Nearly eight years after the death of Whitney Houston, Belinda Davids brings the pop star back to life with a touring tribute performance. The production rolls into Downtown Jacksonville this weekend, and it’s not Davids’ first Duval rodeo. She told Folio Weekly she’s excited to return to the River City.
“We once had a dancer from Jacksonville with us on stage, and he told me a little bit of this and a little bit of that about [Jacksonville],” Davids said. “Hopefully I get to have the same experience I had last time, which involved an amazing crowd and a mutual love for Houston and her legacy.”
The 43-year-old performer recalls her first steps toward becoming a singer, belting out tunes for friends and family in South Africa at age five. A few years later, she heard Whitney Houston’s voice for the first time. The song was “Hold Me,” Houston’s duet with Teddy Pendergrass.
“At the age of eight,” Davids said, “you don’t really understand what a dream or a gift or a talent is. But when I heard [Houston] for the first time, I already knew that I could sing, and I instantly knew that I wanted to sing like her. I absolutely fell in love with the purity in her voice. The technique in her voice is what I wanted to accomplish.”
Since she had no formal training, Davids began to “practice, practice and practice.” She worked to strengthen her vocal chords and develop a more controllable technique. Rehearsing to Houston’s music daily throughout her youth was what helped her learn to control her voice and prepared her to sing songs made famous by other powerhouse performers, such as Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin.
“She was the connection to my dream, and when I heard her perform or sing, I instantly knew I wanted to be just like her,” Davids explained. “When I eventually saw her on TV, I found her presence very easy to relate to. She had this very clean, pure and colorful image that I wanted.”
February 12, 2012, stopped Davids in her tracks. She received a phone call from a friend just before 6 a.m. informing her that Houston had died.
“I was in such disbelief because I had thought celebrities like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were considered immortal. When the news came on, and I saw her birth and death dates next to each other, I absolutely broke down,” Davids recalled. “She was not there anymore, and I was broken and think I am still a little broken from it.”
As the weeks passed, and amidst raising a newborn, the next career-defining moment in Davids’ life occurred. A friend called to tell her about an audition for a Whitney Houston tribute show. That friend had taken the liberty of reserving a spot for Davids, encouraging her to try out. Seizing the opportunity, the new mom packed her bags; she and her infant headed for the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town, South Africa.
“I went through a month-long process of auditions,” Davids said. “I had to go through a capella songs, multiple songs in a row, and then I was offered a small part in the company to see if I could work well with others.”
Then, while sitting in her hotel room one morning, the director of Showtime Australia called her down to breakfast and laid out a set list, magazines and picture books on the table. That’s when she realized she had been selected as the tribute’s star performer. She would dedicate three months to intense study of Houston and her work.
“When we started creating the show, we knew we did not want to just recreate her life story. We wanted to replicate her concerts in full force, the way she would do it, and that’s what we did,” Davids said. “From costume changes, to the dances, the full band and alongside an amazing technical team, we were able to create an amazing show.”
Enjoying each moment she gets to portray her idol, Davids said she especially relishes the different costumes; she wears between five and seven different outfits each night. There is a particular red dress she loves putting on each night she takes the stage. While quickly changing from one of these full costumes to another can be challenging, she said there are no shortcuts when it comes to mirroring the legendary star.
The audience enjoys the jaunt down memory lane as well. “We see happy tears, and people often tell me about the memories I have brought back to them from their childhood,” Davids said. “If I could tell [Houston] one thing, it would be, ‘Thank you for making me realize my dream, teaching me how to sing and for being there [for me] through music when no one else was.’”