Treasuring Whitney in ‘Greatest’ tribute
When Belinda Davids was 8, she chanced to hear her brother playing one of his LP records which featured the duet “Hold Me” by Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston. The moment would make a lasting impression.
“It was the first time I heard her and I was struck,” Davids says of Houston. “There was something about the purity of her voice.”
Even at that young age, Davids says she also realized she could sing a lot like Houston.
In 2013, Davids beat out 15,000 other hopefuls to portray Houston in the touring tribute production, “The Greatest Love of All: The Whitney Houston Show,” which concludes its first United States’ tour, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton.
Davids, who grew up in South Africa, says her family were devout Christians and she didn’t hear much secular music at home. So after she heard her brother’s LP, she listened to it repeatedly.
“I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I never stopped being in love with her [Whitney Houston].”
When Davids was 14, she started singing professionally in her home town of Port Elizabeth. She often sang Houston’s songs, and fans would tell her she sounded just like the famed singer.
“I think I’ve sung at least one Whitney track in almost every live show I’ve ever performed,” says Davids.
She had success and sang backup for The Temptations, Keri Hilson, Keyshia Cole, Monica and Johnny Gill. Then she took a break to have her son.
In 2013, a friend called her and told her Showtime Australia was holding auditions for a tribute show of Whitney Houston, who had died in 2012.
“My friend said, ‘You need to do this,’” Davids says. “So I packed up my baby and everything and went to the auditions.”
She was supposed to perform in full costume but hadn’t had time to prepare so she ripped tears in a pair of jeans and grabbed her sparkliest dress.
She wowed the judges with her renditions of “All the Man I Need” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” They asked her to sing “The Greatest Love of All” on the spot.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” Davids says.
The director of the show asked her to meet him for breakfast and when she got there, he had books and magazines featuring Houston and a set list spread out on the table.
“When I saw the set list, I knew I had gotten it,” Davids says. “I was scared but excited. I had never done Whitney on this scale.”
But in the six years since, she says she has learned a lot about Houston, as well as about herself.
“Now more than ever I watch her perform to really see her,” Davids says. “I want to bring an absolutely amazing show so people can remember her.
Davids made headlines last December when she sang on Fox TV’s “Showtime at the Apollo Christmas Special” and performed “I Will Always Love You” on the same stage on which Houston filmed a music video.
She not only got an ovation from the notoriously tough live audience, but the video of her performance got more than 10 million views on Facebook. She also was featured on the BBC show “Even Better Than the Real Thing.”
She says singing Houston’s music in the United States is particularly special for her.
“This is the birthplace of Whitney,” she says. “I know Americans hold her memory dear, and I’m first and foremost a Whitney fan myself, so I’m excited to be surrounded by others who treasure her just as much as I do.“
Davids is backed by a five-piece band, back-up vocalist and choreographed dancers in the production that features custom-designed lighting, theatrical effects, and more than 20 different hand-crafted costumes. The two-hour show includes more than 20 of Houston’s greatest hits, including “I Will Always Love You,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “How Will I Know,” “One Moment in Time,” “I Have Nothing,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I’m Every Woman,” “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” and “Queen of the Night.”
She calls it “absolutely amazing” that she is able to tour, recreating her favorite singer.
“When I was a little girl, I used to put on my graandma’s heels and hat, and my dream was to be a singer and on TV,” she says. “When I grew up, I didn’t think it would happen. When this happened it was a wow moment. This is what I had dreamed of as a little girl.”
Davids says she never imagined she’d be touring to places like New Zealand, Iceland, the Kremlin in Russia and the United States.
“I never thought I’d leave my hometown,” she says. “I’m very proud of this show.”
Tickets: State Theatre Center for the Arts box office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org; 1-800-999-7828; 610-252-3132