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20 Aug 2019

Singing With Heart: Niki Haris Wants to Connect With Audiences After Decades of Backing Up Some of Music's Biggest Names

Written by 
Niki Haris. Niki Haris. Nick Spano

Niki Haris’ career is like looking through a kaleidoscope: It’s full of changes, turns and beautiful colors.

She is best known as one of Madonna’s choreographers and backup singers, a job she had from 1987 to 2001. If you've ever seen Madonna’s 1991 groundbreaking documentary Truth or Dare, you’ve seen Niki Haris. She has also lent her talents to Kylie Minogue, Prince, Whitney Houston and Ray Charles, performing in some of largest venues and arenas in the world, including Wimbledon, the Staples Center, Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center.

But after years of such a fast-paced lifestyle, Haris is ready to be more intimate with her audiences. She is enjoying smaller venues during her solo tour, which will bring her to the Purple Room—reopening Tuesday, Aug. 27, following its summer hiatus—on Saturday, Sept. 28.

During a recent interview, Haris said being a single mother of a teenage daughter has changed her perspective on touring.

“Being a mother takes you out of the ‘all about me’—the ‘bigness’ of everything,” Haris said. “It helps you see that there is more of a collective good for the world, and it's a wake-up call.”

Haris is the daughter of Grammy Award-nominated jazz pianist Gene Harris; she credits her father for teaching her about the importance of faith—and sharing with her a love of gospel music. This helps explain why her newest album, Lift Thine Eyes, released last year, features songs about healing, loss and God. The album’s title comes from her favorite scripture, Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth.”

Haris said she prefers to sing lyrics that touch her deeply—and she hopes they touch the audience as well.

"It seems we are all attached to pain. … It seems we get stuck in the muck in the mire,” Haris said. “It helps to remember that music does inspire, and one small act can move mountains. One song can change somebody's day.”

One of Haris’ favorite songs on Lift Thine Eyes is “Optimistic.”

“The songwriter wrote at their deepest despair. They took that despair and turned it into beauty,” she said. “My grandmother used to say that the worst thing about being unhappy is that you feel that you'll never be happy again. But you have to be brave enough to just keep taking one more breath.”

One of her favorite songs in her set is Bob Dylan's “Lord, Protect My Child.” She said she was drawn to the lyrics, because they are as relevant today as they were when the song was released in 1991.

“So many members of my daughter’s generation have lost the optimism that is needed to survive. They have a ‘fuck it’ attitude,” Haris said. “They are overly concerned with frivolous things. They are all stuck in this Twitter world—and their generation is facing a lack of water and clean air. They need to wake up.”

Haris is trying to do her part to make the world a better place. “I don't know how stop fossil fuels from fucking up our Earth, but I do know how to sing a good song that will bring us together,” she said.

Haris said she loves to connect with her audience, and she described her show as being full of love and connection.

“You will get insight from my career and boisterous banter about life, love and motherhood,” she said. “But most importantly, people will leave with a bigger heart. They will get that heart muscle exercised.”

Niki Haris will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28, at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $35 to $40, with dinner reservations (minimum $25) at 6 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-4422, or visit www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

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