cissy Houston. She was the person who taught her everything. Cissy Houston started performing background vocals for Aretha Franklin and a lot of other artists so she brought Whitney in whenever she went to the studio. At a certain age of course because she believed that education comes first. She tried to give Whitney a proper childhood. She decided after seeing her mother perform that she wanted to do it professionally and her mother taught her how to sing. Her mother taught her how to enunciate and how to perform.
You can hear the influence of the soul.
Absolutely. Whitney sang in church. Her mother was her force and inspiration.
This is probably the worst question to ask but her death was one of the saddest things in showbiz. It affects everybody. How did the news of her passing affect you? It must have been terrible.
For me it felt like I was the first one to find out in South Africa. I turned on the news early that morning, I think it was like 4am. My best friend out of America called me and said did you know that Whitney died. I get chills just thinking about it. I went – no, no, no. And I said this before, it was like Michael Jackson. I think that he made us believe that he would never die. And I felt like that about Whitney. It was like I lost a family member.
Our roots come from the old stuff.
I’m an old school girl. My influences are Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan – and all those classics. That old school R and B is coming back. It’s a difficult thing to do.
What would you say to a kid who wants to get into live theatre or singing?
I’ll tell them the same thing that I tell my son. He is very into music, he’s loved music but he’s now putting his hands into it. He is doing tracks from scratch. No one’s taught him, he’s just listening and using his ears training his ears. He stays up until 5am and going to school. I said you can’t do this, education comes first. So I’m going to tell everyone what I tell my son. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of discipline. It’s something that the music especially that you cannot just quit. I guess it’s easy to quit but if you’re really serious about it then you have to keep going. Perseverance. Find yourself and the other thing that I always say to kids is if you don’t believe in yourself then no one else will. No one else will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. I will say that over and over and over again. It covers so much ground psychologically in teenagers. Teenagers are very insecure. You’ve got pimples and being in love and trying to find out who you are, so much. So many things that teenagers go through and they just need to remember that you need to go through it and come out on the other side stronger. I have an 18 year old who really wants to be such a good kid and I envy him, he’s now starting to push himself. You can’t stop, you have to keep going.
That’s exactly where the Greatest Love of All fits in.