Whitney Houston had a one-in-a-million voice, and though she died, shockingly, on the eve of the Grammys in 2012, that voice and the songs she sang will be remembered for a long time to come, and especially so this weekend in Dubai.
That’s when Belinda Davids — a South African singer chosen from 15,000 candidates — will sing Houston’s hits in a show called The Greatest Love Of All, at Madinat Theatre. “It’s a very emotional experience because I feel like I have been training for this all my life,” said Davids by email.
“There is a moment in the first part of the show when I can barely hold my tears on stage. It’s hard to explain… Pure emotions coming from the bottom of my heart.”
The show originated after the success of another tribute show, the Michael Jackson HIStory tour with impersonator Kenny Wizz, which also played at the Madinat Theatre. “I was looking for a second artist to complement this show, but, just as it was with MJ’s show, this time finding the lead artist was not easy either,” said the show’s producer John Van Grinsven. “I auditioned over 15,000 singers in eight countries and I only found one artist that could perform and sing to the level that I needed to produce this show. It was Belinda. I needed the artist that was going to take the lead to fill three main elements — voice, look and experience — and Belinda delivers all three and more.”
The show “is a musical biography of her songs all performed live,” adds Van Grinsven, and is an independent production not involving the Houston estate. Accompanying Davids in the two-and-a-half-hour show is a live band and four dancers. “It’s a mix of Whitney’s greatest hits, fantastic vocals of Belinda and professional musicians.”
Expect all the hits, says Van Grinsven. “The problem we always come across with any artist that has so many great songs is not what song to put into the show but what to leave out. But I can promise that How Will I Know, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, I’m Every Woman, Exhale (Shoop Shoop), Step by Step and of course, I Will Always Love You will be there so that the audience can sing along. I can assure that fans will also hear some great alternative songs and arrangements that will win their hearts.”
Quickfire with Belinda Davids
How long have you been singing Whitney songs? Were you always a fan?
I have been singing Whitney Houston songs since the first time I heard her on Teddy Pendergrass’ album. At that time I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. So ever since then I have been a fan of her timeless talent.
Tell us about yourself — where are you from and how did you start singing?
I am from South Africa, Port Elizabeth. I grew up in a little area called Gelvandale with my brothers and sister in my grandma’s house. I have been singing since I can remember myself, grandma says since 5 years old. I realised I was really good at it when my friends, family and neighbours started calling me Whitney and only wanted me to sing Whitney Houston songs.
What’s your favourite Whitney song to perform?
She had a fantastic repertoire with some of the worldwide hits, but I guess my favourite will always be Didn’t We Almost Have It All?. I always find myself giving my all in that song vocally and emotionally.
What is the reaction from audiences?
We all (production team, stage artists, musicians, and the rest of the crew) put so much effort, passion and time in this show. So it’s always great to see the amazing reaction of the audience to our work. I am proud to sing Whitney’s songs and realise that the audience accepts me with enthusiasm and acknowledgment, they sing with me, they clap and cheer, as if approving what I do. That means a lot to me!
Why do you think the show has been successful?
Because Whitney had so many fans around the world and her songs touch everyone in different ways. And people, I think, come to be reminded of how great she was vocally and what an amazing talent she shared with her fans throughout 29 years of her career. I hope I do it justice. She has quite big shoes to fill.