By Camisha L. Jones
With one hundred thousand watts behind her, Sheilah Belle (a.k.a. “The Belle”) is broadcasted from one of the strongest gospel radio station signals in the country Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on WPZZ – Praise 104.7 FM.
A Richmond native, Belle has worked in radio, TV and print for over 25 years – sometimes simultaneously. She is described often as “one of the most trusted and respected multi-media journalists in the country.”
Raised by a father who was one of Richmond’s first Black firefighters and a mother who is still remembered by many as their favorite teacher, Belle says her love for gospel music came from her parents. “When I was growing up, my dad used to play the piano: gospel music. When I was growing up, we used to go to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Friday night.”
As a kid, it was clear that Sheilah Belle was gifted. She was one of the youth drafted to take on speaking roles during church youth services. Her skill with the discus and shot-put during high school earned her the name “Record Breaker Belle” and a track scholarship from Howard University.
She began considering the media field after college while working at a law firm in DC. She made a call to Channel 35 and was soon working there and thinking, “Okay, this is really interesting…Let me see what else is going on out here.”
Her initiative has opened many doors for her. She recalls calling WKIE radio station early in her career hoping to win an album they were giving away: “I won the album…and I was about to hang up and I said, ‘Do you guys by chance have any job openings?’ He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to do news.’ He said, ‘Can you come in tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.?’”
“I’ve always been a person– regardless of where I am — I want to know how it all works,” says Belle. The position at WKIE prompted her to take a class at J. Sargeant Reynolds that was taught by WTVR Anchor Cheryl Miller. The more she learned the more doors opened for her. She became news director, anchor and then left Richmond for a few years to work at WWL New Orleans TV4.
When her father became ill, Belle returned to Richmond. Now unemployed, she says, “I started realizing, you’re not going to get a job unless you go out there and really go get it like Mary Mary says, ‘Go Get It.’” After that realization, there was no lack of employment for Belle. “I was known as the person who had all the little part-time jobs,” says Belle. “I got hired with (a) radio station over (on) Southside and I got hired at WRIC as their assignment editor and I got hired as…the helicopter traffic reporter for WRVA and I was also on the air reporting for Channel 12 for traffic…at the same time. And in the mornings I got hired at WANT….then… I got hooked up with BET and I became the BET correspondent reporter for the Richmond area – did that for about 3 years. That was crazy! And all of this was at the same time! ”
Her journey into the gospel world was born the day she went in Logos Christian bookstore and picked up a gospel newspaper that had small print, no pictures and no color. She began imagining a different kind of gospel newspaper – one that she had not seen anywhere in Richmond. After doing some research, she created The Gospel Times Newspaper and began traveling to various gospel conferences and events to stay abreast of news for the paper.
The Gospel Times was just the beginning. She started “Inspirational Praises,” the first video gospel show in Richmond which ran for four years on TV8. She also began meeting and becoming friends with people like Dr. Bobby Jones, Vicki Winans and other prominent gospel artists.
It was a call from her aunt that helped bolster her to the platform she has today. Belle’s cousin Kevin was in a terrible motorcycle accident and her aunt asked her to share the news with everyone in the family. Belle began sending regular email messages to family members updating them on Kevin’s progress under the name “The Belle Report.” After a while, she added some ideas to the messages of things the family could do together once Kevin got better. By the time Kevin was better, there were two “Belle Reports”: one with family updates and one with updates for anyone. She knew she’d started something big when a friend from Missouri called asking her to add his 500 contacts to her list of people receiving the report. “Now we have over 375,000 people who get this report every day,” Belle shares. “So The Belle Report…has become this gospel media hub. Some people call it the CNN of gospel because people, record labels, artists call me directly to tell me what’s going on.”
Her success continues to birth new ventures. Through her PR company, LaBelle and Associates, she is now publicist to people like Dr. Bobby Jones and Minister Earl Bynum. She also produces and anchors The Belle Report Entertainment News Update which is syndicated on 52 radio stations across the country as well as abroad.
It makes her happy to bring artists to Richmond through her church, St. Paul’s Baptist Church, and in partnership with the City of Richmond. She spearheads Richmond’s Annual Gospel Music Fest which will be held this year on July 15th at Dogwood Dell and include over 20 local, regional and national artists. Hosted by Belle and Dr. Bobby Jones, the fest begins at 5 p.m. and will be preceded by a youth gospel hip-hop pre-show at 4 p.m.
Though her schedule stays busy, Belle says it helps to be doing something she loves. When she needs to refuel, she enjoys the company of her dog, Alpha “Mojo” Lester Belle and the jazz of Pat Matheny.
Reflecting on her success, Belle says, “(It) has been such a blessing but that was God who orchestrated that whole thing…”