The Journey: Niki Haris unravels the intimate details of her life, music, and love of all

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June 2, 2011
By: Christine Nicco/TRT Special
Niki Haris, daughter of Grammy nominated jazz pianist Gene Harris, grew up in Middle America, Benton Harbor, Michigan. College-educated in Southern California, Niki then pursued her singing career. Like many artists breaking into the music scene, Niki’s professional career began by performing in amusement parks and clubs in the California area. This dynamic woman has since gone on to work with a multitude of recording artist ranging from Pop, R&B, to Jazz. Her live performances and recording experience reads like a who¹s who of the music world. With names such as; Ray Charles, David Sanborn, Patrice Rushen, Michael Sembello, Leann Rimes, Michelle Branch, Santana, Kylie Minogue, Luther Vandross, All Saints, Wilton Felder of the Jazz Crusaders, Stanley Turrentine, the Righteous Bros., Julian Lennon, Anita Baker, Mick Jagger, Whitney Houston and Madonna, Niki’s resume is more than remarkable.

Her diverse vocal work talents have also been featured on the soundtracks of Whoopi Goldberg’s “Corrina Corrina”, DreamWorks “The Big Green”, “Coyote Ugly” with Leann Rimes, and Disney’s “Anastasia.” She has also recorded multiple television themes as well as co-writing and performing 2 new songs for the Fox series’ “Dark Angel”.

Recently, TRT caught up with Niki and discussed the road leading her to undeniable fame and her passion for equality.

Music has been an important part of your family for years, as I understand it. Gene Harris, Grammy nominated jazz pianist, is your father. How did growing up with such a high-profile musician influence your own career? Where there expectations of you to pursue music too?
Well, if there were expectations, they definitely did not come from my father or my mother. I guess when you are growing up with a musician who is well-known, to me, he was just dad. So, I really never noticed or recognized that he was some amazing musician until my twenties. When I came to CA to go to college, most of the people I was around knew my dad. They assumed I was a musician, but I really wasn’t. I was an OK singer who happened to know a lot of songs.

Do you remember your first professional performance and what was that like?
Oh wow, that’s really interesting. I remember my first song in church, I was like 5. I remember my first amusement park, I was 17 or 18, it was a hot summer day and there were all of these people and I actually got a check at the end of the week and I was like, wow, I’m a professional. Even today, if feels like it just kind of happened since there was no plan.

Without a plan, what do you attribute your widespread success?
I really have always approached music like a journey, not really a destination. Mind you, there are consequences for that, especially in this planned career of ‘I’m gonna be a superstar’ … You know, it’s that ‘more important to be a celebrity than an artist’ kind of energy we have in the world. I think more people have a plan to be a celebrity rather than a well-rounded artist.

How has that view impacted your profession and your performances since you didn’t go out with that ideology of being a big celebrity from the start?
It only impacts it if I start judging it. I live a great life. My daughter goes to a private school, we have a home in California, and we have a home in Georgia. I’m not hurting. But, I didn’t get bogged down with the idea of consumption and acquirement. The idea of acquiring was more about acquiring knowledge, acquiring a better grasp of music styles. And, still remains so. It feels much more adventurous to do that and I think that is why there are so many aspects of what I do. It’s much more fun to paint with all colors than to just paint with one, to me, for me. … I can go and do a gig at Lincoln Center and then put on a fabulous gown and do a dance gig and do club music. Then, I can go do an incredible jazz concert with Herbie Hancock.

Speaking of being so diverse in your music, you’ve also done vocal film work that has been featured on the sound tracks of Whoopi Goldberg’s “Corrina Corrina”, DreamWorks “The Big Green”, “Coyote Ugly” with Leann Rimes, and Disney’s “Anastasia.” How does vocal film work compare to a more traditional sense of performing? Which do you like better? Why?
Hmm … It’s the difference between making love with someone you like and making love with someone you don’t like! You know, it’s still work, but with one you’re having a really good time. (laughs) No, I mean, for vocal film work, it’s more cerebral and you’re fitting music into a sot with dialogue and movement. It’s in a certain period of time; you’ve got to keep the scene moving along whereas performing is much more organic to me, once again, just to me. It feels more organic. There’s no time slot where you have 30 seconds to make everything happen right there. And, you don’t have the team all around you going, “‘OK. Now, that’s not working for me. Can you sing that more Black?’” … It’s more of an acting job with the film working. I feel like in my performance, for me, it’s a better love making situation, definitely.

In three words, describe your music.
Inspirational, joyous, soulful

What is one thing that your fans would be surprised to know about you?
… For the most part, I could care less about new things. I like thrift shopping, I like old things and I’d much rather have something used and touched than something brand new.

You will be headlining the stage at Boston Pride this year. Their theme is: Equality. No More. No Less. What does that statement mean to you?
It holds a big place for me right now because I have a nephew who is 34 years old and is finally, by the grace of God and by a lot of hard work learning to really love his gay-dom and be so OK with being big and no longer playing small and understanding how he has every birth right to be as fabulous as he wants to be. And he’s in love now and I cannot wait for the day that he is able to be married and do all those things, and I know that day is just around the corner. I’ve never felt more passion about the need for all beings to be treated equally. For him to honor himself and live authentically is a beautiful thing and I get to see that and I want it for all those other kids who are struggling and feel less than and feel that they aren’t equal to [others]. And, it is imperative that it happens now.

Niki Haris will be headlining the main stage at Boston Pride 2011. For more information on Niki Haris or to find out what she’s been up to, please visit her website at: www.nikiharis.com.