Madonna’s Former Backup Is Now Upfront, Solo & Sensational!
Up until a couple of years ago, Niki Harris was best known as one of Madonna’s girls. After all, the former back-up singer and dancer practically spent her entire adult life with the pop Icon. In 2004, when Madonna was preparing herself for a new tour, Niki had decided it was time for her to spread her own wings and fly. It’s not like she was new to the game. Over the past few years, she’s recorded jazz, inspirational and dance music. Not many artists can perform and record as many genres of music and do it as well as Niki. She’s also recently joined the group Rufus and stepped into the legendary shoes of Chaka Khan as their lead singer. She also overcome personal tragedy, became a mother, and has a schedule that most single childless women couldn’t keep up with. Harris said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Niki also continues to share her gifts throughout the years by performing at a multitude of benefits for AIDS, Cancer research as well as Camp Harmony for inner city children. She is also a strong supporter for the Music in the Classroom program and RAAD, which stands for Rockers Against Drunk Driving. She diligently lends her time in serving and is an annual participant in the Season for Non Violence. With new dance singles to be recorded in the next week, she hasn’t had time to slow down, nor does she intend to. Recently, Patti LaBelle came to see her perform in Vegas and was so impressed with her, she joined her onstage and a bit of music history was made. This former back-up singer and dancer has made her way upfront, center stage, and from what I now know, it’s exactly where she belongs!
Congratulations! I understand you had a baby a couple of years ago. How’s motherhood treating you?
My hips are still here, what does that say? (Laughs). My 40’s are much different than my 30’s were. My little girl Jordan is yummy, yummy, yummy! She’ll be three February 20. How fast did that go? She’s already going to start school. It went really fast.
You have stepped into the heels of the legendary Chaka Khan to be the new voice of Rufus. How did this come about?
Yes, I have. I have stepped into Chaka’s shoes. It’s been really fun. I got a call from the bass player, Bobby Watson, and the drummer, Andre Fischer. They were having auditions when I was pregnant. I just thought it would be something easy to do, I know these songs like the back of my hand. I was so pregnant when I went in to sing, I literally laid on the floor and sang for them and they said, ‘You got the gig!’ I did my first gig with them at House of Blues in L.A. and I was a good seven months pregnant. Huge!
Will you ever perform any of the old Rufus hits or will you always keep the material strictly new?
For this summer, I think I’ll put some of their old material in like “Tell Me Something Good, and maybe “Ain’t Nobody” and “I’m Every Woman.” I always try to mix it all up.
I understand you’re about to record two new solo dance songs, “Let Me Hear The Music” with DJ Eddie X and the classic dance song “This Time Baby.” How did you go about choosing Eddie and choosing the classic Jackie Moore song?
We’re actually going into the studio in next week to start a new single for the clubs. Eddie is the best. I’ve known him for years from the old days in New York. We’re like brother & sister. He is amazing. It’s like being in his living room because we just have fun together. As far as the Jackie Moore song goes, that’s how we start the show off. First of all, I let everybody know I’m not a beginner and also I love to see the audience respond to that song. Especially the older audience giving them a flashback moment! It feels good to sing it and it’s a great song! It was Eddie’s suggestion and it just works.
I’m from that school, that generation.
Yes! We like that school! That was back in the day when we danced on the floor and had fun for real.
You have an amazing voice and have recorded so many different genres of music Do you have a favorite?
It’s really interesting because when I’m performing in the moment, that music is my favorite. I like the fact that all the music I sing, from jazz to inspirational and dance, as long as it’s inspiring somebody to be better and uplift somebody, I’m cool with all of it. It’s hard for me to pick one favorite. Obviously when I do the dance music, I have to put on a little more make-up and have the cha-cha-cha-cha-cha going on, so that’s fun, but definitely a little more work. The best part about all the music I sing is that I’m not chasing the youth bug, I don’t have to chase it anymore and I think that’s one of the sadder things that’s happened to contemporary music. We’re really forgetting a lot of great artists and overlooking them for 16 year-olds. It’s so nice to know that I’m singing three genres of music where age is not necessary and not a factor. If the music moves you in jazz, inspirational or dance, they don’t care what your pant size is or how old or young you are.
It’s come to my attention that you and Patti LaBelle have recently crossed paths and she’s a big fan of yours. Where and when did this come about?
We had a field day out there in Vegas! I was doing my show, and she came with friends to see it. It was the night of the opening of the Wynn Hotel. All I know is that I turned around and there she was on stage with me and we just had a blast. I felt bad because Kristine W came up onstage, and I’m sorry, when you get two sisters together, you gotta get out of the way! We had a really great time. Kristine was looking great, but when Patti gets to singing and I’m as loud as four women, too, we just blew it away. It was unbelievable. It was so much fun!
I understand your father was a great jazz pianist. Did you learn of your love for music through his music?
He was a Grammy award-winning artist and he was amazing. I miss him terribly. I don’t know if I actually learned my love of music through him. I probably learned of it through singing in the church. That’s where I learned it could inspire to something higher.
Tell me what’s in store for you as far as recording and performing?
First I’ve got to get in the studio and finish these records. I’m going back in with Eddie and we’re going to finish the new dance single to go to the clubs. I’m also going in with John Barnes, who did my last inspirational records, and try to knock one of those out for the summer. By the end of the year, I want to try and do another jazz record. I’m trying to get three done this year. I’m also going to Hawaii in April and being a mother of a three year-old and no nanny! I do it the old-fashioned way. I raise my child!
You stayed with Madonna for 18 years. Did she teach you or did you teach her, or did you teach each other?
I know what I can say, I don’t know what she would say, but I think we both taught each other. I went through my 20’s, my 30’s with her and I left when I was 40. I think that’s a long time to be with somebody.
You choreographed many performances including Madonna’s MTV appearances. Is choreography very important to you as a profession?
You know about my choreography? Thank you! I had a really bad accident back in 1996 and I broke my right leg and tore my left thigh, went over a mountain and fell 150 feet. I was in a wheelchair and learned how to walk all over again. I did two tours after that with Madonna and it was one of those moments when I said ‘Okay, I think I’m done with dancing for awhile.’ But that’s why I do the dance music. I just watch all of the young dancers all around me and remember when.
Will singing always be your first love?
My baby girl, Jordan, will always be my first love.
Let me rephrase. Will singing always be your first professional love?
At this moment, that’s where I’m at right now. I never thought I would say this, but I’m so happy being a homemaker and singing when I feel like it.
Could you be a full time Mom?
I am a full time Mom.
Could you put the singing career away and just do that?
No. I just know this, if all else fails, I would always be singing somewhere. I can’t even imagine music not being a part of my life.
In this brief interview, I learned a lot about you.
I’m sending love to you. I hope we get to meet someday. Mwah!
Booking information for Niki Harris, please contact Stephen Ford at DivasAndDjs@aol.com
© 2006 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.